How Many Times Should I Forgive Others?
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister (or spouse, child, relative, in-law, family member, neighbor, friend, co-worker) who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’ (as in ‘infinitely,’ like Jesus forgives us).”
Matthew 18:21-22, (my notes added)
Forgiving others infinitely doesn’t mean you continually overlook or accept unacceptable behavior. Religious Christians (those who find their identity in what they “do” and “don’t do” for God) will try to make you feel guilty when you no longer put up with the abuse or poor treatment of others.
When we do constantly put up with NOT NORMAL treatment AS NORMAL, this creates codependency. Codependency is when you are not okay, unless someone else is okay–even if it’s at the expense of your well-being. It’s when you can’t be happy, unless you make someone else is happy. It’s trying to control and change the improper behavior of others, and your life can’t be complete until you control and change them.
This terrible mindset must be unlearned, by learning your full value in Christ. Codependent behavior is rampant in the church, as well as among Christians who don’t attend church regularly. The “church law” of forgiving others until your life is on a near-suicidal level is a seed planted in the souls of believers. The problem is, this is not the gospel, and it causes relationships to be frustrating and out of balance. Soon enough, this seed, when watered with legalism, sprouts up into our lives, growing a tree of codependency. The fruit that grows out of codependency is fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, guilt, and condemnation, all because, “You’re not allowed to stand up to others, just take the abuse, because you are a Christian.”
However, God does not agree with this, and Christ teaches you how to break free from codependency by planting new seeds and reshaping your soul. Jesus, through the example of His sacrifice, teaches us that we are so infinitely loved and valued, that He would die for us! So YES! WE CAN establish healthy boundaries which others must respect.
As the Holy Spirit guides us into this new strength, little by little, we learn to stop trying to change others, and instead, we allow Jesus to change us. We stop getting upset about people not changing, and we stop trying to change them. We are okay, even if they are not okay–and we stop ruining our lives attempting to change them. This renewed mindset gives us peace as we let the chips fall where they may, while we set healthy boundaries and enforce them with confidence, respect, and love—both, for ourselves and others.
When we factor in the removal of codependency from our lives, forgiving others infinitely simply means you forgive repeatedly and unendingly without resentment or fear in your soul. Forgiving infinitely, like Jesus does, means you always hold out hope that the offender will no longer make the same poor choices which are causing you (and possibly others) so much harm. It doesn’t mean you continue to allow the harm to happen. That’s codependency in the fullest! I know about codependency very well because it has run in my family for generations, and I finally broke free from it with God’s help!
But even worse, codependency will cause dependency on vices from outside ourselves—all because we are ignoring repugnant behavior from others, or from ourselves, because we refuse to take a stand. For me, my codependency created dependency on several things: alcohol, porn, sex, video-game binging, earning money, physical fitness, golf, basketball, and much more. Everything was way out of balance, and for a time, it was even religion. When my codependency would flare up, I would try to douse it out with “being a good Christian” or intentionally overlooking the terrible actions of others. “Covering it with the blood!” “Carrying my cross!” were some of my excuses for not saying, “Hey, this is not acceptable. Your choices are effecting my life negatively. This will change, or this relationship will not be the same.”
Codependency causes you extreme frustration and anxiety because you are trying to change how you feel, by ignoring how you really feel—all because you can’t change people, and you don’t know what else to do to find peace.
As for religion, me abusing that was fair game too. The devil had sold me on the incorrect mindset of, “If I could just be like these church people, then I would feel better,” all while still ignoring the actions of others. Oh, I was so wrong in thinking this would “fix” me! My dependency just switched, right over into legalism. It jumped to never missing a church service, trying desperately to get the approval of a pastor, and overwhelming myself (while trying to force others) into “religious stuff.” In turn, I only compounded my already tortured soul! I needed relief, fast—on a near-suicidal level.
Codependency + dependency = Miserable life.
Jesus came to set us free from both, and to give us an abundant life! (See John 10:10).
This abundant life begins by simply making yourself available to God each day. As we do, the Holy Spirit starts to renew our minds, we then begin to understand our value! As we start to understand our value, we develop a newfound confidence of balance in Him. He teaches us how to forgive infinitely, but at the same time, how to create strong barriers which will keep our souls healthy.
Once you begin to let Him do this, any hint of codependency or dependency will fall by the wayside, organically. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to forgive those who hurt us repeatedly by making a conscious decision to release them from what they owe us, before they hurt us, infinitely. But along with that, He teaches us how to protect ourselves from harm. He teaches us that just because we are Christians, we do not have to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of on a grand scale—Jesus took that brunt for us, at the Cross, and we are so valuable that He actually did!
What happens next is we begin to find a healthy medium as we learn how to treat others as Christ treats us: expecting change–while always holding out hope. Forgiving others repeatedly doesn’t mean you have to keep allowing yourself to be hurt by them. Forgiveness is instant, but trust is earned. This is why you have got to stand up to those who hurt you, but do it with love and respect. Remember, confrontations are critical for your spiritual health, yet, they should always be carried out with Christ guiding your words and actions.
And if the offender is willing to make changes in their choices and how they treat you, then by all means, move forward and enjoy that relationship. But one last time, I want to repeat: SET. HEALTHY. BOUNDARIES. Step back, pray for them diligently, and think of them with goodness and love–and while doing so, enjoy your life.
Yes, enjoy your life! You’re allowed to enjoy your life, even in the midst of learning how to forgive others infinitely! While doing that, and learning how to understand your full value to God—enjoy your life! Jesus gives you this right! You can always, no matter what, ENJOY, YOUR, LIFE!
A prayer for you: Jesus, 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, with your blood. I’m forever grateful! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. First, help them to understand just HOW BIG your forgiveness is for THEM; that they are so special to you, you gave your life to makes sure they were forgiven. After they understand this forgiveness, I ask that you teach them how to give it away, unconditionally. 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! HELP THEM! Make them bold in your love. In your name I pray, amen.
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