Confusion about forgiveness

How do I forgive?  That is a great question that might require many posts, but for today we will tackle one specific area; confusion about forgiveness. When a person deeply hurts you, it is hard not to be bitter.  The Bible tells us to forgive, but we will often struggle with that.  If a person has mistreated us, we should forgive them, but after we do that, the relationship might not improve.  This makes forgiveness hard and we might not want to forgive them.  One of the reasons this is difficult is because we mix up what type of forgiveness we should show them.

In this post, we will cover 2 types of forgiveness displayed in the Bible; Judicial Forgiveness and Relational Forgiveness.  Hopefully by understanding these differences, it will clear up how you should forgive the other person.

Some of the main thoughts in this article have been taken from a message delivered by Pastor David Whiting.  The link to the full message can be found here: Bitterness


  • This is a forgiveness we give to everyone
  • It is about MY heart not the other persons
  • We entrust the other person to God’s justice
  • We extend Grace to them, even when they don't deserve it
  • We are always commanded to do this

When someone has sinned against me, I refuse to carry this around in my heart and in my mind. I am going to let it go and turn it over to God, for His conviction on their life, for His justice.  It is not my job to make sure they get what is coming to them, it is God's job.  I am turning this over to God and my heart is clear of wanting revenge (Romans 12:17-21).  I will continue to be kind and go out of my way to show them I love them, just like Jesus loved a sinner like me (Ephesians 4:32).  Forgiven people Forgive, that is just what we do, but the relationship might never be the same because the other person might not want to be forgiven, but I am not holding that over them in my heart and mind.  I will always do this (Matt. 18:21-22). 


  • We give to everyone who asks for it
  • It is an issue of restoring the relationship
  •  It is making promises to the offender
    • I won’t bring the matter up to you
    • I won’t bring the matter up to others
    • I won’t bring the matter up to myself
  • We are commanded to do this when others ask

The difference with this forgiveness is that the relationship can be restored because both people are coming together to make the situation right.  They both want the relationship to work again.  When someone comes and asks for this, we are not only commanded to give it, but we should want to give it to them (2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Matthew 18:15-20).  We refuse to bring up the matter with them, as to try to make them feel bad over it again. We also promise to not gossip about it to others (for more about gossip click HERE).  We also choose not to dwell on the matter myself. Instead of continuing to think about the other persons faults, we let that go and choose to think about how we can love them and others.  When we do this, we become others centered, and this helps us not to think about the offense over and over.

Where the problem arises for most people, is when we get the two confused or we skip the first type of forgiveness.  If we expect the relationship to be restored, but the other person doesn't want that, or doesn't even acknowledge that they did something that needs forgiveness, it just doesn't work.  On the other side, when we don't hand what has happened over to God, it is near impossible for us to restore the relationship because we are still holding onto what they did to us.  It is crucial that we understand that we are to Judicially forgive everyone.  When we recognize these differences, it is much easier to forgive within our relationships. When we practice these types of forgiveness in the proper way, the likelihood of the relationship being restored goes way up (Proverbs 25:21-22).