Forgiveness Is Not Semantics

The world often claims that authentic, unhindered friendship is not only unrealistic but not that important. I have come across very Godly and mature believers who are also confused on this important matter of community. We must get back to making authentic friendships essential as we disciple others—teaching and living-out this truth. Christ tells us to forgive others just as our heavenly Father forgives us (Mt. 6:14-15):

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Let's look at how this concept plays out in our society and if it helps relationships or not. When we sin against someone, we'd much rather free ourselves from that wrongdoing so we say things such as "My bad," or "I didn't mean to do it." We’re trying to say what we've done is really a cosmic whoops versus Sin. The person who was wronged often responds by saying, "No problem, everyone makes mistakes," or "Don't worry about it." The wronged party returns the favor by passively retracting any ownership that they might have in the process of reconciliation.

Alarmingly, this interaction becomes the norm for our relationships. The result is that trust is never truly built, safety is never restored, and we are able to throw past problems back at each other. This is why bitterness creeps in, and we begin to paint a false picture of each other. This is also why people are pegged as harsh and unloving when they call a sin, a Sin. It’s simply not the norm in our culture. Is it unloving? Or is it redemptive?

We like to think that forgiveness is dispensed by a super-gracious God with no strings attached. This is not altogether true. Although forgiveness is free and God is super-gracious, Christ has said it must be given to be received. I propose that by the definition of the cross, forgiveness is always available but only instituted when we realize we have wronged a Holy God and ask God for His forgiveness. God forgives, but we have to admit we need forgiveness and forgive others in turn. God doesn't take the "no big deal" route, nor does he let us say "Oops, my fault." In the same way, as we follow Jesus' model and obey his command, we must concede that there are two people in the relationship. Both people are needed for the relationship to be brought from brokenness to wholeness.

So what does it look like to practically take our cues from Jesus in the area of receiving and forgiving people?

When we wrong someone we do the following:

  1. We don't make excuses or justification.
  2. We clearly admit the sin and name the sin.
  3. We ask for the other person to forgive us (modeling that they are an important part of the reconciliation process).

The person who has been wronged now has the opportunity to do two things:

  1. Take the person off the hook by extending forgiveness (Mt. 6:14-15).
  2. Encourage the person being forgiven that their wrong doing will not be connected to them during the rest of the relationship (1Cor. 13:5).

I must warn you, people like to hear this theologically, but when you hold them accountable they might not be so appreciative. To enact this gospel-centered principle as we disciple others, we must first build conviction from Christ’s instruction and then plead with the Holy Spirit to strengthen us as we build authentic friendships. In fact, this negotiation of true repentance and forgiveness is a critical key to authentic friendships. In modeling Christ’s instruction for forgiveness, we are fighting for a major truth of genuine gospel-centered fellowship.


Eric Russ is compelled by gospel-transformation in the city and author of Discipleship Defined. He and his wife Sara along with a dedicated team of friends moved to Detroit's east side and founded Mack Avenue Community Church, where he serves as lead pastor. Discipleship is the heartbeat of their ministry. Twitter: @EricRuss76