May 25, 2023

The Nature and Stages of Forgiveness

Why should you forgive others? Is forgiving someone letting them off the hook? Forgiveness is at the core of the story of Joseph and the core of the biblical message. In this episode, Whit and Lyndsey talk about the stages of forgiveness and paint a picture of biblical forgiveness.

Don’t miss this important conversation:

The Stages of Forgiveness

Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation are three different steps. We’re left with an incomplete picture and a rushed process when we combine them into one step—forgiveness. We might force ourselves into steps we’re unprepared for or a false reconciliation.

So, let’s look at each stage carefully to get the full picture of biblical forgiveness.

1. The Inner Work of Forgiveness

The inner work of forgiveness is between you and God. It’s about coming to the Lord with the fullness of your feelings (no matter how harsh or ugly) and trusting Him with them.

It’s not ignoring whatever you’re feeling, but facing it and ultimately saying, God, I trust you to be my judge. Vengeance is yours.

There’s the receiving part of the inner work, a healing of the soul that happens over time and allows you to become whole again. Allow yourself grace to heal.

You need wholeness from someone who can give it to you.

Forgiving is not forgetting.

Forgiving someone is not pretending like it didn’t happen. Many people’s faulty view of forgiveness involves premature pardoning or shallow reconciliation with someone because it’s the “Christian thing to do.”

We want to be clear: the call to forgiveness is not a call to naivety. Failing to deal with sin is unjust.

The church has to be willing to deal with hard things, balancing mercy and justice. Innocent people need to be guarded against abusive people.

Someone can be forgiven, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have to deal with the weight of consequences. It’s one thing to harbor bitterness and unforgiveness, but you have the right to mistrust someone who has broken your trust. There must be a process of building it back.

2. The Other Work of Repentance

This stage has to do with the other person.  We often merge the inner work of forgiveness with the outer work of reconciliation and completely bypass the work of repentance.

Repentance is someone else’s role and responsibility. You can’t repent for someone else.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

Repentance is not “I’m sorry.” It goes far beyond remorse and apology. It’s the hard work of actually changing. Repentance displays, I’m different. I’ve faced what has happened, and I’m not who I once was.

3. The Outer Work of Reconciliation

You can’t force reconciliation. It is only after true repentance that the process of reconciliation can occur.

Reconciliation involves the restoration of peace and, ultimately, of the relationship between two parties. It’s a long and ongoing process that shouldn’t be rushed.

Because God first reconciled us to Himself, we have the power to reconcile with others.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20,
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Reconciliation might not happen.

The uncomfortable reality of human free will is that you won’t be reconciled to everyone. Reconciliation is often the ultimate hope, but it doesn’t always happen–and that’s okay.

Should repentance not happen, you can still do the inner work of forgiveness to become whole and healed. You may never be without the scars of what happened to you on this side of heaven, but you can move beyond what happened as a whole and healthy person.

We can’t oversimplify forgiveness.

It’s not as simple as forgive and forget. Forgiveness isn’t simple; it’s nuanced and complex, just like life and the Bible.

When the stages of forgiveness aren’t understood, you’re left with an incomplete and diminished view of what forgiveness truly is. You have to look at the whole picture to get the right picture.

We serve a just and merciful God. You can trust Him with your pain and frustration. Even without repentance and reconciliation, He wants to make you whole. Will you let Him?

Forgiveness Prayer

Jesus, help me.

I don’t have the feelings of forgiveness, but I trust you.
When I think about those who have sinned against me, I am tempted to take matters into my own hands, holding onto the pain, the bitterness, and the Resentment, that would poison my soul and make it impossible for me to receive grace from you.

So right now, I begin to release to you ____________. (whatever it may be that you’re holding onto)

I ask you to heal the pain, to set me free, and to make me whole. I may never experience reconciliation, but I choose to begin the journey toward forgiveness today.



Is there any way we can pray for you? Let Us Know!

Check out another blog on forgiveness:

The Forgiveness of Jesus

Show Notes:

Listen to the Message:

Recommended reading on the complexity of life, suffering, and forgiveness:

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