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Genuine Forgiveness

By Dr. Charles Stanley

Ephesians 4:32

Do you have an emotional wound that has never healed? Maybe someone wronged you or a loved one years ago, and the injury remains. From time to time, similar situations bring the painful emotions right back to the surface. Close friends and family members may have lost patience with your inability to move on. You, too, wonder how much longer the suffering will last. My friend, freedom from hurt and anger comes only through complete forgiveness. But perhaps you have resisted taking that action because of some common misunderstandings about what forgiveness means.

Clearing up some confusion

One of the stumbling blocks to actually forgiving others is the wrong information that has entered our theology. The first concept we need to clear up is this: Is justifying, understanding, or explaining away someone’s behavior the same as forgiving him? Perhaps you can understand that your “brother” was under a lot of stress when he raised his voice to you in front of customers, but is that the same as forgiving him? Certainly not.

Another mistaken idea is that time heals all wounds. This is one of the most misused and damaging clichés I’ve heard. How could the passage of time or the process of forgetting lead to forgiveness? If it were the healing factor, those who endured hurt as children would no longer suffer as the decades passed. Yet we know that many adults still struggle with emotional scars received during childhood.

Here is another misunderstanding: Forgiving others means denying that we have been hurt or pretending that an offense was no big deal. This form of denial works against the healing process. It ignores the real physical, mental, or emotional pain that others have caused us.

Another misconception is that to forgive others, we must go to them personally and articulate our forgiveness. Pardoning in person usually causes more problems than it solves. I rarely counsel someone to express forgiveness this way unless the other party has requested it. God forgave us long before we ever asked for it. He pardons us for sins we will never confess (1 John 1:9). In the same way, we are free to forgive others without explaining that we have done so.

I say rarely because there are occasions when confession of this type is appropriate. Keep in mind that telling others you have forgiven them and actually forgiving them are usually two separate actions. Ideally, forgiving others should begin at the time we are offended or soon thereafter, whereas verbalizing that we’ve done so may take place later. In other words, we can extend mercy without waiting for someone to ask for it.

We should express our forgiveness if one of two situations occurs. First, we should do so if the other party requests it. This helps clear his or her conscience and offers the assurance that we do not hold a grudge.

Second, we should express forgiveness if we feel the Lord would have us confront others about their sin. The affront may have been directed against us personally or against someone we love. In the course of conversation, we may need to offer assurance that they’ve been forgiven and that we’re coming more for their sake than ours. But remember, our purpose should never be to force someone to ask forgiveness—when we confront others about their sin, the issue must first be settled in our own hearts.

Forgiveness is much more than just saying some words in a prayer or putting time between us and the event. It is a process that involves understanding the mercy God has shown in our life and recognizing how that applies to those who have hurt us. (For more on this topic, please see the article “Forgiving Others.”)

We will know we have forgiven when . . .

Several things occur once the forgiveness process is complete. First, our negative feelings will disappear. We will not feel the same way when we run into these people on the street or in the office. Harsh feelings will be replaced by concern, pity, or empathy, but not resentment.

Second, we will find it much easier to accept the people who have hurt us without feeling the need to change them. We will be willing to take them just the way they are. Once the blinders of resentment have been removed from our eyes, we will have a new appreciation for their situation and motivation.

Third, concern about our offenders’ needs will outweigh concern about what they did to us. Instead of concentrating only on ourselves, we will be able to see that the individuals who have hurt us are people with legitimate needs of their own.

You can experience liberty from old wounds that now hold you in bondage. When the Holy Spirit reminds you of those who need your forgiveness, don’t ignore His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12 KJV). Find the courage and strength to face the past, and willingly release others from the emotional debts you might feel they owe you. Only then will you know genuine freedom from bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness.

Adapted from “The Gift of Forgiveness” (1991).


Related Resources

Related Video

Victory Over Unforgiveness

When we are upset or wronged, one of the most dangerous things we can do is stuff down our resentment, anger, and hostility. This causes unforgiveness to grow and fester in our hearts. In this message, Dr. Stanley shares the consequences of resentment and hostility and explains how to deal with unforgiveness. (Watch Victory Over Unforgiveness.)

Copyright 2015 In Touch Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved. In Touch grants permission to print for personal use only.

