Forgiveness is essential for the health of any long-term human relationship. Your parents wronged you. Your siblings went out of their way to wrong you. Your spouse has wronged you. Every friend you’ve ever had in your life, including your dog, has wronged you. Your co-workers and neighbors have wronged you. Possibly worst of all, you have wronged all these people. How is it possible for us to continue in long term relationships when everyone is hurting everyone else? Forgiveness is the answer.

Forgiveness is the only option for sustaining a healthy relationship. Forgiveness is a promise to not hold the wrong against someone. Forgiveness is a promise to treat someone as if they did not hurt you. Forgiveness promises to not seek revenge. Forgiveness does not treat the wrongdoer as if they owe you something. Forgiveness puts aside the wrong done and refuses to let it interfere with the relationship.

This kind of forgiveness cannot be understood or practiced without first gaining a deep understanding of the magnitude of the forgiveness you have received from God. We are offenders against Him from birth. We are all rebels who by nature refuse God’s authority. We revel in all manner of wickedness. We pursue our own will, scorn God’s rule, doubt His goodness and deny His wisdom. Yet, “while we were yet sinners Christ dies for us.” (Romans 5:8) When we were enemies of God who refused to seek after Him, He sought after us. He gave Himself to pay the penalty of our crimes that we might be forgiven.

At salvation every single sin, past, present and future, is completely washed away. God’s forgiveness is complete, extending to all sins and lasting for all eternity. God does not wash away most of our sin, He washes away all of it. When He forgives He promises to never again think on our sin. He puts our sin behind Him, so that He never sees it again. He buries our sin under the blood of Jesus and it is never brought up again. God’s forgiveness cannot be anything less than total or we would never have eternal life. If God fails to forgive even one little sin- the least of sins- then we would have no hope of entering heaven. The littlest sin ever committed demands eternal separation from God. If God’s forgiveness could waiver in the slightest or fail to cover one sin, then damnation would await us all.

When God forgives us, He removes our sin from us. He no longer views as offenders. He views us as righteous, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. He does not hold us responsible for any of our sin. The debt of our sin is taken completely away from us and God promises we owe Him nothing. As a result of God’s full forgiveness the sinner’s relationship with Him is fully restored. God in no way limits our relationship with Him because of our sin. He makes us His sons and daughters. He gives us an eternal inheritance with Jesus. He will not force the worst of sinners to live on far edges of heaven. Every believer will have the same access to Him because all are fully forgiven.

The magnitude of God’s forgiveness is the basis of the Christian’s forgiveness. Christian forgiveness is not a response to wrongs done against you. Forgiveness is a response to the grace of God poured out upon you. When you begin to understand how much you have been forgiven, then, and only then, can you extend forgiveness to others.

As a postscript, one other essential about forgiveness must be mentioned. Some sins can be covered by love, but some sins are of a such a nature that they cannot be overlooked. They must be confronted. When it is necessary to confront sin, the full restoration of the relationship requires the sinner’s repentance. In these cases, the Christian cannot treat the unrepentant as if they have never sinned. To do so would be unwise and, most importantly, be unhelpful to the sinner. The relationship will be limited, or possibly even ended, because of the person’s refusal to turn from their. The offenders refusal to repent does not give permission for bitterness, animosity, resentment, unkindness, malicious words or refusal to seek restoration. Just as God is the model of forgiveness, He is also the model for response to the unrepentant. Right now God extends mercy and patience to sinners, giving them every opportunity to repent. So should Christians extend mercy and patience to those who sin against them, even when the relationship must be severed because of sin.