Spiritual Growth

20 Bible Verses About How and Why to Forgive

Faith Eng


The beauty of Christianity is that its core message is one of forgiveness.

God loves people, but we have rebelled against Him and need to be forgiven. We cannot earn or deserve that forgiveness, so God came to earth Himself in the person of Jesus to live a perfect life and earn forgiveness for us by sacrificing Himself for everything we’ve done wrong. Now, He offers forgiveness to each of us, but we must confess our wrongdoings and accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.

Forgiveness is the way your relationship with God begins and it’s the way you should live with others as well.

Forgiveness is great conceptually, but actually putting it into practice can be challenging. Both asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness are some of the hardest interpersonal interactions, but they are both essential for the Christian life.

Since forgiveness is at the foundation of the Christian faith, the Bible naturally has a lot to say about it. The following verses are just a sample of the many passages that talk about forgiveness. Whether the verse is about God forgiving people or people forgiving each other, you can learn a lot about how to forgive from each verse.
 

If you are in a hurry, these links are here to help you find specific sections of content you might want to explore:


I. What God’s Forgiveness Is and How to Receive It

 

1. You simply need to confess your sins to God, and He will forgive you.

If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9)

Now that Jesus has sacrificed Himself once for all time, forgiveness is ours for the asking. Forgiveness is not something you need to earn — Jesus already earned it. You simply need to confess what you’ve done wrong to receive God’s forgiveness.

God not only forgives, He washes those He forgives clean from their wrongdoing and makes them new. God is ready and willing to forgive you. Unlike a human being, He does not hold grudges or need time before He will forgive you. You can have forgiveness right now: Confess that you have sinned, and ask for God to forgive you. It’s that simple.
 

2. You do not have to clean up your life before you seek God’s forgiveness. Seek God’s forgiveness, and He will help you change your life.

God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, He will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. (Romans 5:8-9)

This is one of the most profound and wonderful truths in the Bible: God forgives people who are still sinners — those who rebel against God and go their own way. Before anyone was able to prove themselves good enough or worthy — which isn’t possible in your own strength apart from Him — God willingly came to earth in the person of Jesus to pay the price for sins so that you could have a relationship with Him. He did this because He loves you deeply.

God chose this act of love and forgiveness knowing that some people would still reject Him and go their own way. He chose to die for the sins of the whole world because He knew the world couldn’t save itself.

As you’ve most likely experienced, it’s much easier to forgive when other people apologize, try to make things right or ask you for forgiveness. However, as we see above, that’s not what God does or asks you to do. God leads by example. He reached out to a broken world full of broken people. He made the first move. He sacrificed His life for you, whether you ever choose to follow Him or not. He did this regardless of your response, and it cost Him dearly.

If you feel unworthy to ask God for forgiveness, you are right. You aren’t worthy of it. But that’s not the point: He is offering it to you anyway. He isn’t asking you to change yourself so you can be worthy of Him. He is asking you to take His hand so He can help you change and be more like Him.

It’s not easy to forgive others when they haven’t changed or have hurt you deeply, but whether you forgive them doesn’t depend on them. It depends on you, just like God’s forgiveness isn’t about you earning it but about who God is.
 

3. You’re not too bad to be forgiven. Turn to God, and He will forgive you.

Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that He may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for He will forgive generously. (Isaiah 55:7)

Even if you’ve done things you’re ashamed of and even if you don’t feel like you’re a good person, it’s not too late for you: God will still forgive you. If you turn from the things that you know are wrong and turn to God, He will have mercy on you and forgive you.

If you confess what you’ve done wrong and ask God, He can help you change your ways. It may not be an instant, miraculous change, but when you receive God’s forgiveness, He will give you strength to change your life.
 

4. Even if you feel overwhelmed by your sins, God is not. He will still forgive you.

Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, You forgive them all. (Psalm 65:3)

If you stop and think about all of your sins, it can certainly feel overwhelming. All of us have done things we are not proud of, and all of us fall far from God’s standard of perfection. It’s important to be aware of your sins and your need for Jesus to save you from the consequences.

