Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part three)


Defining Forgiveness

This is the fourth of four posts on defining forgiveness. It has been great to see how many people have read and forwarded these posts.

Here’s a brief recap. So far I’ve defined forgiveness as…

  • giving up the right to get even
  • giving up the right to have your offender solve your problems
  • letting go of the past and moving into the future

Then I started to give five words for what forgiveness is not:

  1. Forgetting
  2. Excusing
  3. Trusting
  4. Reunion

Today I’m looking at the fifth word; conditional.

Forgiveness is not conditional.

It is not based on the other person.  Sometimes people tell me that they’d consider forgiving if they could get an apology but “the guy isn’t even sorry for what he did”.  They might point out verses that connect forgiveness with repentance. For example, Jesus said…

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. Luke 17:3

There are other verses like this too. But we have to look at the entirety of scripture. I know some people teach that you don’t have to forgive unless your apologizes but I think it’s a bad teaching for two reasons.  The first reason is that unconditional forgiveness is God’s model for us.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

God didn’t wait for us to clean up our act before he sent Jesus into the world. He took the first step and it was unconditional.

The second reason forgiveness shouldn’t be unconditional is pure logic. If forgiveness is conditional that means my offender controls me. As long as my offender doesn’t apologize I am chained to them emotionally and they can always “jerk the chain”. Let’s just take this to the extreme. Let’s say my offender wants to really mess with me and so they say…If I don’t apologize then Remy will stay angry and become resentful and bitter. Remy will think about me the rest of his life. Ha, ha, ha.

Forgiveness sets you free.

But forgiveness changes that. Forgiveness sets me free. It gives me the “trump” card…the last word.  Lewis Smedes tells us that…

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.  

This is especially important to understand if you are a victim of abuse or betrayal. The temptation is to live in the past, obsessing about what was  done to you. But what you need more  than ever is to win back your life. You will do that by forgiving.

I hope this series of posts helps you understand forgiveness a bit better…what it is and what it isn’t. But my real hope is that you’ll do it.  And here’s a secret; when you finally let go of the past that’s when your future opens up. Forgiveness is a word that releases you into your future. But unforgiveness keeps you stuck in your past.

Father we need to confess that even though forgiveness is central to who you are and what it means to follow Jesus, we are often slow to forgive. We have a thousand excuses why we don’t need to forgive. Help us to let go of our anger, let go of the past and move into the future that you have for us.  

Please take a moment to forward this post on Facebook, etc. Thanks.

Question: What kind of questions still trouble you about forgiveness? I’d like to try to answer them in the coming days.

  • Download the full podcast or text of the message “Defining Forgiveness” here.
  • Defining Forgiveness – Three Things That Forgiveness Is (
  • Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part one) (
  • Defining Forgiveness: Forgiveness is Not Trusting or Reunion  (

19 thoughts on “Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part three)

  1. Bobbi Graffunder

    I am in the middle of all of this….I feel like I almost have to become apathetic in order to not be hurt again. Apathy sounds very un-Christian. Maybe I am just mislabeling it. Do you have advice for situations where reality “ties” you to someone you wish you could completely walk away from? For example, I have learned that it does no good to try to “reason” with this person. I have learned to let go of the expectation that they will be honest and seek to treat me fairly. Those were big revelations and did bring some freedom. I still struggle with my initial reactions to their actions and words. I hope that if I can learn to handle things better in the moment, I will have less to work through later. 🙂

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      Bobbi it sounds like you are doing a good job. I know the feeling. You WANT to like them, enjoy them…but they are just prickly. I don’t know if you are apathetic. You are probably partly angry and partly disappointed. That’s a natural response to this loss. Don’t feel guilty about it. Your realization that you can’t reason with them and your ability to let go of your expectations is great. I just think you are living with the disappointing reality of this person not changing. I wouldn’t call that apathy. Keep praying for them. Who knows what God might do. Try to be a blessing in spite of their attitude.


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