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Biblical Basis for Forgiveness

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
–Mark 11:25

In spite of the clear teaching of Scripture, some people teach conditional forgiveness. They say there are some categories of sin that just can’t be forgiven, and we can’t expect a wronged person to forgive those sins. Or they teach that somebody has to earn your forgiveness before you can grant it. And the result is people stay in a prison of bitterness all their lives.

There are two problems with teaching conditional forgiveness. First of all, conditional forgiveness misinterprets the Bible. One passage people turn to to say you can’t forgive those who don’t ask for it is Luke 17:3-4. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” People say, “Isn’t that conditional forgiveness?” Yes, Jesus said if he repents, forgive him. But notice Jesus didn’t say if he doesn’t repent, don’t forgive him. He wasn’t addressing that situation. Jesus was saying, “If somebody asks forgiveness, you are to grant it.” But what if somebody doesn’t ask your forgiveness? Jesus answered that question in Mark 11:25-26. He said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” Perhaps you are thinking of somebody you need to forgive. You know Jesus wants you to release that hurt. It doesn’t matter if the other person is in the next city, the next state, or the cemetery. It doesn’t matter whether that person knows or cares that he has wronged you. Right now, you have the ability to forgive, Jesus said.

Second, conditional forgiveness makes us a prisoner of our offender. When you say, “I’m not going to forgive until my offender does this or this,” you are binding yourself to that other person emotionally. You can go no further in your Christian experience than that person is willing to let you go. Let me illustrate it this way. Have you ever been in a three-legged race? You bind your leg to your partner, and as a couple you hobble down to the finish line as fast as you can. You think, “If I could just get rid of this guy, I could go a lot further.” But three-legged races don’t allow for solo contenders. You are bound to that person. You can go no faster or farther than your partner is willing to go. Now when you say, “I’m not going to forgive so-and-so until they do this, this, and this,” you are tying yourself emotionally to that other person. You can’t go any farther or faster than he or she is willing to let you go. But forgiveness is the process by which you separate yourself from your offender. It’s when you say, “What this person did to me is wrong, and they deserve to pay for it, but I’m going to leave that up to God. I’m going to give up my right to hurt them for hurting me. I’m going to let go of that offense so I can be free to move forward in the life God has for me.” That’s the freedom that comes from forgiveness.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Choosing Forgiveness Over Bitterness” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2019.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


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