By Vivian Bricker, Crosswalk.com
The Bible repeatedly tells us to forgive others (Matthew 18:21-22; Mark 11:25). It is vital for Christians to forgive others just as God forgave us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:32). However, nowhere in the Bible are we told to forgive and forget.
Forgiving, But Not Forgetting
Christians are called to forgive one another (Matthew 6:14); however, God never tells us that we must forgive and forget. We can forgive others without forgetting what they have done. As rightly stated by Compelling Truth, “We cannot simply decide to ‘forget’ sins or erase them from our memory. In fact, in some cases it would be unwise or unsafe to do so” (“Is 'forgive and forget' a biblical concept?” Compelling Truth, 2021). God chooses to not only forgive our sins, but He also chooses to not remember them (Isaiah 43:25). This does not mean that God automatically washes away any memories of our sin in His mind. Rather, He chooses to not identify us with our sins. He does not literally erase the memory of our sin from His mind. God chooses to forgive and forget.
As Christians, we are called to forgive others, yet we are not called to forget. For one, we cannot magically erase a person’s sin from our minds, and secondly, God never tells us to forget when someone sins against us (“Is 'forgive and forget' a biblical concept?” Compelling Truth, 2021). If we choose to forget what somebody has done to us, it could place us in a dangerous position (“Is 'forgive and forget' a biblical concept?” Compelling Truth, 2021). As an example, if someone lied to us and asked for forgiveness, we should forgive them; however, we should not forget that the person lied to us. If they lied to us once, they might lie to us again, compromising our finances or relationships with others. If somebody has hurt you by abuse, whether it be physical or emotional abuse, you should forgive them, but you are not called to forget what they did to you. If you have been the victim of abuse, “forgetting” the sin committed against you could place you in a similar situation again with the same person. Choosing to “forget” can cause a person to walk down many unsafe roads. While God does choose to remember our sins no more, He never commands us to forget. Therefore, we are called to forgive, but we are not called to forgive and forget.
When we genuinely forgive someone, it means we no longer have any angry, negative, or bad feelings toward that person. If you have truly chosen to forgive someone, you will not seek out revenge on the individual. God tells us we should never seek out revenge on others (Romans 12:19). Still, forgiving a person does not mean forgetting. Forgiving means choosing to give the situation over to God. You do not need to hold onto past hurts from others. Choosing to forgive means letting go of any bitterness, resentment, or other negative feelings against that person. It does not mean you forget what they have done, but rather, it means you forgive them as the Lord forgave you. When you forgive someone, you have to choose to remove any bitterness in your heart toward the other person. You have to forgive them the same way God has forgiven you (“Is 'forgive and forget' a biblical concept?” Compelling Truth, 2021).
Choosing to forgive others is not only beneficial to others, but it is beneficial to yourself. Carrying out unforgiveness will be a heavy burden to bear. If you choose to hold onto unforgiveness, it will impair your walk with the Lord and you will grow more bitter, sad, and angry. If you thought forgiving means forgetting, rest assured that it does not. You can forgive the person without forgetting what they have done. There is no way to eradicate the memory from your mind, so you will always remember what the individual did to you. By forgiving, but not forgetting, you will be able to protect yourself in the future. God does want us to forgive others, but He never tells us to mindlessly forget what people have done to us. The Lord does not want you to be a doormat that people just walk over. You are a beautiful masterpiece of God’s and He values you greatly (Psalm 139:13-16). It is a tragic reality that bad things happen to us in this world and many of these bad things are things people we know do against us. You should forgive them for their sins; however, you do not have to forget what they did. By choosing to forgive them, you will be able to deepen your relationship with Christ and grow in Christlikeness (“Is 'forgive and forget' a biblical concept?” Compelling Truth, 2021).
Holding onto unforgiveness will rot your bones and cause you a great amount of unhappiness. Choose today to forgive whoever you need to forgive in your life. No matter what the person has done to you, God calls you to forgive them. Forgiving them does not mean what they did to you is okay. Similarly, forgiving them does not mean you forget what they did to you. True forgiveness is forgiving the individual just as God forgives you when you placed faith in Christ. We do not deserve God’s forgiveness, but yet God forgives us because He loves us. In the same way, the person who has hurt you may not be deserving of your forgiveness, but you still must forgive the individual. Forgiving others can be hard, especially if they did something really bad to you; however, God still calls you to forgive them (Colossians 3:13). If you are having trouble forgiving someone in your life, ask God to help you forgive this individual. Ask Him to fill you with the peace and tranquility of His love. God does not delight in you being upset. He yearns to give you freedom and peace of mind.
Choosing forgiveness is hard, but God can help you let go of unforgiveness. As we have already established, forgiveness is not forgetting and does not mean what they did to you is “okay.” Many people believe if you forgive someone, you will automatically not feel the pain associated with how the person hurt you or what they did to you; however, this is not true. As Christian writer Sam Storms wrote, “Forgiving someone does not mean you no longer feel the pain of their offense” (Sam Storms, “Forgiveness: What It Is & What It Is Not,” Acts 29, 2011). The pain you may have because of what a person did to you may always linger with you for the rest of your life. While God can completely help you dissolve any feelings of resentment or bitterness, the emotional pain may always remain. As an example, a man may have cheated on his wife and committed adultery with another woman. After much counseling and forgiveness, the man and woman decide to remain married. However, when the woman sees her husband smiling at another woman, the pain of the affair may still come rushing over her even though she has forgiven her husband (Sam Storms, “Forgiveness: What It Is & What It Is Not,” Acts 29, 2011).
Forgiving someone does not mean the emotional pain will be gone forever. Even though the emotional pain and hurt may still be there, you have to choose forgiveness. The Lord commands us to forgive others—even when it is hard. Once you forgive them, you cannot hold bitterness, anger, or hostility toward the other person in your heart. You have to intentionally choose to forgive them and act kindly towards them (Romans 12:17-21). The person who hurt you may have done something extremely wrong to you; however, God tells us to never repay evil with evil. Romans 12:17 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” It can be hard to forgive, but it is what God tells us to do. Forgiving means you are forgiving the person as God forgave you. None of us deserve God’s forgiveness, but He freely chose to forgive us when we placed faith in Christ. In the same way, we must forgive others even if they do not deserve our forgiveness and even if they do not ask for our forgiveness. Thus, Christians are called to forgive, but we are not called to forget.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.