Keys to Forgiveness


In every relationship there will be conflict. How we deal with the conflict will determine the level of health and intimacy.  Taking responsibility for our mistakes and forgiving others is critical. But it is not as easy as it sounds.

Years ago I made a statement that hurt a friend.  It created tension in our relationship.  I went to him and stated that I was sorry and I was wrong to say what I said.  I made a commitment to not saying things like that in the future and to approach difficult subjects in a more gracious way.

Much to my surprise, he rejected my apology.

I was stunned. Why the rejection? He told me he didn’t think the apology was sincere because I hadn’t specifically asked, “Will you forgive me?”

At that moment I thought, “What? I said I was sorry. I recognized how I hurt him. I admitted specifically to my mistake. I talked about how I am committed to doing things differently.” I was waiting for him to say, “I forgive you.”  But he wouldn’t forgive me until I asked, so I asked forgiveness.

That exchange always baffled me until I read “The Five Languages of Apology,” by Gary Chapman.  In his book he discusses the idea that different people need to hear different things in an apology to feel like it is genuine. He categorizes them as follows: expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, repentance, and requesting forgiveness.

This was an epiphany for me. I wasn’t speaking his language. He needed to hear a request for forgiveness. The goal in any apology is reconciliation.  Sometimes we don’t achieve it because we aren’t speaking the other person’s language.

How God Forgives

This got me thinking: How does God deal with forgiveness?

  • God forgives. 1 John 1:9 reads, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins…”
  • God makes the first move toward us in forgiving. He doesn’t wait until we are sorry. Romans 5:8 reads, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
  • God wants us to forgive others just as He has forgiven us. Colossians 3:13 reads, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
  • God continually forgives. Matthew 18:21-22 says, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'”

God understands that confession and forgiveness are the lifeblood of a relationship.  Without these actions we can never experience the unity and closeness we desire. The reality is we are all broken and we will say and do things that hurt each other.  That is why God models the power of mercy and forgiveness.

Ken Sande, in his book “The Peacemaker,” provides some insights on how we can become more effective at confession and forgiveness.

Seven A’s of Confession

  1. Address everyone involved in the conflict. (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe. (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically. (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt. (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences.
  6. Alter your behavior. (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness.

The Four Promises of Forgiveness

  1. I will not dwell on this incident.
  2. I will not bring this incident up and use it against you.
  3. I will not talk to others about the incident.
  4. I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

So often when we think about experiencing forgiveness and healing in our relationships we focus on the one who is confessing. But if the one who is supposed to be forgiving is always bring up the incident and talking to others it will create a wedge in the relationship.  The person who is confessing will feel like, “That didn’t do any good. I’m just going to keep things to myself.”  Both parties have a responsibility in the forgiving and healing process.

Things to Think About:

  • How has God forgiven you?
  • Look at the Seven A’s of Confession and Four Promises of Forgiveness. What is easiest for you and what is hardest? Why?
  • How might this help your relationships?

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