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  • November 15, 2012 09:59 PM


    Forgiveness is true genuine peace.
  • November 12, 2012 03:26 PM


    I have asked this question before and here is what I have recieved...Do I have to forgive others who hurt me???Matthew 6:14-15) If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.That is hard when we are really hurting, or bothered by something or someone...But if we walk in the Spirit..(God's Word) instead of our feelings,emotions,(Flesh)...We will overcome whatever trys to come against us...Because nothing can ever separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord....
  • November 12, 2012 12:21 PM


    Forgiveness is a huge obstacle that often times gets in our way. For myself I had to start out by battleing my pride. Pride seems to be a root cause for many types of sin. Remembering the grace that GOD shows each one of us is a huge help. Without his forgivness we are all doomed, and truely remembering that is the first step to forgiveing others. Always remember that GOD never gives us more than we can handle, and the key to not having more than we can handle is turning our worries over to him (lean not on your own understanding...). I myself am usually unable to forgive, but thru Christ all things are possible. Bottom line is to trust in him, keep your eyes on him, and pray for strenght and wisdom for the vast amount of tasks we as humans cannot complete with out divine intervention. We have the best gift that has ever or will ever be given. All we have to do is talk with him read his word and have faith in him, not faith in the sense that we know he can help us when we need it, but faith that he will help us when we need it most. All we have to do is ask and do what he tells us to do.
  • November 12, 2012 05:52 AM


    I needed to hear this i watched ur tv program yesterday and that was for me kathu dora
  • November 11, 2012 11:36 AM


    a powerful sermon on unforgiveness Dr. Stanley,
    I didn"t become a Christen until I was 79 yrs. old-and was carrying around a lot of bitterness--I got down on my knees and asked God to remove all that bitterness from my heart and HE did and forgivness was there and what a heavy load was lifted from my heart
    I always ask God to bless you and thank HIM for being able to listen to your sermons among other things
    Merle Niles
  • November 11, 2012 07:37 AM


    Forgiveness is a conscious decision to not allow someone who has hurt you not to have control over your life. It is only thru God that we can achieve this. We have to go to God ask Him thru His grace to enable us to forgive others. There is no other way it can be done. Is it and easy thing to do? NO. But with God all things are possible.
  • November 09, 2012 11:41 AM


    At times I think the enemy uses the hurt that happens to us to keep us from trully trusting God, everyday I see many things in my line of work. I feel the bitterness that hold people in bondage, frogiveness is the hardest action to take because of what we feel. I have been in this bondage for over a year now. Continually I seek for God to free me from it, I pray that the wounds would heal and clear my conscience from seeking revenge. Revenge is not for me to take, because I know I am sinner too. I would like for the bitterness to go away and give my house completely to God and serve him, like Joshua said "Choose this day whom you will serve, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. I like this statement because, life is so meaningless without directions. The cross is my guidance of what God did for me even though I did not deserve it. just as many wonderer choose the north star as a point to guide them. I choose the cross as my north star to guide me through this hard time and know that the outcome belongs to God and he will not lead me to be distroyed. Praise God from whom all blessing flow.
  • June 05, 2012 08:00 AM


    This is the second time that I've read this article. I've used some of the same slogans thinking that I was helping someone, I will think twice before doing so again. One that I noticed that I've been speaking in the last few years that have come to mind and share with others now is, the thought of how much that I have been forgiven and the mercy that I've been shown ... we should forgive in the same way. These thoughts help to bring whatever is happening into perspective and am able to look at the situation through different eyes. I believe if we could grasp the great magnitudes of what forgiveness does, WOW, the freedom from the hold of bondage and how the LORD could then use us fully and the hope that it gives for the future. Another misconception is that we have to be perfect before we can be used by the Lord, because we will never be perfect ... there is only One that is perfect and that is our LORD!
  • June 05, 2012 03:24 AM


    For the longest time I figured that forgiveness required the other person asking for it, and that meant they had to acknowledge their wrongdoing first. It also would mean going to them in person. If this had been the case, Christ's death for my sins would not have been sufficient. That being said, my perspective on forgiveness has changed.
  • June 03, 2012 10:45 PM


    I heard Dr. Stanley on T.V. several years ago about letting go of the anger, hurt, pain, and complete control I let these people have over me and my life. He said to give all of that to Jesus. That HE was more able to deal with these things than I was. Then Dr. Stanley said I should love myself the way JESUS loves me, UNCONDITIONALLY. To lay it all on the altar and to quit hating myself . It was like a ton of bricks was lifted off of me. My heart felt good instead of heavy. Things happen to remind me of those times but I just remind myself that I gave all of that to JESUS because my shoulders aren't big enough to carry that load. To each of you GOD BLESS.
  • June 03, 2012 07:05 PM


    Forgiving is freeing yourself of the bondage of the painful memory. You no longer have to be a slave to the past hurt and can move on in peace. If you hold that pain and anger inside, the only one you are hurting is yourself. The person that hurt you goes about their life without any thought of that memory. God will deal with them and their sin but you must allow that pain to be healed by forgiving and giving it up to GOD! God prompted me to forgive my dad and once I did, I found peace. My dad had no idea or showed that my forgiving him made any difference but it did in me. I was free and three weeks later my dad passed away. If I hadn't forgiven him, I would have had difficulty with his passing. God is so amazing that he loved me so much to nudge me to let go and let GOD! Praise Jesus for his grace and mercy!
  • June 03, 2012 11:55 AM


