A close-up of two hands releasing a dove into the sky, symbolizing forgiveness and letting go, capturing the essence of what the Bible teaches about these concepts.

What The Bible Says About Forgiveness And Letting Go

Forgiveness can be difficult, but it is a central teaching of the Bible. If you are struggling to forgive someone who has hurt you, you may be wondering exactly what the Bible says about forgiveness and letting go of bitterness.

In this comprehensive article, we will dive deep into the Bible’s guidance on granting forgiveness, even when it seems impossible.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Bible clearly teaches that we should forgive others just as God has forgiven us. It emphasizes forgiving our enemies, not holding grudges, and entrusting judgment to God rather than seeking revenge.

Forgiveness in the Old Testament

Examples of Forgiveness

The Old Testament provides many examples of God forgiving people and calling them to forgive others. After Adam and Eve sinned, God provided a means for their forgiveness through animal sacrifices (Genesis 3:21).

When Cain murdered his brother Abel, God protected Cain from being killed, even though he had to suffer the consequences of being banished (Genesis 4:8-16). Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 50:19-21).

God promised to forgive the Israelites if they turned from their sinful ways (2 Chronicles 7:14). King David was forgiven for committing adultery and murder after repenting to God (2 Samuel 12:13). Overall, the Old Testament emphasizes God’s mercy and willingness to forgive those who humble themselves and seek forgiveness.

Command to Forgive Others

The Old Testament also contains commands to forgive others. Leviticus 19:18 states “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Forgiveness of monetary debts is commanded in Deuteronomy 15:1-2 – “At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite.

They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for cancelling debts has been proclaimed.” After conquering Canaan, the Israelites were called to be merciful and grant amnesty to the peoples there rather than destroying them (Deuteronomy 20:10-18).

Overall, the commandments to forgive others flowed from the forgiveness God had granted the Israelites.

Forgiveness in the Teachings of Jesus

Forgiving Others

Jesus emphasized forgiveness and letting go of grudges throughout his ministry. In the Lord’s Prayer, he taught his disciples to pray “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Jesus wanted his followers to make forgiveness a regular habit.

He knew that holding on to bitterness and anger could poison one’s spirit. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

What an amazing promise – God will forgive us if we forgive others! Jesus illustrated this principle in the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor (Matthew 18:21-35). When the indebted servant begged for mercy, the king forgave his massive debt.

Yet the servant refused to show mercy to a fellow servant who owed him a small amount. Because of his unforgiving heart, the king punished the servant. Likewise, God longs to forgive our transgressions, but expects us to have a heart of compassion that is ready to forgive others.

Jesus wants his followers to break free from the endless cycle of revenge and retribution. During the Sermon on the Mount, he said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38-39). What a radical teaching! Instead of seeking payback when we are wronged, Jesus calls us to show patience, love, and forgiveness. This breaks the spiral of violence.

When asked by Peter how many times he should forgive a brother who sins against him, Jesus answered “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). He wants us to continually forgive, instead of keeping count of wrongs. Forgiving others demonstrates Christ’s redeeming love.

Loving Your Enemies

Jesus took forgiveness a step further by commanding his followers to love their enemies. During the Sermon on the Mount he said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). What an amazing concept! Loving and praying for one’s enemies is counterintuitive.

It goes against our human nature, which seeks to defend ourselves and see justice served. But Jesus provides a higher way. He explains that loving our enemies makes us more like God, who sends sun and rain on both the righteous and unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).

When we show love to those who wrong us, it witnesses God’s grace and opens doors for redemption.

Jesus modeled this principle perfectly through his own death on the cross. While being crucified, he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Though Jesus was rejected, betrayed, mocked, and murdered, he responded with forgiveness.

He did not demand vengeance. By willingly sacrificing himself, Jesus demonstrated God’s unconditional love and dealt the deathblow to humanity’s sins (1 Peter 2:24). Because of Christ’s supreme act of forgiveness on the cross, our sins can be fully pardoned when we accept him as Lord and Savior.

When we follow Jesus’ example and forgive others – even our enemies – we walk in freedom and share the hope of salvation.

Forgiveness in the Epistles

Bearing with One Another

The epistles in the New Testament provide profound guidance on the importance of forgiveness and letting go. In Ephesians 4:2, Paul instructs readers to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

This emphasizes the need to be tolerant and forgiving even when others wrong us. As fallible humans, we will inevitably hurt each other at times, often unintentionally. Bearing with one another reflects God’s mercy and enables relationships to be restored.

In Colossians 3:13, Paul further explains, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Here we see that bearing with one another is closely linked to forgiveness.

We are called to forgive others just as freely and graciously as God has forgiven us. This applies even when we feel justified in harboring resentment.

Biblical scholar William Barclay provides perspective on bearing with one another: “There is no limit to love’s forbearance. It can sympathize with ignorance, with stupidity, even with sin, so long as it sees in the offender the possibility of goodness…Let us never forget that the people who are hardest to get along with are the people who need most to be loved.”

