Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Forgiveness has been horribly misunderstood.

Forgiveness has been horribly misunderstood.

MAY 11, 2023

/ Programs / Key Life / Forgiveness has been horribly misunderstood.

Justin Holcomb: Forgiveness has been horribly misunderstood. Let’s talk about it, on Key Life.

Matthew Porter:
This is Key Life. We are here to let you know that because of what Jesus has done, God will never be angry at you again. Justin Holcomb has been teaching us all this week. Justin is an Episcopal priest, an author, and he teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Justin Holcomb: Thank you Matthew. My name is Justin Holcomb and we have been enjoying the teaching this week of looking through Ephesians 4 and 5, exploring the topics of anger and forgiveness. And today we will talk about misunderstandings about forgiveness. Yesterday we began by unpacking Ephesians 4:32 through 5:2. And I’d like to read it again.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

That is the word of our Lord. Many Christians mistakenly assume that forgiving someone who has hurt them means no longer feeling pain, anger, or a desire for revenge. And I can tell you from firsthand experience, you can forgive someone and feel all of those. Forgiveness does not mean that painful memories of the past are wiped away, it’s not a silver bullet that fixes everything, nor doesn’t mean that a desire for justice is ignored. Neither does forgiveness mean that the person who was sinned against will not first feel a deep sense of anger and hurt for what happened to them. In most, if not all cases, real forgiveness cannot even be considered until those who have been sinned against have come out of the darkness of denial and have begun to feel the weight of wrongs committed against them. Forgiveness means a willingness and desire to cancel the debt that is owed to you because of the far greater kindness God has shown. For the Christian, forgiveness is not an event to be logged, but obedience to God and a freedom from bitterness that should be celebrated and nurtured. Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice, every act of forgiveness enthrones justice. It draws attention to its violation precisely by offering to forego its claims. Forgiveness provides a framework in which the quest for properly understood justice can be fruitfully pursued. Only those who are forgiven and who are willing to forgive will be capable of relentlessly pursuing justice without falling into the temptation to pervert it into an unjustice. Your forgiveness of someone who sinned against you is not sanctioning the harm they did. Forgiveness does not mean that you do not participate in activities that impose consequences on evil behavior, and that could be as significant as calling the police or filing report, church discipline or criminal proceedings. You can forgive and pursue justice at the same time. You can forgive the person who sinned against you and harms you without the expectation of pretending the harm never happened, it doesn’t require amnesia. There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is what happens between a brother and sister in Christ when the other person acknowledges their sin and asks for forgiveness. You can forgive a person whether or not they ask. Reconciliation requires the offending party to acknowledge and repent, and then there’s restoration, which is restoring the relationship, that was once there to some degree, might be full restoration or not, but forgiveness is not reconciliation and the proof of forgiveness is not restoration. Sometimes it’s unwise to restore. And forgiveness can happen spiritually and emotionally because of what Christ did on the cross in resurrection, but the promise of reconciliation is fully in the future. Forgiveness is a precondition for reconciliation, and frequently forgiveness is seen as simply an exercise in releasing bad feelings or ignoring past harm and pretending it’s all well. But forgiveness is just the opposite, Dan Allender tells us.

True forgiveness often deepens internal passion and sorrow. Yet it is a powerful agent in a process that can both transform the forgiver and the forgiven. It is a gift that pierces a hardened defensive heart with rays of redemptive kindness.

And that’s why you keep on hearing about Dan Allender from us. Forgiveness is not ignoring harm and acting as if nothing happened, it’s the opposite. Forgiveness requires acknowledging the harm and sin and calling it what it is. It also means acknowledging the consequence of God’s judgment for the sins committed, and then not holding the charge against them. However, the offending person must deal with God at that point. The victim’s forgiveness is not the declaration of God’s forgiveness. And forgiveness is costly for the one who forgives. It’s not naive, foolish, or simplistic, looking the other way type of pretense, that all is well and parties should just return to relating as they did before. To do that, trust must be restored, and that can take time. Though we must forgive, the only one who can ultimately forgive is God alone. Only God has the power and the right to forgive and only God’s forgiveness washes others clean of their wrongdoing and lifts the burden of guilt. There is a double benefit of forgiving. First, we’re commanded to forgive and our obedience glorifies God. Thankfully, that which God commands, he empowers you to actually do. Second, the miraculous gift of forgiveness is also the best thing for us. It releases us from anger and resentment, betrayal and bitterness that destroys us. So, we forgive out of obedience, not because we get something out of it, but like God is usually to do, he blesses, we do get something out of our obedience anyway. This is God’s logic and kindness. Anger is more than just a stage that we get through. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes this.

