The Cost of Forgiveness


Forgiveness. It’s a basic concept for every Christian. Learn how you can experience forgiveness as a form of freedom.

Forgiveness. It’s a basic concept for every Christian. This is the message of the “Good News”: through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, God offers us forgiveness. Christ took on our sins so we could be reconciled with God, now and eternally. Our sins will no longer be held against us, and we are free from condemnation! We also know God asks us, in turn, to forgive others just as we have been forgiven.

Although every Christian woman can give a passable definition of forgiveness, and most can quote a Bible verse about it, few actually walk in the reality of it. Why? Because forgiveness fights against every desire we have for justice. Intuitively, we know that when we have sinned, we deserve consequences. Without realizing it, we often “sentence ourselves” to periods of depression and guilt to compensate for what we have done. We may sabotage relationships and gifts that could bring us pleasure because we know we don’t deserve such good things.

Although forgiveness is offered to us as a free gift, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost us something. How could something free cost us something? Isn’t that a contradiction? Think of it this way . . .

What if, out of the kindness of my heart, I offer you a free trip to Italy? Imagine I have reserved first-class seats for you to fly to Rome and spend a month roaming around Italy with all expenses paid. My gift to you is free. However, you may not choose to accept the trip because of the cost. Although the expenses are paid, accepting the gift would cost you your agenda for the next month. You would have to cancel everything on your schedule, probably affecting your work, family, and other responsibilities.

Forgiveness is much like this. It is offered as a free gift, but walking in it costs us some things we may not be willing to abandon. It costs us our dignity to admit our sin—that we are helpless before God without Christ’s redemption. We like to believe we can pay our own way to redemption. It is humbling to come before God, desperate for his grace.

Forgiveness also costs us our unbelief. Jesus often told men and women who came to him, “Your faith has made you well.” I’ve met many committed Christians who believe in the concept of forgiveness but can’t accept it for themselves. There is something—an abortion, sexual sin, a mistake with a child, divorce—they believe is beyond God’s desire and ability to forgive. God’s forgiveness just doesn’t make sense to our logical minds. This is why it requires faith to walk in this truth: “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

Finally, forgiveness costs us our sense of justice. If God promises to forgive me, then his redemption is also available to people who have done horrible things. That means forgiveness is possible for murderers, child abusers, and others who we believe deserve the hottest places in hell. On a more personal level, it means extending forgiveness to people who have hurt us deeply.

Embracing forgiveness doesn’t mean ignoring our cry for justice. Instead, by faith, we put our faith in a righteousness that is beyond our understanding.

While walking in forgiveness is costly, refusing to accept or extend it has a much higher price tag. Even secular psychologists tout the emotional and medical benefits of forgiveness:

It is really hard to forgive, whether it is forgiving yourself or others,” says Thomas Plante, PhD, in Psychology Today. “We all could likely use some help learning to do it better. But what we may not be aware of is that learning to forgive is good for both our mental and physical health. Quality empirical research has shown that when we are better at forgiveness, we experience lower stress, tension, levels of depression, anxiety, and, perhaps most important, anger. When we have trouble being able to forgive, we hold in anger, resentment, and bitterness that can harm us in multiple ways and at multiple levels.

Although it may seem to cost too much to embrace it, true forgiveness is the only gateway to freedom—freedom to love deeply and to live authentically.

Written by Dr. Juli Slattery

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