Is Struggling to Forgive a Past Sin A YOU Problem?

I had a question asked of me a few weeks ago. Check out what Justin had to say:

Hey Pastor Zach,

You have said that more people have a harder timereceiving forgiving forreceiving forgiveness for themselves more than forgiveness of others, but that’s not me! I totally know God forgives me, but I struggle with forgiving others, and particularly one or two people in my past. So if Forgiving Challenge is all about accepting God’s forgiveness for ourselves, is this book really for me?


Justin from Wichita, KS


Hey Justin,

That’s a great question.

First off, I’m sorry that some pain in your past is still affecting you. However, the fact that we are called to forgive in the first place means that sin, injustice, pain, and evil consequences come. Forgiveness is not an easy topic, ever!

I am so glad that you don’t live in condemnation. The Bible doesn’t want us identified by our sin. Perhaps you were born in the church or, since conversation, have thrown yourself into being a follower of Jesus wholeheartedly. Maybe you find the habits of discipleship easy: prayer, reading your Bible, attending church, or solitude just come naturally for you. Maybe rule-following, like the Ten Commandments, seems like a no-brainer.

If you totally feel forgiven by Jesus, but you are still struggling with forgiving others, I would go back to studying and understanding God’s forgiveness. You referenced the question I have asked rooms full of primarily Christians, “Do you have a harder time receiving God’s forgiveness for yourself or giving away His forgiveness to others?”. Every single time the answer is nearly identical, with about 80-90% of the room struggling more with receiving God’s forgiveness than with forgiving others. So, although you are in the minority, some still struggle to forgive others.

At first, I was shocked since the majority in the room had heard about God’s forgiveness and His offering of grace over and over and over again. This response led me to write Forgiving Challenge in the first place. I wanted people to understand God’s total forgiveness.

By looking at all the direct commands that Jesus gave to His disciples about forgiveness, you will find the key to forgiving others stand out more clearly than you have ever seen before.

The Red Letters of Jesus concerning His commands to forgive others are listed below:

Matthew 6:12         And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.      

Matthew 6:14-15    For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Mark 11:25             And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that  your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Luke 6:37               Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Luke 11:4               Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.


These commands of Jesus are direct and obvious. Here are a few other instances He talks about forgiveness, either as more commands or in His general teaching.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.  Luke 7:47

In the previous instance, Jesus connects a sacrificial act from a misunderstood woman to how much He had forgiven her. Her motivation to do a good work was fueled by the grace that Jesus had already given to her. In the coming section, Jesus is telling us that our forgiveness should extend even to those who continually make a mess of things.

If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.  Luke 17:3-4

Directly after hearing this, in verse 5, the disciples get it right this time. They say, “Increase our faith.” Forgiving others is always connected to our faith.

Finally, after the resurrection, Jesus makes His presence available to the disciples in a quarantined room. Some of His last instructions He would leave with the disciples are the following:

If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:23

Those are big words and give the disciples great responsibility. But it’s the four words that Jesus declares to them before this that make this possible. He says in John 20:22, Receive the Holy Spirit.

What does Jesus want to tell us loud and clear through all of His Red Letters? How you forgive others is in direct proportion to your own receiving of God’s forgiveness! It is impossible to forgive others without first receiving God’s forgiveness ourselves. This truth is the single biggest key to forgiving others: a forgiven person is a forgiving person.

Forgiving others is really tough. It’s not easy and usually not cut-and-dry. But when you compare forgiving others to how Jesus has forgiven you, Jesus’s forgiveness will always win the day. It’s easy to hold onto a grudge when you are the victim. After all, the offender should have to pay for their mistake. The reality is, when we choose unforgiveness, either we are acting better than others, or we don’t trust that God can take that hurt and make it right. It’s really easy for some of us to begin to compare and contrast our sins. But here’s a sobering question: are you taking a hard look at the condition of your own heart? Could there be pride? Resentment? Perfectionism? Self-righteousness?

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when there is the log in your own eye. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:3-5

Our own perceived innocence and the story of injustice in our own minds are what fuel our unforgiveness of others.

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9

We can only stay mad at someone if we perceive ourselves as better in a particular area. We take God’s forgiveness for granted when we minimize the sacrifice that Jesus endured. When we don’t correctly understand His forgiveness in our lives, we minimize our sin and elevate the sins of others.

Forgiving Challenge looks at Jesus and how He forgave. It’s when we fix our eyes on Jesus that we begin to see how truth and grace work beautifully together. When we take our eyes off of Jesus, that’s when problems come. When we start to look at ourselves, that rotten neighbor, or our betraying friend, it’s hard to forgive. But when we see what Jesus did for us, it creates humility and gives us the proper motivation to forgive. 

When I look at Jesus, I am continually reminded of how amazing it is that God would forgive me. That and that alone is the only proper motivation when it comes to forgiving others. The only way we can even say those words is because the Holy Spirit is alive in us. Though initially, I was surprised to see so many people who struggle more to receive God’s forgiveness than give it away to others, I now believe it’s the correct theological understanding. When we see how much God has forgiven of us, it should lead all of us to lift our hands in humble thankfulness. The more we understand what Jesus did for us, the more we will grow in forgiving the sins of others.

Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all.   Psalm 65:3

For more on forgiveness, check out Forgiving Challenge. Already completed Forgiving Challenge? Then take the next step and download our FREE ebook Forgiving Others Challenge to continue the journey.

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