Can Forgiveness Be a Process Rather than An Instant Decision?
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Can Forgiveness Be a Process Rather than An Instant Decision?

Forgiveness, a powerful act of releasing oneself from the shackles of resentment, anger, and hurt, often appears to be an insurmountable challenge. There is a common notion that forgiveness stems from a single, defining moment of clarity or empathy that frees the individual from these negative emotions.

However, a deeper exploration into the realms of forgiveness reveals that it can be a continuous process rather than a binary, instant decision.

In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of forgiveness as an evolving journey and examine the potential for personal growth and healing through this transformative experience.

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Drawing on insights from the Bible and expert opinion, we aim to provide an authoritative and comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted nature of forgiveness.

Can forgiveness be a process rather than an instant decision?

1. Introduction: Understanding the Path to Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a central aspect of our faith as Christians, as it is both a gift that we have received from God and one that we are called to extend to others.

Jesus himself emphasizes the importance of forgiveness throughout his ministry, and the Bible is filled with passages that reveal the power of forgiveness to restore broken relationships, heal emotional wounds, and free us from the bondage of sin.

In order to fully experience the incredible gift of God’s forgiveness, as well as to cultivate a forgiving heart towards others, it is crucial that we first understand the biblical path to forgiveness.

The journey towards forgiveness begins with acknowledging our own need for it. The Bible states in **1 John 1:8** that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

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Recognizing our own sinful nature helps us to see the immense grace that God has shown us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. As we grasp the magnitude of this act of love, we are compelled to extend grace and forgiveness to others. Some key steps in practicing forgiveness include:

  • Confessing our sins and accepting God’s forgiveness
  • Releasing resentment and bitterness towards others
  • Choosing to forgive others even when they don’t deserve it
  • Praying for those who have hurt us and seeking their well-being
  • Reestablishing relationships when possible and appropriate

Furthermore, it’s essential to remember that forgiveness is not just a “one-time act,” but a continuous process. Our lives should be characterized by a constant state of forgiving and seeking forgiveness from both God and others.

Matthew 6:14-15 reminds us, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

By keeping our hearts and minds focused on the love and grace that God has shown each of us, we can continue to grow in forgiveness and experience the true freedom that comes from embracing this critical aspect of our faith.

2. The Myth of Instant Forgiveness: Unraveling Unrealistic Expectations

Many believers, especially new ones, often fall prey to the myth of instant forgiveness. While it is true that God’s forgiveness through Christ is freely given, we must understand the importance of genuine repentance, seeking forgiveness, and making amends where possible.

It is also crucial to recognize that forgiving others, as commanded by Christ in Matthew 6:14-15, might be a challenging and ongoing process.

We need to differentiate between God’s forgiveness and human forgiveness. When we sincerely repent and turn to God, He will readily forgive us, as stated in 1 John 1:9.

However, God also calls us to confess our faults to one another, and He knows human forgiveness usually takes time, which is acknowledged in Ephesians 4:32, to:

  • Process emotions related to the offense;
  • Rebuild trust;
  • Restore relationships that might have been affected.

Believing the myth of instant forgiveness might lead to unrealistic expectations in friendships, marriages, or other close relationships. A hurt party may feel further discouraged and disillusioned if they require time to forgive someone, yet feel pressured for immediate forgiveness.

Likewise, if we offend someone, we should not impose our timetable but instead, give the person space and time to heal, as Jesus taught in Luke 17:3-4. True forgiveness ultimately comes from the heart, and in Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus urges us to be patient and persistent in the journey of forgiveness.

3. The Psychological Process of Forgiveness: Accepting Emotions, Empathy, and Transformation

In order to achieve forgiveness, we must first accept our emotions related to the offense. We can take guidance from the Bible, as it acknowledges the importance of expressing and processing emotions in a healthy manner.

Psalms 62:8 says, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” It is vital to confront our feelings of hurt, anger, and resentment as we seek to move forward. Suppressing our emotions will only hinder the forgiveness process.

Another essential aspect of forgiveness is developing empathy for the offender. Empathy allows us to put ourselves in their shoes and attempt to understand their motives and actions.

