The Process of Forgiveness

Gerry Breshears, Ph.D.

God is Just and Gracious

YHWH never lets sin go unpunished. He atones for sin completely at Calvary. He forgives completely those who accept Christ’s gift of salvation. He initiates and empowers cleansing of the impact of sin, transforming us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. He is unconditionally “for” His children.

  • I am to be like God in my forgiveness.
  • I can face my sin when I know God is for me.


When a person sins against me, he incurs moral debt to me (and to God) because of the offense. I have the right to collect on that debt. The debt must be proportionate to the offense (e. g., not more than an eye for an eye).

  • This is the principle of justice
  • Forgetting or minimizing sin is not forgiveness
  • Identifying the sin and the guilty person(s) is a prerequisite for real forgiveness

Personal Forgiveness

My personal act to release the one who sinned against me from my personal right to collect on the moral debt (to pay him back) for his offense, giving it over to God for His justice and mercy.

  • I forgive because I have been forgiven and commanded to be like God in my forgiving
  • I also look to myself to see what wrong I may have done in the interaction
  • I love the offender, seeking his best
  • I pray God’s justice and mercy for the offender
  • I can be released from the personal bitterness and resentment because I trust God to work justice. I dare trust that He does better justice than I do
  • I do everything I can to initiate reconciliation with the offender

Restoration of Relationship

Trust, friendship and relationship are restored only upon confession of sin and fruit of repentance.

  • This may be a very difficult process
  • Confession and repentance involves:
    • real acknowledgment of offense
    • remorse (beyond I’m sorry I got caught)
    • restitution where appropriate
    • renewal of character and lifestyle
  • Trust is always lessened or destroyed when sin is glossed over or “forgotten” without restoration. Such spiritual denial subverts forgiveness and reconciliation.
  • When confession and fruit of repentance are present, we are obligated to work to normalize the relationship


When the whole process of cleansing is completed, the sin is “not remembered” rather than “forgotten” (Isa. 43:25). In Bible we learn that “remember” means to bring into active memory so that attitude and action are impacted. Like God, we do not “not remember” the sin, so it does not influence future relationship. Like God, we do not erase the fact of the sin from knowledge. In case of God, that would contradict His omniscience.

Gerry Breshears, Ph.D.
Division of Biblical and Theological Studies
Western Seminary
5511 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Oregon 97215