Sometimes I Find It Hard To Forgive

Sometimes I Find it Hard to Forgive

Over the last 50+ years of ministering I have noticed that the number one reason for believers not growing in their faith is that they do not have a deep assurance that they are totally forgiven

  • Forgiven of everything in their past
  • Forgiven for any sin or mis-step in the present
  • Forgiven for any future sin or slip-up that might happen in the future 

And because they don’t feel forgiven

Because they have not – do not – experience this sense of freedom from the burden of sin and guilt

They find it very difficult, if not impossible, to totally and permanently forgive others….

Of course, this is deeply troubling.

Jesus said:

Matthew 6:12 NLT “… and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”

Our forgiveness, it seems, is conditional and proportional to our ability and willingness to forgive others

So just as we cannot properly love God or each other until we have experienced the unconditional love of God

We cannot forgive others until we receive forgiveness based in the fact that Jesus, because He loves us, forgave us totally

We experience love – then we can love

We experience forgiveness – We can forgive

Then as we continue our walk with the Lord – being loved and forgiven – God can then continue to forgive proportionally according to how much we forgive

Jesus connected love and forgiveness…

Luke 7:47 “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Paul was an early disciple of Jesus who had much to be forgiven for as he persecuted believers and was responsible for the imprisonment of many and the death of some …

And yet he experienced and knew – walked in – total forgiveness

He writes:

Ephesians 4:25-32 “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

God expects us to forgive others as we have been forgiven – Unconditionally, freely, and totally

And, as I mentioned, He has forgiven everything – past, present, and even future

The apostle Paul was a legalist prior to meeting Jesus and experiencing the radical power of forgiveness

An Acts 7, Stephen, a deacon in the early church, preached an amazing sermon. 

To silence his preaching, an angry mod “cast him out of the city and stoned him.”

Paul oversaw this mob who stoned Stephen and proved of their action

As the book of Acts relate, 

“And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep (died).” (Acts 7:58-60)

In his moment of death, Stephen forgave Saul (Paul) for murdering him and prayed that God would also forgive Saul

God answered Stephen’s prayer …

Saul (Paul) became a Christian, experienced forgiveness of all his sins, including the stoning of Stephen, and changed his name to Paul (now a new creature in Christ)

More than most, Paul experienced and knew the power of forgiveness

You Are Forgiven in Christ

So, we first need to seriously experience God’s love – and His forgiveness

We need to encounter and grabble with the truth that: “God in Christ forgave you.”

Jesus shouted from the cross as His final words in triumphant victory “It is finished!”

At that moment, the wages of sin (Romans 6:23a) were paid in full and sinners were totally forgiven

“God in Christ forgave you”

We need to understand this amazing truth and receive it …

More than receive it: appreciate it

Then, and only then, can you extend forgiveness to others as Christ did to you

To accept God’s forgiveness while refusing to extend it to others is hypocritical and wrong 

And eventually leads to anger and bitterness and a serious lack of excitement and enthusiasm in your walk with Jesus

I love to garden and grow flowers … “playing in the dirt” adult format

I learned early in my gardening career that when I am weeding the garden I need to pull the weeds up from the root

Otherwise, they grow back and do so quickly and with deeper and stronger roots

God, through Paul, says that we only have two possible responses when it comes to those who’ve sinned against us

Forgiveness or bitterness

And like weeds, the Bible tells us that bitterness has roots

Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (hurt)…”

Consequently, when others sin against us – hurt us – speak against us

We can whack away at the surface – our frustrations, disappointment, angers, hurts, and sadness

Or we can pull up our bitterness before it takes root

Like my garden weeds, if you don’t pull up the root of bitterness, it invariable returns – bigger and stronger than ever

The longer you wait, the harder it is to pull it up  … so “don’t let the sun set on your anger”

As a general rule — bitter people have good reason to be angry

They have been sinned against

The sin may have been something catastrophic — such as adultery, abuse, or damaging gossip

Or the sin may not have seemed like a big deal from the outside, but the pain it caused is severe because the person who caused it was loved, trusted, and given privileged access to our souls

Bitterness – the result of not forgiving – is often related to how much you love the one who offended and hurt you

If a stranger sins against you, you are unlikely to become bitter

But if someone close to you – a friend or family member sins against you

You are likelier to become bitter because you have higher expectations for the relationship

Those we love the most are the likeliest candidates for causing bitterness – and that includes bitterness against God

