The Three Types of Forgiveness

By Tim White

Jesus demonstrated and demonstrates two levels of forgiveness and offers a third. There are possibly even more levels, but these three are primary.

The first is unilateral forgiveness. When Jesus was on the cross, those who were crucifying Jesus were not repentant. They were not seeking reconciliation. They had no sorrow over what they were doing. Yet Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing," (Luke 23:34).

This is the perfect example of unilateral (one sided) forgiveness. And indeed, there are times when the offender is either not interested in asking for forgiveness or not available. In either of these situations, I suggest unilateral forgiveness to free the victim from the damage of lack of forgiveness.

Unilateral forgiveness does not run from the pain. In one sense, it is the choice to bear the pain of the offense without a preoccupation with the offender. It is accepting the pain as one's own burden, but removing oneself from the position for this to happen again. It may involve separation from the offender, if it is a repeat offender, without carrying resentment, anger and hate into the new location.

This removes the anger from the incident while acknowledging the pain. Jesus said the one reason he forgave is that the offending person/people did not realize the reality of what was happening. In His instance, they didn't realize the spiritual significance of their act. They believed they were executing a rebellious trouble-maker, not the King of Glory.

Jesus gave the offender a pass on the offense and accepted the past and current pain created by the offender as something God would use for Good. This is beneficial to our spiritual growth because it is the acceptance by faith of Romans 8:28. Truly all things will be used by God for His glory and our good.

In Genesis 45-20, Joseph confronted the brothers who sold him into slavery and prematurely announced his death to cover their wicked deed. Joseph first struggled with unilateral forgiveness before he could be open to restoring the relationships. He declared the completion of unilateral forgiveness when he told his brothers, "What you meant for evil, God intended for good" (Genesis 50:20).

In many incidents, offenders do not realize how much their actions hurt. They may not realize that they hurt us at all. They may find justification in protecting their own feelings or interest. Or they may act out of a misguided sense of justice or justification. Or, they simply may not care.

The key to unilateral forgiveness is that the offender does not take immediate responsibility for their actions and either does not or cannot ask for forgiveness.

In unilateral forgiveness, the offended releases all bitterness, blame and ill will, but does not place themselves in a position to be hurt by that person in that way again. It does not mean that you have to trust the person, that the relationship is, or can be, restored, or that you place yourself into a vulnerable position with the person for continued abuse.

Jesus did not allow people to crucify him again, nor did His pronouncement grant them Heaven. It did remove all of his resentment so that these "crucifiers" could pursue reconciliation without this being held against them. If someone is abusing you and does not truly repent (turn, change directions), do not place yourself into a position to be hurt again, but, please, do not allow the past offenses to continue to warp and change you and your life.

Then Jesus demonstrates complete forgiveness. Complete forgiveness is granted when the offender is willing to truly take responsibility for the offense and seeks forgiveness. This is the situation in Luke 17:3-4 concerning forgiving someone who truly repents, and repeating it seven times seventy different times a day. This marks the believer's desire to restore completely any severed relationship if the offender will take responsibility and submit to change.

Jesus gives us complete forgiveness (bilateral, or complete), when we repent of our sins and confess Him as Lord (Romans 10:9-10, 1 John 1:9). When we receive complete forgiveness from Christ, we are adopted with full rights and privileges into His family and kingdom. It is a great model of forgiveness with restoration.

There is a third aspect of forgiveness that proves to be as important in living a free, healthy life. That is living in forgiveness. It includes seeking forgiveness from God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and seeking complete forgiveness from anyone we have offended if, of course, they are available to forgive us. To live as completely forgiven is the right and joy of the committed Christian. It may involve going back to others who we have hurt through the years. It is an important aspect of moving towards the victorious Christian life.

Image Credit: Quinn Dombrowski; "Forgive"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Personal-Relationships  | Sin-Evil

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Published on 10-15-15