This spirit of patience helps create an atmosphere where forgiveness can flourish.

Forgiving as God Forgave You

A key theme in the epistles is that our forgiveness of others should mirror God’s mercy and grace shown toward us. Colossians 3:13 succinctly states we must forgive “as the Lord forgave you.” God has freely pardoned our sins through Christ even though we are undeserving.

We too are called to release others from guilt and offer reconciliation, not because they deserve it, but because we have been transformed by God’s love.

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a parable equating the forgiveness we owe others to the enormous debt we have been forgiven by God. Just as He does not demand payment from us but cancels our debt, we should not withhold forgiveness from our fellow humans when it is requested.

Paul echoes this in Ephesians 4:32, urging believers to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Forgiving as God forgave us is often extremely difficult and may require us to draw on His strength and grace. But it is central to living out Jesus’ teaching to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). As the Epistles emphasize, the forgiveness we have received should be the model for the forgiveness we extend to others.

This brings glory to God by reflecting His loving and merciful character.

The Benefits of Forgiveness

Improved Relationships

Forgiving others can lead to improved relationships with friends, family, romantic partners, and coworkers. Holding on to bitterness and anger from past hurts can strain relationships and lead to isolation. Letting go allows us to reconnect with others in a spirit of understanding and compassion.

Research shows that forgiving others strengthens relationships by increasing closeness and commitment.[1]

Forgiveness also fosters empathy, respect and trust. It helps remove pride and paves the way for reconciliation. This leads to more positive interactions going forward. As the saying goes, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.

Rather than seeking revenge, offer forgiveness and reap the relational benefits.

Reduced Bitterness and Anger

Choosing to forgive those who have wronged us reduces feelings of anger, bitterness and hostility. Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It harms us mentally and physically.[2] Forgiveness neutralizes these destructive emotions.

Studies show that practicing forgiveness leads to decreased stress, anxiety and depression.[3] It improves overall well-being. We think less about past hurts and can live more fully in the present. With forgiveness, the heavy weight of bitterness is lifted. We let go and are set free.

Better Mental and Physical Health

Multiple studies link forgiveness to better health outcomes. People who forgive have lower blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol levels and rates of anxiety and depression compared to those who hold grudges.[4]

Forgiveness may also boost the immune system. Research found that women who forgave an interpersonal offense showed increased activity in immune system cells compared to unforgiving women.[5] Plus, forgiveness has been linked to improved sleep quality.[6]

By releasing hurt and vengeful feelings, forgiveness eases mental strain and allows the body to relax. It provides closure. This has measurable physical effects, including reduced back and neck pain.[7] Forgiveness promotes inner peace – which in turn supports physical health.

Health Benefit Effects of Forgiveness
Cardiovascular health Lower blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol
Mental health Less anxiety, depression, bitterness and anger
Physical symptoms Improved sleep quality, less pain
Immune function Increased immune cell activity

Letting go of grudges through forgiveness can have profound effects on mental and physical well-being. It allows us to live fuller, freer and healthier lives.

How to Practice Forgiveness

Pray for the Strength and Willingness to Forgive

Asking God for help is often the first step in practicing true forgiveness. We may think we should be able to forgive on our own, but forgiveness does not come naturally for most of us. Pray sincerely for God to change your heart and give you the desire and ability to forgive.

Remember that forgiveness is a process that takes time. Continue bringing it before God daily, even if you do not feel like forgiving right away. He can soften even the hardest of hearts.

Remember How Much You Have Been Forgiven

When we think about how much God has forgiven us, it puts our grievances with others into perspective. As sinners, we have all offended a holy God greatly, yet He showed us grace and mercy in spite of our sins (Romans 5:8).

Recalling how much we have been forgiven can give us motivation to extend that same grace to others. God does not expect us to forgive while harboring resentment – He desires that we forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35).

Release Your Right to Get Even

One of the hardest aspects of forgiveness is giving up what feels like our right to see justice done. However, holding onto resentment only hurts us, not the person who harmed us. When we release our right to get even and allow God to be the judge, we are set free from bitterness.

Romans 12:19 reminds us, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'” As we choose to forgive, we can trust God with the outcome.

Wish the Best for the Person Who Hurt You

This may be the toughest part of forgiveness for many people. It’s one thing not to seek revenge, but quite another to sincerely hope for God’s best in that person’s life. Jesus took forgiveness a step further and told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).

Though it may seem impossible at first, we can ask God to soften our hearts and change our feelings toward the person over time. Praying blessings on their life is evidence that God has healed your heart and granted the power to truly forgive.


Forgiveness is not easy, but through God’s strength and guidance, it is possible. As the Bible clearly teaches, forgiving others brings freedom to our own lives. When we release bitterness and entrust judgment to God, we open the door to improved relationships and better health.

May God give you the grace to follow His way of forgiveness and letting go.

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