At the same time, it’s important to not let this awareness of your sinfulness overwhelm you. No matter how many times you’ve sinned and no matter what you may have done, Jesus has already paid the price. That means God will forgive every single one.
 

5. Jesus is not only on your side when you need forgiveness, but He Himself was the sacrifice that allows you to be forgiven.

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He Himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins — and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. (1 John 2:1-2)

When you sin, you may feel alone, but that’s not true: Jesus is on your side. He is the one who stands between you and God to ask that you be forgiven.

But He does so much more than just ask. He sacrificed Himself and took on the penalty for your sin so God can forgive you without excusing your sin.

What’s even more amazing is that Jesus didn’t sacrifice Himself for just some people or just the really good people. He sacrificed Himself for the whole world: every single person. You can never be too bad or too far away from God. Anyone can trust in Jesus’ sacrifice and be forgiven.
 

6. God’s forgiveness is free. You cannot earn or deserve it.

But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. (Romans 4:5)

Forgiveness is the key to a relationship with God. “Righteousness” means being made right with God.

As imperfect people who sin and rebel against God, we could never meet God’s perfect standard and make ourselves right with God. Because of this, no matter how good you are or how hard you work, you can never be good enough to have a relationship with God.

But Jesus paid the price for your sins. God’s forgiveness through Jesus makes you right with God so you can have a relationship with Him forever in heaven. All you need to do is trust in Jesus’ sacrifice to pay the price for your sins.
 

7. Forgiveness is what makes the God of the Bible unique.

Where is another God like You, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of His special people? You will not stay angry with Your people forever, because You delight in showing unfailing love. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:18-19)

Not only is forgiveness at the heart of the biblical story, but the unearned nature of God’s forgiveness is unique. Other worldviews require you to earn your way to God or a higher state of being. Whether it’s by being particularly good or particularly religious or mastering certain practices, you need to do something if you want to get to that worldview’s ultimate goal.

The Bible clearly states that God’s forgiveness is free. He already did all that needed to be done so we can be forgiven and have a relationship with Him forever.

In most worldviews, good works come before you can get the ultimate goal of the worldview. In Christianity, good works come after. All you need to do is to ask God for forgiveness, and He grants you relationship with Him forever in heaven.

Because of the forgiveness we receive, we are commanded (and should be motivated) to do good and forgive others. Good works are an outflow of forgiveness, not a requirement for obtaining it. There truly is no other God who forgives like the God of the Bible.


II. The Benefits of Forgiveness

 

8. Forgiveness is essential for healthy relationships.

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9)

Nothing destroys a relationship faster than lack of forgiveness. If one person is holding onto a hurt or wrong, then it impacts the relationship on every level. Trust is impossible if there is unforgiveness.

In contrast, forgiveness can make a relationship even stronger. When you forgive someone for hurting you, it shows you care more about that person and your relationship than getting what you deserve. It shows that you recognize the person is more than just the wrong they did.

A relationship based on forgiveness and grace is much stronger than one based on being right and getting what you deserve.
 

9. When you are forgiven, you experience joy. When you refuse to confess your wrongdoing, you suffer.

Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night Your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to You and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And You forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (Psalm 32:1-5)

This passage shows both the benefits of forgiveness and the consequences of lack of forgiveness.

You have probably experienced a time when you felt weighed down by guilt or shame because of something you did wrong that you did not want to admit. The author of this Psalm, King David, talks about how trying to hide his sin from God had both spiritual and physical consequences in his life. This is a possibility for all of us because the guilt and shame can lead to stress and stress can impact your physical and mental health.

In contrast, confessing your sins to God and others and receiving forgiveness produces freedom and joy that can have positive effects on your whole life.
 

10. Forgiveness can change your life.

“I tell you, her sins — and they are many — have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7:47)

When you experience true forgiveness, love is the result. Not only will you love God for forgiving you, but being forgiven by a loving God allows you to love others in a way you cannot on your own.

Understanding the depth of your sin and the depth of God’s love and forgiveness will inspire you to forgive and love more freely. Understanding you are a sinner forgiven by a loving God can radically change the way you see others.
 

