Someone sins against us, e.g. says something unkind. They are completely unrepentant. That might be because they don't think it is a sin or they don't care (yes, I'm deliberately mentioning two different attitudes).

Should we forgive?

And should we forget?

I know Jesus forgave on the cross, saying, "they don't know what they are doing." Was this attitude something we should always try to copy?

4 Answers 4


Depends, are they a believer or an unbeliever?


(Mark 11:25 ESV) "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

When you forgive an unbeliever you are acknowledging that they have wronged you but you will not try to seek justice yourself, you will leave that to God. In this way you may live peacefully not worrying about getting tit-for-tat in a never ending cycle with the other person.


(Luke 17:3, ASV) "Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him."

In the first part of this verse Jesus issues a warning, what follows is important. Next comes two If/Then's which start out addressing the cause if your brother sins. Most people would agree that 'brother' here means fellow believer. So if a fellow believer sins your first action is to rebuke him not forgive him. From here there are two options. Either he repents and you forgive him (the second If/Then) or he doesn't repent. In the second cause we can look to the Gospel of Matthew.

(Matthew 18:15-17, ASV) "And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican."

Once again this verse is addressing what to do when a brother (fellow believer) sins against you. If he hears you, not necessarily agrees with you, he is still your brother. Otherwise if he doesn't hear you then you gather witnesses. If he still doesn't hear you then he should not be in community with you like another believer since the both of you would not be able to live in harmony. And @ChoasGamer has some verses that also point that out.

Now Jesus didn't say that he must repent first but it is in your best interest to not forgive him till he repents otherwise you pass judgement on him.

Should we forget?

Not necessarily. If someone sins against you, especially someone close to you, it will take time for them to gain your trust and most people would agree that this is healthy. Also trying to forget something you know to be true can be unhealthy. Forgiveness is stating your will that you will not try to get justice back from the other person it doesn't necessarily deal with your emotional response.

This is just a brief answer on the topic. For more information check out this site which I used to form this answer.

The main difference between this approach and the answer by Sonic is the Biblical consideration of NOT ignoring the person. 1st Corinthians 5:10 shows that we remove the unbeliever from community SO THAT WE CAN fellowship with them in order to win them back to Christ!


In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus gives commandments on how enemies and those who have wronged someone should be treated.

Matthew 5:23-26 (ESV)

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:43-45 (ESV)

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Take together these passage, as well as the assertion that we forgive in Our Father. I don't think Jesus really leaves room for His followers not to forgive.

Forgetting is another matter completely. Forgiveness is a choice; forgetting cannot be willed to happen. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we should forget what we forgive (though God is said to as much as forget our sins some times).


I will provide two answers here, although the core of the two answers I believe is the same.

  1. Hank Hannegraaff briefly answers this question here, and in much more detail other places, by saying:

    Forgiveness is by definition a two-way street leading to the restoration of fellowship.

    In other words, he argues that it is impossible to forgive someone who does not accept the forgiveness. By extension, you cannot forgive someone who is dead, or with whom you do not communicate.

    He further states:

    We must never suppose that our standard of forgiveness is higher than God’s standard.

I highly respect Hank, but I strongly disagree with him on this issue.

I'm not sure where he gets his definition of "forgiveness" that is a two-way street, or requires acceptance. Not even one of the definitions offered here requires or even implies that the forgiven party must accept forgiveness as a condition for the forgiveness having been "completed." I am aware of no evidence--either Biblically, or in the English language, that "forgiveness is a two-way street."

In a nut shell, I believe Hank is confusing the terms "forgiveness" and "reconciliation."

Now my answer.

  1. First an analogy: You buy something at the store on credit, then decide not to pay your bill. After months of annoying letters and phone calls, your contempt for the store grows, and you stop shopping at the store entirely. Eventually you move away, and leave no forwarding address. Years later, some kind soul at the store decides to forgive your debt. They send a letter to your old address saying "Please don't pay us." You never receive the letter because you have moved away.

    Was your debt forgiven? Clearly, yes. Was your relationship with the store restored? Clearly not.

    As Christians, we are called both to forgiveness and reconciliation.

    Christ offers us the same forgiveness as the store in my analogy. It is forgiveness extended to all humans. For various reasons, not all humans accept that forgiveness, and therefore reconciliation with Christ is not always experienced.

    Likewise, we are to forgive everyone who sins against us, and to whatever extent possible, seek out reconciliation with them. However, it is up to them whether they are willing to reconcile. So while our forgiveness of others is always possible, our reconciliation with others is not always possible.

Hank Hanegraaff and I agree on one point--all Christians should seek reconciliation. Our terminology differs. To Hank, reconciliation is necessary for forgiveness. In my view, they are two distinct things.

Finally, to your question of "should we forget?"--I don't believe there is any Biblical evidence that "forgetting" is part of forgiving. I may forgive someone for stealing my TV set. It would however be foolish to forget this incident, and therefore fail to put locks on my doors. I may forgive someone who attacks me, but it would be foolish to forget the incident, and make myself vulnerable to future attack.

Forgiveness is no longer holding a debt against someone. Forgetfulness is stupid.

  • I'm kind of confused with whether or not you agree with Hank when he says "Forgiveness is by definition a two-way street leading to the restoration of fellowship."
    – a_hardin
    Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 19:40
  • @a_hardin: I disagree with that statement. I have updated my answer to be more clear on that point.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 19:44
  • -1 This isn't the place for personal theories. Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 19:54
  • @Flimzy Ah, definitely clearer where you stand. Thanks.
    – a_hardin
    Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 19:57
  • 2
    @Flimzy My concern here is that we are in very early beta. If we don't establish some standards of referencing then we are going to end up with every man and his dog posting their opinion as an answer, and the answers don't really reflect Christian theology at all. Maybe this is something that needs to be talk about on meta. Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 21:09

There are certain steps you can take in that situation. If the person who did wrong is one of the people at the church, you can take these three steps.

FIRST STEP: Go to the one who has wronged you, and tell them of what they have done. If they repent and ask for forgivness, you must forgive them.

SECOND STEP: If the First step does not work, you can take few witness or your friends and go back and tell him/her again.

THIRD STEP: If any of these steps do not work, you can take the matter to the church. Then, the church will take care of them in these ways.

Corinthians 5 verse 2-13: Banish the one who has sinned out of the community.

Thessalonians 3 verse 4-5: Do not acknologe the sinner. If necessary, tell him about his sins so he will feel shame.

Titus 3 verse 10: If the sinner does not repent, treat him like you do not know him.

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