How to REALLY Forgive: Parts 3–6 Steps Toward Genuine Forgiveness

In the last blog we said that forgiveness is participating in something supernatural. It is a choice to be like God by depending on God for the grace to love those who have hurt and offended us. As we humble ourselves and are aware of the need for God’s mercy in our own lives, we are given the grace to forgive and stop the sin cycle.

Today we want to outline the actual steps of the forgiveness process.

Step 1. Put words to who and what exactly need to be forgiven and grieve the event.

Example: "I need to forgive my husband for not giving me his full attention when I was trying to explain what I went through at work today.”  Or “I need to forgive my friend Mary for telling others something that I told her in confidence.”

Having done that, ask yourself where does this offense land on the scale of 1 to 10? A “1” would be a minor offense while a “10” would be the worst thing possible.  When you have determined where it lands, then grieve that hurt or loss in appropriate proportion to the offense.  Face it. Feel it. Don’t minimize it. But also, be realistic about the size of the offense. Tens will probably take a lot more time and work to forgive than ones.  

Step 2. Realign your thinking and beliefs with the truth.

This is probably the most crucial part of the process. If you are out of alignment here, you most likely will not be able to engage in genuine forgiveness.

What truth are we talking about? The truth about your needs versus your desires. Humans often fail us in the area of our desires. They do have the power to deprive us of things that we care about—sometimes deeply care about. When they do that, it hurts pretty badly and it should. It is not weak to admit that. However, if we believe that others have the power to deprive us of what we most need to be a whole, godly person then we have given people too much power in our lives. 

What we most need in life to be whole, godly people is the love of God and whatever he, in his love, chooses to give us at any given time. No human can deprive us of that. Here's what the apostle Paul said in Romans 8:31–39:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul is not saying here that no person can harm us or be against us. Certainly many have suffered harm at the hands of others and experienced the painful consequences of another’s sin. Paul himself experienced this. But rather, he is saying that what others do has no ultimate power to disturb our deepest security and significance in God. If we think they do have that power and have robbed us of what we need most then we will not be able to forgive them. 

To believe the truth is to believe that whatever has happened to me has not separated me from what I need most: the love of God.  It is also not beyond God’s ability to redeem and bring good from what others may have meant for evil.

It may take some time to process this and embrace this crucial truth, but when we do, we are well on our way to genuine forgiveness. 

Step 3. Pray for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

This is where the grace of God comes into play.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to put the truth into action and forgive. We know that it is God’s will that we forgive as we are forgiven, therefore we know that when we ask we will receive what we need to forgive.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)

Step 4. Think about the humanity of the person who hurt you and develop a vision for them.

Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. (Ps. 78:38–39)

When we allow ourselves to think about others with compassion when they fail we are responding as the Lord himself. What is their story? What wounds might they have?  What lies might they be entangled in that led them to do what they did?  Thinking about these things does not excuse or justify their behavior, but helps us to see past their actions or words to their deepest need.

In addition, imagine what this person could become if they were to be fully formed in Christ. What might they be like if they could really know the love of God? How might God want to use you to help bring that about? Keeping that vision in mind will be helpful.

Step 5. Cancel the debt that is owed you. Surrender any desire to sin in return.

When we refuse to keep the sin cycle going we cancel the debt that is owed and let go of finding satisfaction in our offenders suffering. Our desire is not that they suffer, but that they grow and find the love of God in a way that sets them free to love others well. This leads us to the final step in the process of forgiveness.

Step 6. Decide the wisest and most loving way to live out your forgiveness. 

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27–28)

This final step may take some time and prayer to be clear about. Ask God how he may want to use you to minister to your offender. In many cases this will mean simply showing kindness. However, in other cases, it may mean developing good boundaries and implementing consequences. It may mean speaking the truth in love and following the steps outlined in Matthew 18.  At the very least, it will mean praying for your offender and asking God to bring about his very best in the offender's life. It will also mean deciding to lead a life dedicated to overcoming evil with good by choosing a personally godly lifestyle.

It is rare that we will have to go through these steps just once in any given situation. Many times we may have to go through them regularly as offenses keep coming.  Perhaps this is what Jesus meant by forgiving seventy times seven! As we make these steps a regular part of our lifestyle we will be practicing what Jesus has called us to and be a refreshing witness of him to a lost, bitter, and dying world.