11. Forgiveness shows us God’s power and mercy and leads us to respect Him in a deeper way.

LORD, if You kept a record of our sins, who, O LORD, could ever survive? But You offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear You.” (Psalm 130:3-4)

When the Bible talks about “fearing God,” it’s not referring to the fear you would have of someone trying to harm you but of the healthy fear that helps you respect and appreciate great power.

For example, if you see a bear at a distance in the wild, you can appreciate its beauty and observe it without being terrified. At the same time, you have the sense to not provoke it because you respect its power.

We need not be terrified of God, but it is important to understand His power and have a healthy fear of and respect for Him. God not only has the power to condemn us all, but He would be totally justified in doing so because we all have sinned.

Even though this is true, He chose not to condemn us but to take our place and pay the penalty for our sins so He can offer us forgiveness. When you understand these things, you can truly appreciate God’s power and mercy.
 

12. It’s better to confess and receive forgiveness than to try to cover up your wrongdoings.

People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Sometimes it feels like trying to cover your mistakes is better than confessing them and asking forgiveness, but that isn’t true. In the Bible, the first created people, Adam and Eve, tried to hide and cover up their mistakes, and they quickly found out you cannot hide from God (Genesis 3:8-10). He knows.

Trying to cover things up when you do something wrong usually backfires. And even if you succeed, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Unconfessed sin is not good for the soul. Guilt and shame will weigh you down, but confessing, both to God and others, is freeing. The reactions of others may vary, but God responds to genuine confessions with mercy and forgiveness.
 

13. It’s important to forgive for your own sake so that bitterness doesn’t take root in your life.

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. (Hebrews 12:14-15)

When you refuse to forgive and hold onto pain, hurt and injustice, it becomes bitterness. That bitterness can take root and becomes poisonous to your spiritual life.

Forgiveness is good for the person being forgiven, but it’s also good for the one forgiving. When you forgive, you prevent bitterness from taking root in your heart.


III. How to Forgive

 

14. Prioritize forgiving others for a healthy spiritual life.

But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. (Mark 11:25)

Forgiveness is so important that Jesus instructed His disciples to make it a priority to forgive first before praying. Though you do not need to earn God’s forgiveness, He freely forgave you. If you have accepted His forgiveness, you need to freely forgive others also.

You owe God your life because the penalty for sin is death. When other people sin against you and you struggle to forgive, remember God’s incredible forgiveness and ask Him to help you forgive as He does. When someone has harmed you on a deep level, you may not be able to trust that person again or restore the relationship. But you can still forgive and trust God to deliver justice, whether or not you see it in your lifetime.
 

15. Prioritize repenting and seeking forgiveness for a healthy spiritual life.

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Just as Jesus told His followers to make forgiving others a priority in their daily lives, He also told them to prioritize seeking forgiveness. He wanted them to know that seeking forgiveness and reconciling — that is, mending relationships — with Him and others is more important than making an animal, religious or any other type of sacrifices to try to make up for their sins.

Jesus’ sacrifice of His own life on the cross for the sins of the world once and for all eliminated the need for people to bring sacrifices or do religious things to try to make themselves right with God. God wants you to know Him, accept His forgiveness and then live out reconciliation and forgiveness with those around you. Religious activities or doing good deeds are important, but not as important as loving others in this way.
 

16. Forgiveness requires allowing other people to be imperfect and make mistakes.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (Colossians 3:13)

We all have faults. When you get to know and love someone, you come to understand their faults. When you love people, you are often more willing to overlook the little things and give them the benefit of the doubt. This is essential for healthy relationships.

Forgiveness is an act of love, and God calls us to love not only the people close to us but also the people around us, and even our enemies.

Some big things are hard to forgive and will simply take time, and lots of prayer. But do not give up. Also, people often make little mistakes, and take thoughtless actions that will irk you. Avoid letting those little things add up. Choose to forgive them as they happen, and do not be eager to take offense.
 

17. God not only forgives but also banishes the thought of our sins. He is not waiting to bring them back up next time we do something wrong. We should do the same when we forgive others.

For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:11-12)

People often forgive imperfectly. Many people say or think that they have forgiven someone, but they are still keeping a mental list, consciously or unconsciously, of that person’s wrongdoings and will bring them up next time that person messes up.