In dealing with our potential unforgiveness and bitterness, Paul called upon is to “put away lying” and to “speak the truth” (Ephesians 4:25) as we saw in our lead Scriptures

To do that, we must be honest about some of our most painful memories

We must ask soul-searching questions and get beyond simply saying we’re fine

Again, in our lead Scriptures:

Paul was clear that if bitterness isn’t exchanged for forgiveness — it grows and becomes increasingly devastating to both you and others

He listed a pattern that proceeds from bitterness: 

Wrath, anger, clamour, slander, and malice (Ephesians 4:31)

When we are bitter – we refuse to forgive

Wrath develops when become irritated, agitated, and can feel our blood pressure rising

Unrighteous anger grows out of that bitterness and causes us to be furious with someone and motivated to harm him or her in some way

Clamour means that our anger can no longer be contained and we engage in a conflict with others for the distinct purpose of harming them either emotionally or physically

Slander occurs when, in an effort to vindicate ourselves and vilify others — we gossip about them and seek to ruin their reputation 

All gossip when listened to alters and often ruins the relationship the listener has with the person who offended you

Malice manifests when we invent ways of doing evil to punish those against whom we’re bitter — regardless of personal cost

The entire goal is to make those individuals lose — even if that should mean that we lose as well

At the point of malice, people are capable of horrific evil and out-of-character conduct that is oftentimes hard to even imagine

Sometimes the cycle of bitterness can move very quickly, like a raging fire — over the course of minutes or days

Other times, bitterness solders slowly over the course of months or years

If we are honest:

We are all bitter at various times in our lives

In those seasons, we tend to blame others for our bitterness

The truth is that people, even the worst of them, don’t embitter us

Rather, they provide us an opportunity to choose to either forgive or be bitter and we remain personally responsible for which option we choose

Be Angry and Do Not Sin

A common word of advice to those who are bitter and angry is that they shouldn’t be angry about the wrongs they have suffered

That counsel is both unbiblical and unhelpful

Paul didn’t write: “Don’t get angry” 

He said, “Be angry, and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26)

He accepted anger as a legitimate emotional response to being hurt and offended (sinned against)

But he also warned us to be careful not to accept or empower anger that comes out of being hurt or offended

He tells us to harness the energy of our anger towards righteousness rather than letting it fuel our fall into clamour, slander, and malice 

He tells us to: “… not let the sun go down on [our] wrath (anger)”

We are not to let anger rule us and set up camp in our souls

But we are to take our anger to God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, seek to deal in a just way with the issues that have caused the anger and bitterness

When our anger, rather than the Holy Spirit rules us — we become the kind of quick-tempered, hotheaded fall the Bible warns against:

Proverbs 14:17a “A man of quick temper acts foolishly…”

Proverbs 14:29 “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly”

Proverbs 19:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

To note:

Unrighteous anger: Is only concerned with our self-absorbed, self-centered issues and really does not care about the other person

Self-directed anger: anger directed at oneself is an expression of our not caring anything about ourselves

Righteous anger: is healthy anger that seeks to protect everyone involved and is disciplined in its actions all of which are based in love

Paul exhorted us to urgently deal with our anger and not wait even a day to address it – otherwise it will consume us

Failure to do so, he said, grieves the Holy Spirit (lead Scripture) because the Spirit desires and is able to help us work through our anger and bitterness

He wants to help us so Satan doesn’t have a foothold in our souls


    • Take some time to pray about it (before the sun sets)
    • Clear your head so you are thinking rationally
    • Calm down – your anger will not benefit anyone
    • Seek wise counsel
    • Jot down a few thoughts so you can engage constructively

Remember, the longer you wait, the more ground we give the enemy in our lives

The only helpful answer to our bitterness and anger is the Gospel

Put another way – from our lead Scripture:

Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

You may have valid reasons for your angry bitterness …

Maybe the person has yet to apologize (or never will) …

It may be that you know they won’t respond to your forgiveness …

And Paul states we are to “get rid of all bitterness” (Ephesians 4:31) so even if the other person is at fault or will never change we are still called upon to forgive everyone and everything

We are to “forgive one another, even as God in Christ forgave us” (Ephesians 4:32)

When we forgive others, it has very little, if anything, to do with them

Instead it has everything to do with God and you

As an act of worship, we must respond to other sinners as God responds to us as sinners — with forgiveness

In forgiving them, you are leaving the situation in God’s hands and freeing ourselves from the death grip of anger and bitterness

