What Forgiveness Is Not . . . and Is

By Mark D. Roberts

January 12, 2017

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Mark 11:25


A heart shaped opening in a wooden door.One of the reasons many of us struggle with forgiveness is that we misunderstand what it is . . . and what it is not. Yet, if we are going to follow Jesus’s teaching and forgive others so that God might forgive us, then we had better know what we should do . . . and not do.

Let me start with what forgiveness is not. It is not saying, “That’s okay” or “No problem.” If somebody has done something wrong to you or anyone else, that’s not okay. It is a problem, not just a relational problem, but also a spiritual problem, something we call sin. Forgiveness assumes that somebody did something wrong and this wrong should not be ignored.

Forgiveness is also not the same as understanding why somebody did something to hurt you. Yes, understanding can help us on the way to forgiveness and reconciliation, but it’s not the same as forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not the same as feeling better. Often we forgive when we’re still feeling the sting of the offense. Forgiveness can, in fact, help us feel better. But it isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice, an act of will.

But a choice to do what? Again, not to say, “I understand” or “That’s okay.” Rather, forgiveness is a choice to respond to an injury or offense, something that does indeed hurt, by deciding not to let the offense be a barrier in relationship. It’s saying, in effect, “Yes, what you did hurt me, but I am choosing not to let it come between us. I will not let this wrong become a brick in a wall that separates us.”

Forgiveness opens up the possibility of reconciliation, but is not reconciliation. That requires appropriate action on the part of the offender. Reconciliation requires two parties choosing to reconcile. But forgiveness is something we can and should offer as a first step in the process of reconciliation.


How do you understand forgiveness?

Can you think of people in your life that you have not forgiven for ways they have wronged you? Why have you not forgiven them?

In particular, are there people in your workplace whom you need to forgive?

If you’re struggling with forgiveness, are you willing to ask God for help?


Gracious God, you make it clear that we are to forgive those who have hurt us. And, in Christ, you set the example for us, showing us how to forgive and mending our hearts so that we might imitate his example. Help us, Lord, to be people who forgive. Help us especially when it is hard to forgive, when we want to build a barrier between ourselves and the offender, when we want to guard our hearts from further hurt.

As we forgive, Lord, may we experience more profoundly the forgiveness you offer to us in Christ.

All praise be to you, loving, forgiving God. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentaryForgiveness and Accountability in the Workplace


Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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