    Dear Dr. Stanley
    The message really helps me to better understand total forgiveness. My husband suffers from PTSD and other problems from the Vietnam War and some days it seems I have not forgiven him for some of the things he has done to me ( nothing physical ). I continue to seek God for His peace and His guidance daily. I believe in my heart that I have forgiven, but some days I feel very angry and frustrated. Your messages and the Word of God help me to understand how to deal with my problems and how to react in trying times, and it takes being in the Word of God daily to receive His strength and to learn to love someone unconditionally the way God loves us. I thank God for the strength He has given me to go through this and that He is with me always because I would not be able to go through this on my own. My husband is a good man, a loving father and husband and he is Gods child. I know he has a lot to deal with in his mind and I pray that God will help him to forget the past. I have your book How To Handle Adversity and your Bible with the Life Principles and they are a great help. I have told God that I am going to Obey Him and Leave All the Consequences To Him. I read about all that Joseph went through and how Joseph continued to seek God and to obey Him in everything he went through and how it was part of Gods plan and how in the end everything worked out for everyone and it gives me hope that God is doing the same thing in my life.
    Thank You Dr. Stanley.

    Thank You Dr. Stanley.
  • June 03, 2012 08:54 AM


    it is very clear and wise article.
    god bless
  • June 03, 2012 08:48 AM


    I ask for Prayer to reach out to my Friends who are suffering because they don't know how to forgive their offenders. This article will help a great deal. GOD provides!
  • June 03, 2012 07:12 AM

    by Linda

    So needed to hear this. You are always so right on. Thank you.
  • November 07, 2011 11:38 PM


    I realized that forgiveness comes when we truly love our neighbor. In order to love someone, we must be able to pray for them and be prepared to get along with them in heaven, because we will pray for them to go there. I also pray they will be sorry for their "crime" just in case the Lord has mercy on me, too. The pain comes when I remember an incident and I pray until the pain leaves. Empathy worked well for me, but the bottom line was this: "What if that person shares a house with me in heaven?" Realizing God's love for them helped me realize we have enemys in order to pray for them. Enemies are God's tools to helping us pray. I thank God for my enemies and, hopefully, I won't have to get anymore enemies in my lifetime. : )
  • May 26, 2011 11:19 AM


    This has brought much enlightenment, understanding and help to me on forgiveness. The misconceptions have really been a hindrance to true forgiveness not only for me but for my friends that I shared with. Especially the one on time healing because some things I had just swept them under the carpet and hoped that one day it will be all gone somehow. Thank you so much, may God continue to use you to teach us these profound truths.
  • May 04, 2011 11:13 AM


    Dear Dr. Stanley,

    Can I use this article in my church newsletter?

    Thank you

    Guo Zhao
  • February 21, 2011 01:53 PM


    Years ago, I decided to forgive someone from my past who had deeply wounded me and many of my family members. I took the matter to the Lord, and I honestly felt like forgiveness had taken place. However, since that time, I have not experienced peace that I actually did forgive. I could never explain why I felt that way. I just did. Reading this article today has helped me to realize that I need to allow the process of forgiveness to be completed. Though I am well on my way, apparently I have not finished the process. I'm now heading off to spend some time with the Lord, and we're going to get this matter settled! Thank you for your wisdom, insight, and help!
  • December 02, 2010 01:52 AM


    I praised the lord 4 this wonderful articles we ought to forgive eventhough how hurtful we undergo.Im happy im freed from unforgiving hurt.its painful to rmber but,the Lords grace is sufficient.
  • October 31, 2010 07:15 AM


    I't been a struggle for me to "forgive" even I told the person i had. Deep down the pain and hurt is still there. I've still praying for God to help me. I also have anger that have built up in me, also. I was a part of our problem, i think i didn't have the strength to say "no" to this person,and other also. they took my kindness for weakness. Praise God I an no longer around these people, but i still have the memories and anger still come to mind. the things i went through i see now, the God used them to strengthen me. I'm praying and staying close to God's word. asking him to keep me strengthen,and my mind on him. Forgiveness, and the anger God will help to come to complete forgiveness toward them. Give it to God and let him handle it. i can do all things through Christ Jesus who Strengthen Me. Thank You,
  • October 09, 2010 11:42 AM


    Helps me better understand what true/genuine forgiveness is.....if I have really
    done the "forgiving". When the pain & anger continue to come out during any
    experience that brings back painful memories..and I breakdown....then have I really

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