For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world:

and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

1 John 5: 4 (KJV)

Biblical forgiveness is a conscious decision by an offended person to set aside a wrong that has been done in all future dealings with the offender. It does not require the offended person to forget the offense, only to commit not to keep bringing it up in future dealings with the offender. However, making the commitment to set aside a wrong even though we remember it can be difficult and certainly requires the grace of God.

Though forgiveness can be difficult for all of us, there are some people for whom it is not just difficult but unimaginable and even seemingly impossible. For these people, an unforgiving attitude has become a spiritual stronghold – a spiritual fortress of the mind that renders it impenetrable by the Word of God and resistant to the will of God. Unfortunately for them, the unforgiving spirit never makes things better. All it does is compound their suffering while the offender most often continues life unaffected by it. In essence, those who give place to an unforgiving spirit often end up being victimized twice, first by the offender and secondly by the unforgiving spirit.

Some of the negative effects of an unforgiving spirit are as follows:

  1. Loss of fellowship with God;
  2. Loss of blessings from God;
  3. Loss of fellowship with the offending brother or sister-in-Christ;
  4. Loss of fellowship with others affected by the conflict;
  5. Loss of liberty;
  6. Loss of emotional wellbeing; and
  7. Loss of physical wellbeing.

Given these negative effects, it is important that those who are victimized by an unforgiving spirit seek biblical guidance on how to overcome it. After all, if someone has hurt us, what sense does it make for us to hurt ourselves all over again?

Let us consider some of the factors that give rise to an unforgiving spirit and examine the Word of God on how to overcome them.

One factor that gives rise to an unforgiving spirit is PAIN. People often find it difficult to forgive when the pain of an injury remains or they fear that forgiving the offender will allow him or her to hurt them again.

Another factor that leads to an unforgiving spirit is PEOPLE. People can make it difficult to forgive when they know of a wrong that has been done to us and keep bringing it up even when we want to put it behind us. They can also make it harder to forgive when they give us advice that is contrary to the Word of God.

A third factor that leads to an unforgiving spirit is PRIDE. Pride is the illusion of self-importance that causes people to view themselves above God and others. When it enters our hearts, it blinds us to our own sins against God and others while magnifying the wrongs that others have done to us. Since it diminishes or dismisses our own sins against God and others, it denies our personal obligation to forgive others on the basis of the forgiveness that God has extended to us.

Whether an unforgiving spirit is caused by pain, people or pride, the good news is that we can overcome it by faith in the Word of God. If you find yourself unable to forgive someone who has offended you at church, remember that he or she is indeed your brother or sister-in-Christ and that we are one family in Christ Jesus. Like in every family, conflict is inevitable but forgiveness is a choice.

Consider the following 10 biblical steps to overcoming an unforgiving spirit.

  1. Study the Word on forgiveness. It will strengthen your faith. (Romans 10:17);
  2. Have faith in God’s purpose. He uses pain to prepare you to serve Him. (James 1:2-4);
  3. Have faith in God’s protection. He is able to protect you from hurt. (Psalms 4:6-8);
  4. Have faith in God’s power. He will change those who have hurt you and avenge you as He sees fit. (Prov.21:1; Rom.12:17-21);
  5. Have faith in God’s precepts. His Word is our perfect guide and must supersede the counsels of men. (Psalms 1: 1-3);
  6. Have faith in God’s person. His preeminence eliminates all grounds for human pride. ( Isaiah 64:6; 1 John 1:8-10);
  7. Have faith in God’s process. His plan that you live in humility before men is perfect and will never fail you. (Romans 8:28);
  8. Pray for grace to forgive. Refusal to forgive is a sin. However, God grace is sufficient for you. (Romans 5:20);
  9. Pray for the offender. Doing so is a spiritual marker that signifies that you have released them. (Matthew 5:43-48); and
  10. Take biblical steps to reconcile. The Word of God shows you how. (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-16; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16)

Taking these steps indicates our faith that God will deal with the offense as well as the offender. When we let God handle the matter, the best thing of all is that we will set our own selves free!!