And you cannot accept forgiveness from God without extending it to others

Matthew 6:12 NLT “… and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”


Forgiveness is both a decision and a process

1> Forgiveness is cancelling a debt owed to you

When someone sins against you, a wrong is committed and a debt is accrued

In forgiving others, you relinquish your right to make them repay that debt – suffer the consequences for what they did

2> Forgiveness is removing the control your offender has over you

So long as your offender remains unforgiven, they continue to loom large in your life by maintaining an emotional presence

Through forgiveness, you not only free them from their debt to you but also emotionally free yourself from them

3> Forgiveness is giving a gift to your offender and yourself

Forgiveness includes the physical benefits of reduced anxiety, stress, and blood pressure

It also includes the mental benefit of no longer obsessing over a person or act – freeing you up to move on with your life

Forgiving allows you to move from a life centered on pain to one centered on God and others as you regain emotional health, empathy, and perspective

This improves all of your relationships – family and friends 

4> Forgiveness is forsaking revenge (getting even)

Romans 12:19 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’”

When you leave them in God’s hands you rise above the situation and allows God to work in their lives

If we seek revenge — by feeding rage and anger, we become like the person who hurt us — self-interested and dangerous

Chinese proverb: “He who seeks revenge would dig two graves”

5> Forgiveness is leaving the situation 100% in God’s hands

This can be difficult because it violates our sense of fairness and justice

But the Bible promises that God will deal with everyone fairly and justly

So forgiveness means you recognize that God is in control and you are leaving the situation in His hands

6> Forgiveness is often an ongoing process

In Jesus’ time, a rabbinic teaching said that you only had to forgive someone three times, and after that no more

In Matthew 18:21-22 we read, Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”

This is a way of saying that for Jesus’ followers forgiveness is to be unlimited 

And you will know when you have totally forgiven when you are praying for the person who wounded you and the feelings are gone – no longer attached to that person and situation

7> Forgiveness is wanting good for your offender

In forgiving our offenders, we change from wanting them to suffer and pay to wanting them to repent and change by God’s grace


1> Forgiveness is not denying that you were hurt or offended

In forgiving someone, we don’t say, “Nothing happened” of that something was “no big deal”

We are saying,  “I understand that as I have been forgiven I need to forgive”

2> Forgiveness is not enabling the other person’s behaviour

We can forgive while still being honest and truthful about a person’s behaviour and refusing to be a part of it any longer

3> Forgiveness does not wait for the other person to repent and be sorry for their behaviour

Sometimes a person will acknowledge their wrong and ask for forgiveness

Sometimes they won’t

Sometimes the person has moved away and cannot be reached

Sometimes the person has died and you can no longer expect them to change

We are to forgive whether they admit that they were wrong and hurt you or don’t

Christianity is unique in this way, other major religions teach that you cannot forgive someone who has not apologized

4> Forgiveness is not covering up what has happened

It is actually acknowledging that there has been a wrong committed against you

5> Forgiveness is not forgetting

It is commonly believed that we should “forgive and forget” which is impossible and stupid because it means you will allow the person to ‘do it again’

When God said, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34)

He did not mean that He has no recollection – as it is impossible because God is all-knowing

It means that God does not hold that forgiven sin against us and does not keep it as the basis of our identity and interaction with us

When we forgive someone, we are remembering the offence or action so that we can forgive it … and also so we can alter our behaviour so as not to allow further harm to be done

6> Forgiveness is not trust

Forgiveness takes a moment, but trust must be rebuilt over time

Once trust is lost, it can take a great deal of time to rebuild

7> Forgiveness is not reconciliation

For reconciliation to happen forgiveness must be given and then received by the other person

For reconciliation to happen the person who hurt you or offended you must recognize and own what happened and work towards actually changing their behaviour

There is a need to reach a certain place in the forgiving process where change is apparent and then together you can move towards reconciliation 


Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”

The true test of whether to not we are bitter is our tongues

What do we say about the person who offended us?

Do we pray for them?

We should — Paul said, 

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:29-30)

Even when the person against who we are bitter is not present – the Holy Spirit is

And He grieves when we speak ill of others

I have noticed to common trends in the speech of those who are bitter

1> They are prone to nickname people against whom they are bitter

They give a demeaning new identity to the offender

2> They are always talking about the situation or person

“Hebrews 12:15 “The root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” 

And today with social media this can become very harmful and even destructive

So, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger (wrath).”