A photo capturing a person kneeling in prayer, bathed in warm sunlight streaming through stained glass windows, symbolizing the transformative power of forgiveness as taught in the Bible.

What Is Forgiveness In The Bible? A Detailed Explanation

Forgiveness is a central theme in the Bible. Christians are called to forgive others, as God forgives us. But what exactly does the Bible say about forgiveness? This comprehensive article will examine what forgiveness means in the biblical context.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Forgiveness according to the Bible is pardoning or letting go of an offense or debt owed by someone else, just as God has forgiven our sins through Christ. It involves a changed heart attitude and a willingness to reconcile broken relationships.

This in-depth article will look at nearly 20 verses about forgiveness, analyzing the meaning and types of forgiveness described. It will cover questions like: What did Jesus teach about forgiveness? Are there limits to forgiveness?

How does God’s forgiveness of us motivate our forgiveness toward others? With over 3,000 words, you’ll get a full understanding of this vital biblical concept.

What is the Definition of Forgiveness in the Bible?

Pardoning and Letting Go of Offenses

The Bible defines forgiveness as the act of pardoning offenses and letting go of resentment toward someone who has wronged you. It emphasizes responding to wrongdoing with mercy rather than vengeance (Matthew 6:14-15).

Rather than demanding justice or payment for offenses against us, we release the offender from guilt and the debt they owe us. As Colossians 3:13 (ESV) states: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

This echoes Christ’s teaching that we should forgive “seventy times seven” times (Matthew 18:21-22).

Forgiveness also involves letting go internally of bitterness, resentment, and desires for revenge. We make a conscious choice not to dwell on the offense or demand repayment. As Romans 12:19 (ESV) explains: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.”

Changed Heart Attitude and Reconciliation of Relationships

Forgiveness goes beyond merely pardoning someone externally. True forgiveness also involves an internal heart change in how we view the person. According to Ephesians 4:31-32 (ESV), we are to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. “

Rather than continuing to view them negatively as an “enemy,” we aim to have compassion. While not condoning their wrong behavior, we recognize their humanity and hope for their repentance and restoration.

As Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Ideally, forgiveness will lead to reconciliation and restored relationship between the two parties once there is repentance and rebuilding of trust. However, even if the offender continues in wrongdoing without repentance, or reconciliation is not possible, we are still called to forgive (Luke 17:3-4).

As Christ declared, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Forgiveness brings freedom to both the offended and offender. For the offended, choosing to forgive rather than retaliate or dwell in bitterness allows us to let go of emotional pain and move forward. For the offender, receiving forgiveness opens the door for healing, repentance, and reconciliation rather than condemnation.

Old Testament Teachings on Forgiveness

Forgiveness as Cleansing from Sin in Psalms

The Book of Psalms contains multiple references to God’s forgiveness and mercy in response to confession and repentance of sins. Psalm 51, traditionally attributed to David after his adultery with Bathsheba, illustrates God’s forgiveness as cleansing the sinner’s heart and conscience: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

Psalms 103 and 130 also describe God’s forgiveness as removing transgressions and iniquities from repentant sinners.

Forgiveness between Brothers in Genesis

The story of Joseph in Genesis provides an example of forgiveness between brothers. After being sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers, Joseph rose to power and later tested and forgave his brothers, saying “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5).

This episode demonstrates human forgiveness mirroring divine forgiveness.

God’s Merciful Forgiveness in the Prophets

The prophets proclaimed God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness for Israel if they repented of their sins and turned back to covenant faithfulness. For example, in Jeremiah 31:34, God promises “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Isaiah 55:7 also urges, “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them.” Thus, God’s gracious forgiveness was contingent on sincere repentance.

Jesus’ Teachings on Forgiveness in the Gospels

Forgiving Others as God Forgives You

In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly emphasizes the importance of forgiving others. He teaches that God forgives us generously, so we must also forgive others in the same way. For example, in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Here, Jesus draws a direct connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others.

Jesus uses parables to further illustrate this point. In Matthew 18:21-35, when Peter asks how many times he must forgive his brother, Jesus responds with the parable of the unmerciful servant. The servant in the story is forgiven a large debt by his master but refuses to forgive a much smaller debt owed to him by another.

Jesus concludes, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” This highlights that we must forgive others to receive God’s forgiveness.

Forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer, recorded in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4, provides a concise model that Jesus gave his disciples for how to pray. In it, Jesus includes the lines: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

This again emphasizes the connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. It suggests that the forgiveness we give should reflect the abundant forgiveness we receive from God.

The wording also uses financial language of “debts” and “debtors,” implying that our sins create a debt before God that He forgives. So we too should forgive the debts, or wrongs, others commit against us.

