Forgiveness always requires a choice. If we remain unforgiving toward others, it reveals we neither understand nor have truly received God’s forgiveness.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses—Matthew 6:14-15.
Studied alone, these verses might lead someone to assume God’s forgiveness is conditional. They read like an exchange—we forgive, our Father forgives; we don’t forgive, our Father doesn’t forgive. But this passage refers to only part of our relationship with God. To clarify, Jesus wasn’t saying we get forgiven by forgiving. He was teaching that people who are forgiven by God become more forgiving people—not perfectly, not entirely, but increasingly. If we remain unforgiving toward others, it reveals we neither understand nor have truly received God’s forgiveness.
In any context, forgiveness always requires a choice. It can’t be forced, and it isn’t a feeling. Authentic forgiveness flows out of a decision apart from emotions—often in spite of painful feelings. It's the choice to release someone from an obligation that resulted when they injured you. Forgiveness is what God has done for you in Christ and asks you to do for others.
For many, the real question regarding forgiveness is, “Is it always necessary? Do I really have to forgive? Aren’t there some offenses that are simply too painful to forgive?” Though our sinful world abounds with examples of seemingly unforgivable actions, rejecting the necessity of forgiveness means we haven’t considered the cross and recognized how seriously God treats it. It also means we have failed to see the personal consequences that result from not extending pardon.
God didn’t make you with the capacity to carry forward the residue of all the negatives from your past. He doesn’t expect you to store it or ignore it. “Emotional baggage” is an understatement. It’s more like toxic trash or radioactive waste—unstable and explosive. You must get rid of it. But you can’t throw it in a mental closet, lock the door, and hope for the best. If you try, the pressure will build until the closet explodes, throwing shrapnel on everyone around you.
Our limited capacity to bear unforgiveness points to the necessity of forgiveness. Pardon is a basic act of self-preservation.
“I can’t forgive” is simply another way of saying “I won’t forgive.” Claiming inability to forgive hides the choice you are making. Until you get to the place where you understand that refusing to forgive is also choosing to live in the bondage and misery of unforgiveness, you won’t forgive.
But when you realize forgiveness is the best way to keep life healthy and your relationship with God unhindered, you will make it as important as He does.
Are there wounds and weights you are carrying that are beyond your capacity? What is your plan to deal with them?
If God says forgiveness is necessary, how are you answering Him?
Lord, I know it could not have been easy for Your Son to immediately forgive the men who pounded nails through His hands and feet to attach Him to the cross, but He did. Forgive me for wanting the best way to be the easy way. Forgive me for putting off forgiving because I think it will be easier later. And forgive me most for presuming on Your forgiveness while I withhold it from others. Let the reality of Your total and completely undeserved forgiveness of me drive my willingness to forgive others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.