It’s common knowledge that Christians are expected to forgive as Christ forgave us.
If you study the Bible, you’ll find multiple verses (you’ll see some of them below) that make it clear that God expects us to forgive others, even if they’ve treated us poorly in the past or continue to do so.
What isn’t common knowledge (even amongst many Christians) is what this forgiveness actually looks like.
As a result, many people mistakenly believe they’ve forgiven others when they haven’t… while others pretty much refuse to forgive due to a common misconception over what forgiveness actually means or entails.
In this article, we’ll dispel a few common misconceptions about what forgiveness means (and doesn’t mean), we’ll look at what the Bible has to say about forgiveness, and we’ll examine 12 common warning signs that you haven’t forgiven others as fully as you might think you have.
What Forgiveness Means (And Doesn’t Mean)
Contrary to popular belief, forgiveness does NOT mean:
- What the other person did is okay.
- You have to forget (or even overlook) what they did.
- You have to go on like nothing ever happened.
- They shouldn’t receive any consequences for their actions.
- You never feel pain, anger or sadness about the situation.
- Or you should allow the offender to continually mistreat you or your loved ones.
As I share in my article, Four Things Every Christian Needs to Know About Forgiveness: When you choose forgiveness, you choose to lay down your right for revenge and let the Lord give out the consequences — not you.
Romans 12:19 tells us, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” Deuteronomy 32:35 echoes the same.
Holding onto unforgiveness is like holding a burning hot rock, hoping that the other person gets burned.
Yes, you may have the right to feel angry, but by holding onto the rock, you’re also (or only) hurting yourself.
By choosing forgiveness, you choose to set down the heavy weight you’ve been carrying, knowing that God will fight for you.
Yes, you can set boundaries around toxic family members and friends to protect yourself and your family from being hurt again — but you can do so out of a place of genuine love and concern for everyone’s well-being, not out of anger, bitterness, or revenge.
Personally, there was a time in my life when I was holding onto unforgiveness. I felt awful — angry all the time!
Once I chose to forgive, I freed myself from carrying the weight of anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness.
The other person never apologized, but I didn’t need them to.
I was able to say, “What happened was awful, but I can’t change the past. There’s no need to dwell there.” I was able to acknowledge the past hurt but still move forward into the future without dragging the past alongside me.
To this day, I don’t have the close relationship with this person I once did, but I don’t hold any anger, bitterness, or unforgiveness over what happened. I’m able to say, “What happened, happened” and move on with my life.
It’s a wonderful, freeing feeling!
See Also: Are We Able to Forgive as Jesus Did?
What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness?
While forgiveness may seem difficult or unappealing, there’s a reason Jesus expects us to forgive — because it’s good for us!
We don’t forgive to let others off the hook. We forgive because it offers us freedom from carrying a load we were never meant to carry.
The Bible makes it clear that forgiveness is not optional. We are expected to forgive those who hurt us, just as Christ forgave us. If we don’t, our own forgiveness is at stake! (And this is a very big deal!) We do not want to miss out on the freedom and forgiveness Christ offers us.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” — Ephesians 4:32
“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”– Matthew 6:15
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” –Matthew 18:21-22
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” — Luke 6:27
Again, forgiveness does NOT mean we allow others to continue to abuse us.
We can still draw boundaries, report people to the authorities, or even remove them from our lives if the situation warrants it. But we don’t have to do so out of a feeling of anger or revenge, but appropriate love and wisdom.
We can protect ourselves and our families while trusting God to work out the situation for our good (Romans 8:28).
12 Warning Signs You’re Stuck in Unforgiveness
Are there people in your life you have yet to fully forgive? Sometimes we can think we’ve forgiven someone when we’ve really just swept our feelings aside, pretending everything is okay when it’s not.
Here are 12 warning signs that you haven’t fully forgiven the people in your life, whether your parents, spouse, children, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, God or yourself!
As you read through this list, prayerfully ask God to reveal where any of these symptoms may be showing up in your life.
Are there still pockets of unforgiveness or bitterness you need to address?
1. Lingering Anger or Resentment
Maybe you still feel resentment or anger toward the person, even if the incident occurred a long time ago. While anger can certainly be justified, it shouldn’t continue to linger long after you’ve fully forgiven the person.
2. Reliving the Offense
Maybe you frequently replay the hurtful event in your mind, reliving the pain and emotions associated with it. When this happens, you might feel like you’re stuck in a loop you can’t seem to stop.
3. Negative Thoughts and Feelings
Maybe you regularly have negative thoughts or feelings about the person, and these emotions affect your mood and well-being. If you constantly feel angry, bitter, upset, or anxious around a person (despite the fact that they are not continuing to hurt you), this could be a major sign of unforgiveness.
Maybe you actively avoid the person or situations that remind you of the offense rather than addressing the issue and moving forward. While it can be helpful to take a minute before responding, if this avoidance goes on too long, it can be a red flag of unforgiveness.
5. Seeking Revenge
Alternately, maybe you fantasize about getting even or seek revenge in some way, whether it’s through gossip, spreading rumors, or engaging in passive-aggressive behavior. Worse, perhaps you’ve acted out these thoughts through passive or direct aggressive behaviors.
6. Repeatedly Bringing Up the Past
Maybe you frequently bring up the past wrongdoing in discussions, arguments, or conflicts, using it as a weapon against the person. Alternately, maybe you repeatedly tell the story of what happened to whoever will listen, even though they weren’t involved and can’t do anything to help.
7. Unwillingness to Reconnect
Maybe you are unwilling to re-establish a relationship or connection with the person, even if they have apologized or made amends.
While there are times when setting Christian boundaries or even cutting toxic family members and friends out of your life is certainly appropriate, it can also be an indication that you haven’t fully forgiven the person for the offense.
8. Emotional Distance
Maybe you maintain emotional distance from the person, even if you interact with them on a superficial level. It may seem as though you have a wall built up that they can’t get past, no matter how hard they try. You won’t let them in.
9. Lack of Empathy
Maybe you struggle to empathize with the person’s perspective or understand their motivations, making it difficult to see their point of view.
Instead of seeing the individual as a flawed human being who makes mistakes, you might see them only in a one-dimensional light: as the person who hurt you or someone you care about.
10. Holding Grudges
Maybe you hold grudges against the person for unrelated issues or minor offenses, using the past wrongdoing as a justification. When this happens, the other person may feel like they can’t do anything right. You’ve already decided not to trust or believe them based on past actions.
11. Negative Impact on Relationships
Maybe your unforgiveness affects your relationships with others, as you may have difficulty trusting or forgiving people in general.
While it can be wise to set boundaries around those who have hurt you in the past to prevent further damage, if this same attitude seeps into your other relationships with those who have done nothing wrong, it can be a serious problem.
12. Inability to Let Go
Finally, maybe you find it hard to let go of the pain and hurt caused by the person’s actions, and it continues to affect your daily life. When your unforgiveness reaches this point, it can have dramatic negative consequences on your life or your ability to care for yourself or others.
If you have one or more of these warning signs, does it automatically mean you’re stuck in unforgiveness? No.
While some feelings of hurt or anger are normal, you may need to draw boundaries. Furthermore, forgiveness can be a process where you choose to forgive again and again as these negative feelings come up.
However, these questions provide an excellent tool for prayerfully considering if there are areas that still need to be addressed in your life.
From there, your next steps may be to talk to God, a friend, or a counselor, learn to take every thought captive, set appropriate boundaries, or use prayer journaling to help you work through your feelings and find relief.