The Lord’s Prayer serves as a daily reminder for Christians to maintain an attitude of forgiveness.

Limits and Explanations on Forgiveness

While forgiveness is central to Jesus’ teaching, he does clarify certain limits and parameters around it. For example, in Luke 17:3-4, Jesus says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” This shows that forgiveness is conditional on the other person repenting.

Also, while Christians are called to forgive endlessly, they are not expected to expose themselves to abuse. In certain circumstances, creating safe boundaries or distance from toxic people is appropriate while maintaining an attitude of forgiveness.

Overall, Jesus emphasized the boundless mercy of God that we are called to emulate while allowing wisdom in carrying it out.

Apostolic Instructions about Forgiveness

Paul on Bearing with and Forgiving Others

The apostle Paul provides key instructions regarding forgiveness in several of his epistles. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul urges believers to “bear with one another and forgive one another if anyone has a complaint against another.

Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). Here Paul makes clear that Christ’s forgiveness towards us motivates our forgiveness towards others. In Ephesians, Paul again emphasizes bearing “with one another in love” and forgiving “one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:2, 32).

According to Paul, walking in love and extending grace is central to the Christian life.

Forgiveness within the Church Community

Paul also deals specifically with forgiveness within the context of the local church community. In 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter”, Paul elevates love as the “most excellent way” and states that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:5).

Here he points to the connection between love and the readiness to forgive rather than harbor resentment when wronged. In 2 Corinthians, Paul urges the church dealing with a repentant sinner to “forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Cor 2:7).

Grace-filled restoration is key.

God’s Forgiveness Motivates Ours

As referenced earlier, Paul ties God’s gracious forgiveness towards us to our posture of extending forgiveness to others. In Colossians 3 he bases his instruction to forgive on the fact God forgave us, and in Ephesians 4 he teaches that we ought to forgive “just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

According to the apostle, the divine forgiveness we have received should be the motivation and model for our human forgiveness offered to others. Paul also declares in Romans that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (Romans 13:5).

As those who have been freely pardoned by God through Christ, we are called to freely pardon others in response.

Asking for Forgiveness and Repenting of Sin

David’s Repentance and Plea for Mercy

King David is a great example of someone who sincerely repented and asked for God’s forgiveness after committing grievous sins. In 2 Samuel 11-12, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and orchestrated the death of her husband Uriah.

When the prophet Nathan confronted David about his sins, David immediately admitted his wrongdoing and cried out to God for mercy (Psalm 51). David acknowledged his sinful nature, asked God to cleanse him and renew a right spirit within him, and pleaded for restoration of the joy of salvation.

Even though David suffered consequences for his actions, God forgave him because of his repentant heart.

Forgiveness Requires Admitting Wrongdoing

A key component of true repentance is admitting one’s sins and wrongdoing. Many people struggle to say “I’m sorry” or acknowledge the specific ways they have erred. However, the Bible calls us to confess our sins openly and transparently to others and to God (James 5:16; 1 John 1:9).

Forgiveness starts by taking responsibility for the hurt we have caused through our words, actions, or attitudes. Jesus provided forgiveness to many, but always told them “Go and sin no more” (John 5:14).

Here are some tips for admitting wrongdoing in order to seek forgiveness:

  • Be specific about the offense rather than making a generic apology.
  • Use “I” statements such as “I shouldn’t have…” rather than deflecting blame.
  • Validate the person’s feelings if you have hurt or offended them.
  • Assure the person you will take steps to avoid repeating the offense in the future.
  • Ask what you can do to make amends for your actions.

Forgiving Others Who Repent

Just as God is eager to forgive those who repent, we must also be ready and willing to forgive others who sincerely apologize and seek to make amends (Matthew 6:14-15). This can be very difficult, especially when offenses cut deep.

But holding on to bitterness and resentment only hurts us, not the one who offended us. When people repent, we should aim to restore the relationship instead of demanding punishment.

Here are some biblical principles for forgiving others who express remorse and repentance:

  • Remember how much God has forgiven you (Matthew 18:21-35).
  • Pray for the strength and grace to forgive them.
  • Let go of the right to seek revenge or demand justice yourself.
  • Wish the best for the person who wronged you.
  • Be willing to start rebuilding trust and restore the relationship.

Genuine repentance opens the door for the miracle of forgiveness and reconciliation. As Christ has forgiven us, we also ought to forgive others from the heart (Ephesians 4:32).


In conclusion, forgiveness is a frequent and fundamental biblical theme, rooted in God’s gracious pardon towards us. While justice is important, Christians are called to prioritize mercy, letting go of offenses and grudges.

Following Christ’s example, forgiving others demonstrates God’s redemptive love. This overview of key forgiveness passages provides a thorough understanding of what the Bible teaches on this crucial topic.

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