In doing so, we can potentially discover the humanity in the individual who wronged us. Luke 6:36 states, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Developing empathy requires us to:

  • Listen to the offender’s perspective
  • Consider their personal history and circumstances
  • Recognize and acknowledge their emotions
  • Exercise patience and refrain from judging

By practicing empathy, we can gain a deeper understanding of the situation and begin to let go of our pain and grievances.

Lastly, forgiveness involves a personal transformation as we grow and change through the experience. Ephesians 4:31-32 says,

“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

As we allow ourselves to release our negative emotions and cultivate empathy, we will undergo a change of heart, freeing ourselves from the bondage of unforgiveness. Ultimately, this transformation leads to inner peace, emotional healing, and restored relationships, bringing us closer to a life aligned with God’s will.

4. The Role of Time and Personal Growth in Developing Forgiveness

As believers, we are called to forgive those who have wronged us, just as our Heavenly Father forgives us for our transgressions. Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you“.

However, forgiveness is often a process that requires time, personal growth, and spiritual maturity to fully embrace. In this process, we must acknowledge that time and personal growth play essential roles in the development of forgiveness.

  • Time: Time is a crucial component for healing and eventual forgiveness. In the aftermath of being wronged, anger and pain may feel overwhelming, rendering it difficult to forgive in that moment. Nonetheless, as time passes, the intensity of these emotions often lessens, allowing space for reflection and processing. It’s important to grant oneself the necessary time to grieve, heal, and gradually approach forgiveness. Remember, our Lord is compassionate and patient with us; thus, we should similarly offer patience to ourselves and others in the journey toward forgiveness.
  • Personal Growth: Forgiveness is also contingent upon personal growth in our faith and relationship with God. As we grow spiritually and mature as Christians, our understanding and capacity to forgive deepen. Through spiritual experiences, prayer, and studying the Word, we learn to see the power of forgiveness exemplified in Christ’s ultimate act of love on the Cross, becoming increasingly equipped to extend grace and forgiveness to others. Romans 5:3-5 reminds us, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us“. Personal growth, thus, strengthens our capacity to forgive in the face of tribulations.

In conclusion, developing forgiveness is a journey that often requires time and personal growth. As Christians, we can leverage these essential aspects in our path toward healing and forgiving those who have wronged us.

By exercising patience, continually seeking spiritual maturity, and relying upon the love of God, we can emulate the forgiveness that Christ offers to each one of us.

Let us all strive to “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

5. How to Cultivate a Forgiving Mindset: Strategies for Navigating the Process of Forgiving

Reflect on God’s forgiveness. To cultivate a forgiving mindset, it is essential to frequently meditate on the forgiveness that God extends to us through Christ.

Reflecting on the verses such as Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you,” helps us remember the depth of God’s forgiveness towards us.

As we recognize that we are undeserving of His mercy, it becomes easier to extend that same mercy and forgiveness to others who we believe are undeserving.

Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Since forgiveness can be challenging, especially when deep emotional wounds are involved, we need the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. In moments you struggle with resentment, bitterness or anger, turn to God in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to:

  • Give you the strength to let go of past hurts
  • Help you see the other person in the same way God sees them
  • Fill you with love and compassion for the person who has hurt you
  • Replace feelings of anger and bitterness with peace and understanding

The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, Counselor and Helper in our journey to cultivating a forgiving mindset (John 14:26).

Make forgiveness a daily practice. Remember that forgiveness is not always a one-time event, but rather a process that requires daily commitment. When negative emotions resurface, remind yourself of your decision to forgive and release the offender to God.

Matthew 18:21-22 says, “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”

Making forgiveness a regular practice demonstrates our obedience to God and will help instill a forgiving mindset as we walk out our Christian life.


In conclusion, it is evident that forgiveness can indeed be a process rather than an instantaneous decision.

This idea can be difficult to realize in practice, but the rewards of actively working through the process can be great. By taking the time to understand, learn, and reflect on a situation, it is often much easier to begin the journey towards true forgiveness.

Pastor duke taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.