How Quickly Must I Grant Forgiveness?

Scripture is very clear that we are to forgive others for their trespasses against us (Colossians 3:13). However, we occasionally run into a situation where a spouse finds it incredibly difficult to forgive their spouse quickly. For example, consider the following scenario:

A husband confesses hidden sin to his wife and asks for her forgiveness. Due to the nature and severity of the sin, the wife feels emotionally overwhelmed and says she needs time to process what she heard before granting forgiveness.

In Matthew 18:35, Scripture cautions that we are to “forgive your brother from your heart.” However, what if you, like the wife in this example, are not yet ready to forgive? The motivation we have to forgive others quickly is three part:

Three Motivations for Granting Forgiveness Quickly

First, as we become more like Jesus, we grow to grant forgiveness more quickly. Christ himself forgives us of our sin immediately (1 John 1:9). He does not wait or demand penance beforehand. He forgave his abusers even as they tormented him on the cross (Luke 23:34). We also see Stephen doing likewise as he was stoned to death (Acts 7:60). Because Jesus is our model for proper forgiveness, we too should learn to grant forgiveness in the same way he does to us. We are to forgive as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).

Second, by not granting forgiveness we provide an opportunity for sin to take root in our hearts. Delaying forgiveness can lead to anger and bitterness, and ultimately disrupt our fellowship with God. When we forgive quickly, we also allow healing and reconciliation to begin quickly.

Third, not granting forgiveness is often the result of us misunderstanding the concept of biblical forgiveness. We should remind ourselves of some of the things that forgiveness is NOT:

  • Forgetting what happened
  • Condoning the offense
  • A feeling (forgiveness is a choice you make, sometimes in spite of how you feel)
  • Fully reconciling the relationship (but is a crucial step towards reconciliation)
  • Just about the offender (the primary beneficiary of forgiveness is the one who was hurt)

True forgiveness means giving up the perceived right to get even, even if you feel you deserve it. It means that any debt held between the two of you is cancelled (Matthew 18:27, Romans 12:17). Forgiveness means agreeing to not hold it over their head (Romans 12:18) and trying to move ahead constructively with the relationship.

So, returning to the example above, if the wife is unable to forgive her husband in the moment, it would instead be appropriate for her to say, “I commit to forgive you.” She would then work with diligence to do so, realizing that the longer she waits, the greater the opportunity for sin and bitterness to take a foothold. Part of being diligent will often mean inviting other believers into the conversation and making them aware of the situation. The wife should ask them to hold her accountable to her commitment to forgive.

Ultimately, forgiveness is not going to always be easy. Sometimes it will be painful and confusing. However, forgiving your spouse, and doing it quickly, will always be the right decision.

Ready to grow your marriage?

Find re|engage near you.