Anger is an act of profound faith to entrust one’s most precious hatreds to God, knowing that they will be taken seriously.

Amen. Anger expressed to God is a cry of the weak one who trusts the strong one, the hurting person who trusts the one who can and will make things all better. In the Bible, God is the one who stands with the vulnerable and powerless and speaks judgment against those who choose to use their power in ways that harm others. The strong, unjust use of force and deceit that take from the weak, God hates. The oppressors think that no one cares and no one will interfere with their plans, but God’s interest in the abuse of power is not mild, nor is he at all resigned to injustice in a fallen world. The unjust use of power of the strong meant to abuse the weak strikes at the very core of God’s holy heart. God’s wrath is a source of positive hope, if you have been sinned against, and you feel the weight of forgiveness. You know that God loves you and will destroy the evil that has harmed you. Whatever that evil is, whether it’s trauma, the pain of addiction, the pain of betrayal, physical, emotional, spiritual type of abuse. God is the refuge of his people and shows steadfast love by destroying that which harms you. Satan’s sin held death in the grave are his target. The wrath of God is often presented not as something to fear, but as something on which to set your hopes, as the consolation, refuge, and deliverance of God’s suffering people. Because vengeance is God’s, you are free from the exhausting hamster wheel of revenge. You can trust God to make all wrong things right, so you can get on with your life and not fixate on bitterness and hatred. In this regard, the wrath of God is a central piece of the hope of God’s people. You never have to stop longing for God to deliver you from evil. The Bible closes with an amazing plea.

Come Lord Jesus.

This is a request that the Jesus of Revelation will come to remove all evils, to destroy death, Satan, all causes of terror, and all sin. The Bible links hoping God with a willingness to wait. This is how we approach evil and approach our hope is waiting. One of the most frequent commands in Scripture is actually, wait. The number one command is, do not fear because the Lord is with you. That is all over the place in Scripture. The number one command.

Do not fear for the Lord is with you.

Right behind it is, wait. We wait because we have hope of the future. We wait because of the Resurrection. We know that something now has been done and newness is breaking in. Things are genuinely new, just not completely new, and it’s in that hope of the Resurrection that we actually wait. We wait with patience and persistence, but we also wait in the power of the spirit. To wait is to have confidence that God will bring justice. He cares more than we do. He’s angrier than we are, but he’s also empowering us to withhold us while we wait. He will satisfy the depths of our desire, but it will happen in his time and not ours. Now, to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy. To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory majesty, dominion, and authority before all time now and forever. Amen. Amen.

Matthew Porter:
Thank you Justin Holcomb. What a fantastic week of teaching on anger and forgiveness from Ephesians 4 and 5. We covered a lot of ground, so remember, you can always listen and re-listen to all of our shows anytime you want for free at And be sure to join us tomorrow for Friday Q&A with Steve and our friend Pete Alwinson. Well, Justin just touched on a really big idea, restoration. And actually, Steve has spoken about this as well in a sermon called We Will Be Restored. It explores the idea that right now we live in the already, but not yet. And we know this because every day we see darkness, hatred, division, immorality, and despair. So, how do we deal with that? Well, in this sermon, Steve offers three things that we can do based on passages from I John. Get your copy of that sermon on CD for free right now by calling us at 1-800-KEY-LIFE that’s 1-800-539-5433. You can also e-mail [email protected] to ask for that CD or to mail your request go to to find our mailing addresses. Just ask for your free copy of the cd called We Will Be Restored. And I know you’re busy, but one last thing, would you partner in the work of Key Life through your giving? It’s easy to do. You can charge a gift on your credit card or include a gift in your envelope. Or just pick up your phone and text Key Life to 28950 and then follow the instructions. Key Life is a member of ECFA in the States and CCCC in Canada. And we are a listener supported production of Key Life Network.

Back to Top