There is a default mode of thinking with every human being in the world. This thinking permeates the way we all naturally approach relationships at almost every level. And this thinking essentially says, “Someone hurt me, and now they must pay.” Even in our “forgiving” of another person, we only forgive if they ___. This thinking results in bitterness, anger, self-exaltation, conceitedness, and a general “everyone owes me because of what I’ve endured” kind of attitude toward the world, or the victim mentality as it has come to be called.

So how do we really forgive someone from the heart? First of all, before we answer that, we need to ask another question: what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is essentially taking the hurt or pain within yourself that the other person inflicted upon you, putting down your arms, and not seeking revenge. Forgiveness is not so much acting like nothing ever happened, but rather, not seeking revenge in any capacity, either subtly or overtly. This is increasingly difficult the greater the offense.

So how do you forgive someone who caused so much pain? In yourself and your abilities, it is really impossible for you to forgive someone. And even when you do “forgive” someone, there is still a feeling of “they owe me” many times that eats away at the relationship. This is where, practically speaking, the difference between religion and the Gospel becomes blatantly apparent. Within religion, you merit your eternal life and blessings from God, or you lose them. Because of this thinking, we also feel like people merit their relationship with us or they lose it, and vice versa; we feel we either merit relationships or we lose them based on what we do.

In the Gospel though, Christ merited the blessings for you out of love, through belief and trust in Him, because you were incapable of ever meeting God’s infinitely just, holy standards. Or in other words, you offended God on an infinite level by disregarding His name and glory in all you did. Therefore God was rightly and justly angry at you, on an infinite level. This anger results in just eternal punishment, because we are His creatures and He is the Creator. We owe Him, and yet we are unable to pay Him back because the payment is infinite in relation to the one offended. Therefore our due from Him is eternal wrath. We are owed wrath in fact. And no amount of moral or religious toiling can pay Him back for the infinite hurt we have caused Him. Some will object at this point and say, “But God should just take the pain within Himself, like you just said we should do, and pardon everyone.”

Funny you should say that, because, well, Jesus came to do exactly that, if we will believe in and trust Him. Jesus, being God from all eternity, became a man, like us, in order to bridge an infinite gap between us and God. He did this willingly, out of love. Jesus took both the worst man could throw at Him and the worst God had for man, and took the searing pain from both ends in Himself on the cross. Through the work of the cross, Jesus took the blow we were owed by God in Himself, that whoever believes in Him will indeed be forgiven. God has made a way for us to be reconciled. Jesus made a way that was impossible for us to accomplish by ourselves. Jesus’s work on the cross is the ultimate forgiveness.

I submit to you, all of you who harbor bitterness and angst against someone else for how they’ve wronged you, you will in no way be able to forgive them (as defined above) in yourself, your power, will, and ability, because all that comes from us naturally is corrupted. The only way to forgive someone from your heart, in a way in which you seek no revenge upon that person is to have been forgiven yourself of a debt of infinite value. Until you see that your offense against God is an infinite back-slap to God’s name, value and glory, and that it is infinitely greater than the offense inflicted upon you; and that your offense has been forgiven through the work of Christ (i.e. through faith alone, He takes your eternal hell for you on the cross, and gives you His infinitely perfect record), only then will you ever be able to fully forgive the person who hurt you. You must first feel the weight of the debt you’ve incurred by your sin. It is a grievous injury to God’s value and worth. Our due is wrath, not goodness. Sin, great and small, is all an infinite offense against God. He is no one’s debtor, we are not owed anything good, but rather only wrath.

Therefore, to experience this kind of forgiveness, the lifting of such a heavy burden by the work of Christ for how you’ve wronged God when you should have been sent to hell for eternity, is the only way to change from the inside out, in order that you can then truly forgive the person. It is the only way to really forgive someone from the heart. Ask God to help you first feel the weight of your sin and then feel the weight of mercy in the cross. You will then look at the person who injured you and say, “How can I not forgive them after having been forgiven such a greater offense myself?”