How Many Times Should I Forgive Others?
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
In Matthew 18:21 Peter asked Jesus, “How many times should I forgive someone, as many as seven times?”
Jesus replied with, “No, you should forgive seventy times seven.”
Some versions say seventy times, but let’s just go with the larger number. Now, by my amazing calculations, seventy times seven is exactly 490 episodes of forgiveness. Based on this number of “times we should forgive,” a couple other questions should naturally pop into our heads:
- How do I keep track?
- How can I be sure I truly forgave?
The legalist will be proud to answer both of these questions with exact answers. Why? Because they find their identity in their religious behavior. However, if we look deeper into Scripture, right after this question asked by Peter, the true answer comes to light.
Jesus went on to tell a parable about a man who owed a king a large debt. The man begged for mercy and the king felt sorry for him, then he released the debt completely. Afterwards, that very same man hunted down and choked out another man who owed him, then he had his debtor thrown in jail. When the king found out about this he went back on his clemency and had the hypocrite punished for the debt he previously had mercy on (see Matthew 18:23-34).
Jesus sums up the story with this particular verse:
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
Is this the gospel? Is this what Jesus died for? Is this how we are forgiven as New Covenant believers? We only get forgiven by God if we forgive others?…Friend, no. The answer is no. Just imagine if this were true, we’d all be doomed. We don’t forgive to get forgiven, if that were the case then Christ died for only some of our sin. We forgive because we’ve been forgiven, and because forgiveness is part of who we are as children of God.
In this parable, and in His answer to Peter, Jesus is teaching forgiveness according to the Mosaic Law. If there is a number, it is a law. If there is a punishment, it is a law. Christians have died to the Law so that we can live for God! (See Galatians 2:19, Romans 7:4).
Unfortunately we have a tendency to want to put Christians in every single parable Jesus told, but that’s not always the case. When Christ said we must forgive 490 times, He was teaching how impossible forgiveness is without Him earning it for us with His own blood. Just look:
“In fact, the Law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)
So how many times should we forgive others? As many times as Christ forgave us. That is, once and for all time. Sometimes people don’t even know we have forgiven them, we just do it organically. Sure, our feelings and the flesh would love to have an apology, but our spirit does not require one. At first this is hard to fathom, but as heaven-ready people we have the mindset of forgiveness–not a numerical equation. This is because we have the mind of Christ! (See 1 Corinthians 2:16).
“Matt, how can you say that? If someone keeps hurting me, how can I forgive them once and for all time?”
I’m not saying trust them once and for all time, I’m saying allow Christ’s forgiveness to live through you. His forgiveness keeps no record of wrongs. His forgiveness is instant and free! Trust, however, is expensive and earned; it is established over time by way of others respecting your boundaries. But you won’t know how to establish boundaries properly until you understand your value and the value of others.
Once we begin to let God teach us the difference between forgiveness and trust, this life in Christ starts to make sense. Religion wants us to become punching bags with no backbone. The Holy Spirit wants to teach us our worth, as well as the worth of our wrongdoers. Therefore, we forgive before we are even harmed because forgiveness is like breathing to us! Trust, then, is learned through forgiveness!
Think about it. How do you get forgiven by God when you mess up?…The only way is to actually mess up, and when you do, you are already forgiven. Do you see it? Forgiveness happens once with God (see Hebrews 10:10, Romans 6:10). God is not bound by time so He knows even our future sins and they are forgiven in full. How many of our sins were in the future when Jesus died for them? Every single one. Jesus is now in our hearts, so we have the same attitude toward others’ wrongs against us. When someone does us dirty, we forgive immediately from the heart, even if our feelings and the flesh are not in agreement with our spirit’s knee-jerk forgiveness.
Unconditional and infinite forgiveness is part of our supernatural DNA–we can’t get away from it! It’s inherent! Why do you think you feel more like yourself when you forgive things which seem unforgivable? It’s because you are being yourself! And being yourself allows you to learn how to trust others–it’s cyclical!
As New Covenant believers–people who are literally possessed by God’s Spirit–we don’t forgive others 490 times and then say, “That’s it! You’ve reached your limit! No more forgiveness for you!” No. Paul explains how we are to forgive on this side of the Cross:
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
Both times he said “forgave” which is past tense. We forgive because we’ve been forgiven! We don’t forgive to get forgiven–that’s forgiveness according to the Law (see Matthew 6:14-15). Instead, we forgive because we know that we are forgiven people! Just look at what John wrote as a very old man:
“I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” (1 John 2:12)
To be clear, forgiving as God forgave us doesn’t mean we continually overlook or accept unacceptable behavior. In fact, quite the opposite. It means we understand our value so we now have the tools to stand up to unacceptable behavior in the proper manner: “I love you, but this has to change. If it doesn’t, our relationship will not be the same. This is important to me because I want our relationship to be even better.”
This is the mindset we have as Christians! Of course, we don’t always pull this off with such grace. We fail. We blow up. We temporarily hold grudges and forget who we are and just how forgiven. But we always get back on course and walk by our true forgiving nature once again. If we don’t, we are miserable.
We are also led by God to forgive ourselves just as we do others and get back to establishing healthy boundaries yet again–but with love, respect, and grace. This is a lifelong process so we should always be easy on ourselves. After all, God is very easy on us because of our faith in the Cross (see Philippians 1:6, Romans 5:1, 12:2).
We learn little by little from the Holy Spirit as to how we can confront others in a healthy way without harboring resentment. If we are listening, we realize He is always teaching.
So today, my friends, know this: You should forgive others as many times as God forgave you. How do you do this? Just be yourself. You have forgiveness built in to you and it will never go away. Why do you think you love others so much, even when they hurt you? It’s because you have the forgiveness of God inside you!
A prayer for you: Father, today I want to thank you for your complete forgiveness of all my sins. Thank you for removing them as far as the east is from the west! I’m forever grateful! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. First, help them to understand just how unconditional your forgiveness is for them because of their faith in Jesus. After they begin to understand such forgiveness, I ask that you teach them how to give it away to others by them simply being themselves. But at the same time, I ask that you give them discernment when it comes to what they should and shouldn’t allow from others. GIVE THEM STRENGTH! GIVE THEM GRACE! Make them bold in your love and forgiveness! In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 2. Get your copy here!