Unlike people, God does not keep a list of our sins at the ready. He banishes them. “As far from us as the east is from the west” is a poetic way of saying your sins are gone forever, and God will not use them to shame you in the future. God’s forgiveness is complete and permanent.

If you want to practice true forgiveness and have healthy relationships, do not keep mental lists of people’s past mistakes. Forgive them and move on.

There are still consequences for people’s actions, and sometimes the consequence is that you need to end a relationship with someone who is not safe. It is still possible to forgive that person and move on with your life without holding onto bitterness against them for the ways they have harmed you.
 

18. God does not limit how many times He will forgive us, so we should not limit how many times we will forgive others.

Then Peter came to Him and asked, Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-22)

No matter how many times you sin, you can still come back to God, confess and receive His forgiveness. Thankfully, He has infinite patience and will never give up on you, even if you keep doing the same things over and over. He will always be ready to forgive.

If you are a Christian, you should model God’s patient forgiveness and be ready to forgive others over and over again. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but ask God to help you forgive others the way He forgives you.

This does not mean you should stay in an abusive relationship because the abuser always apologizes. Forgiveness does not mean putting yourself in harm’s way. But it’s possible to end an unhealthy relationship but be willing to forgive and not hold onto bitterness, no matter how many times that person hurt you.
 

19. Forgiveness doesn’t require ignoring that a wrong has been done. You can call out a wrong and still be ready to forgive.

If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive. (Luke 17:3-4)

Forgiveness is not the same as pretending that someone did nothing wrong. When you have a relationship with another Christian and that person does something wrong, correcting them and urging them to repent is a good thing. At the same time, having grace and forgiving that person is also essential.

There may very well be consequences for that person’s wrong actions. When God forgives us, He often still allows us to face the consequences of our actions. If you steal, God will forgive you, but you are still responsible for breaking the law and the legal consequences that result. It is a tricky balance to allow for consequences without holding people’s sins against them when they repent, but that is what God does for you and what He calls you to do for others.
 

20. Jesus is our ultimate example: When He was hanging on the cross, He forgave the people who nailed Him to it.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus was convicted for things He didn’t do and died in one of the most gruesome ways possible. As He was dying and experiencing the torturous pain of the cross, He asked God the Father to forgive the people who convicted Him and nailed Him to the cross. If someone has hurt you in a way you feel is unforgivable, consider Jesus’ example.


Forgiveness isn’t easy, but God can help you both give and receive forgiveness. As a result, you will experience the joy and love that are produced by forgiving and being forgiven.


IV. Next Steps:

  • Learn how you can experience God’s forgiveness and know God.
     

  • Pray right now and confess any sins you have not yet confessed. Ask God to reveal anything that you need to confess. Thank God for His forgiveness and grace.
     

  • Do you struggle with accepting forgiveness or feeling weighed down by guilt? Ask God to help you to let go of your guilt and shame and receive His forgiveness and peace.
     

  • Is there someone you need to forgive?

    • Confess to God that you have held onto unforgiveness or bitterness but that you want to let go and forgive. Ask for God’s strength to forgive when it’s hard.
       

    • If the person you need to forgive is a safe person and reconciliation is possible, consider calling or getting together with that person. Share that you felt hurt by them but that you forgive them and want to restore the relationship.

      Forgiveness ideally leads to reconciliation, but that is not always possible. Some people may be unrepentant or unsafe. In those cases, you can forgive without reconciling. (For example, if you were in a relationship with someone violent and abusive, you can forgive that person without contacting that person and risking your safety.) In other cases, with time, you may find that reconciliation is possible.
       

    • If no one comes to mind. Ask God to show you if there is someone you need to forgive that you don’t know of.
       

  • If you need to ask for forgiveness from someone else, call them and set up a time to get together. If it’s someone you haven’t talked to in a long time, you can still send a message to them to share that you know you wronged them and to ask them to forgive you. You could even share that your faith is motivating you to seek and grant forgiveness to others.
     

  • Read more about forgiveness:


Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved.

©1994-2020 Cru. All Rights Reserved.