The ABCs of Christian Forgiveness: An 8-Step Approach

By Dr. Bob Martin III
Published 3 years ago

Christian forgiveness. How often do you feel you need to ask someone else’s forgiveness? Probably not often. 

On the other hand, how often do you nurture old hurts from others? For many Christians, it may be a common occurrence. 

Let me ask you, how have you responded when either you or someone you love is intentionally hurt? 

For instance: 

  • Has someone lied to or about you? 
  • Have you been gossiped about or treated unfairly? 
  • Do you come from a dysfunctional family? 
  • Have you felt betrayed by a trusted family member or friend? 
  • Have you been the victim of spiritual, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse?
  • Or has someone you love been similarly mistreated?


What are our usual reactions in these situations? If we are honest, we can feel shocked, self-pity, sadness, hurt, or anger. And our human nature cries out for vengeance. 


I.   Are There Better Options for Believers? 

Yes! And that option is Christian forgiveness. And that forgiveness is commanded by God (Matt. 18:21-35). 

Understandably, you could respond with cynicism: “I don’t care what God commands. He will just have to forgive me. There is no way I can or want to forgive that person for all the hurt they caused me.”

But Christian forgiveness is the only response that makes sense. Because it both pleases God and heals you. 

However, forgiveness is not easy. 


II.   What is Christian Forgiveness, and How is it Different from the World’s Ideas?

Forgiveness means “canceling of a debt” that you choose to do regardless of how you feel. 

But let’s be clear about what forgiveness does not mean. It does not mean that the sin against you is being diminished. Neither is it discounted as unimportant or denied. 

Instead, forgiveness allows you to unburden yourself. You no longer need to hold onto sinful desires, like seeking revenge. 

As a matter of fact, Christians take sin seriously because God takes sin seriously (Romans 12:9). And when Christians are victims of a serious crime, we should seek justice. 

But the criminal’s punishment from human courts pales with Christ’s judgment (Rom. 12:19). 


Forgiveness definition


III.   Why are We Commanded to be Forgiving?

Firstly, God commands us to forgive others because it reflects the gospel

  • On the cross, Jesus took the punishment for our sins. And because of Christ’s sacrifice, God forgives us (Col. 3:13). 
  • That forgiveness is a gift freely offered to us (Eph. 2:8-9). We did nothing to earn it. 
  • And because we have been lavishly forgiven, we should be willing to forgive others humbly 


Secondly, God commands us to forgive because it glorifies him! 

  • We live in a sinful and divisive culture. And nothing speaks louder to than a forgiving Christian. 
  • Our actions surprise outsiders. And obviously, sometimes they think we are foolish (1 Cor. 2:12-14). 
  • But unquestionably, our forgiveness is an “incomprehensible” lifestyle to outsiders. And this lifestyle evangelism can lead to wonderful sharing of the gospel


Thirdly, we forgive because holding on to anger hurts only us. It doesn’t affect the wrongdoer. 


Why Forgive with three reasons listed


IV.   What Does it Mean That “Unforgiveness Hurts Only Us?”

Unforgiving people are often angry, sad, anxious, and depressed

As a result, unforgiveness progresses to resentment. Resentment turns into roots of bitterness in our hearts (Heb. 12:15). And these roots of bitterness poison every area of our lives. 

Unforgiveness leads to roots of bitterness that poison our relationships with God and others.


Unforgiveness leads to roots of bitterness that poison our relationships with God and others.


Additionally, unforgiveness damages our relationship with God. It is a grim fact that if we do not biblically forgive others,

  • Firstly, God will discipline us (Heb. 12:5-11)
  • Secondly, God will not forgive us of our sins (Matt. 6:14-15)
  • Thirdly, what if you consistently refuse to forgive others biblically, you may not be a genuine Christian (1 Jn. 2:3-4; 3:6; 3:9-10)



V.   Christian Forgiveness Brings Freedom

In contrast, forgiveness brings freedom in a genuine sense. To illustrate: 

  • When you forgive, you consciously choose to heal and not let the sins against you hurt you any longer 
  • Forgiveness sets you free of anger, hatred, and the need for revenge
  • Then you can move on with your life by refusing to let the wrongdoer have any power over your life


VI.   The 8 ABCs of Christian Forgiveness

In short, forgiveness is vital to our spiritual lives. But forgiveness is not easy. 

Christian forgiveness is a progression. Some people go through these steps in moments. In contrast, other Christians take years to work through them.  

An easy way to remember how to forgive others is the “Eight ABCs of Forgiveness:”


List of 8 ABCs of Forgiveness


1.   A: Acknowledge the Hurt That You Feel 

It is necessary to deal with painful memories. You must acknowledge the hurt you experienced. 

  • Only then can grieve and be comforted by the Lord (2 Cor. 1:3–4)
  • And in the end, you will be able to forgive from the heart genuinely. 


2.   B: Believe That God Will Work Through You When You Forgive 

And he will use that forgiveness to draw you closer to him and heal you.


3.   C: Choose to Forgive 

Forgiving another person is a conscious decision. You choose to forgive them regardless of your feelings. In effect, you are: 

  • Allowing your mind to control your emotions, not the other way around  
  • Not allowing your emotions to rule over you. Otherwise, you will never “feel like” forgiving them. 
  • Concentrating on Jesus’s sacrifice and God’s unmerited mercy and grace toward you


4.   D: Discipline Your Heart and Mind

This essential step is unique to Christians. 

  • As we choose forgiveness, we must rely on the resources only available to Christians 
  • We embrace the spiritual disciplines through the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit. These disciplines draw us into deeper intimacy with God.
  • For example, devotional Bible reading (Rom. 5:9) and prayer (Luke 23:33-34), along with fasting and godly living (Luke 6:37), cultivate a heart of forgiveness


5.   E: Empathize with the Wrongdoer 

Since the wrongdoer is often lost, broken, or hurting, try feeling compassion for them.

  • It helps to remember your need for God’s forgiveness when you first came to Christ broken and lost (1 Tim. 1:15)! 
  • Not to mention your everyday need for forgiveness from others! 
  • This person deserves compassion. And despite being challenging, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.


6.   F: Forgive

Forgive the wrongdoer by walking in faith with the help from the Holy Spirit.

Forgiveness is a gift you give the wrongdoer. It is giving him what he needs rather than what he deserves (Rom. 5:8). 

In essence, all forgiveness is substitutionary. In the same way, Christ paid the price for your sins. When you forgive the wrongdoer, you:

  • Pay the cost of living with the consequences of their sin against you. And you do this without seeking revenge.
  • Accept whatever punishment God wills both now and in eternity for the offender
  • Are saying, “I won’t hold this against you. And I won’t bring it up again to your hurt.” 


7.   G: Gain Trust  

Although you have forgiven the wrongdoer, they will need to regain your trust. And sometimes this means setting boundaries until that trust is restored.


8.   H: Hold on to Forgiveness 

Satan will try to steal your peace.

  • Only the indwelling Holy Spirit can provide you with the grace and strength needed to maintain a heart of forgiveness
  • And even though you may never completely forget the sin against you. At least you can remember that you forgave the offender.

After you forgive, your attention should be on God. It should not be on the offender or the offense.

Every time the hurt or scars of the person’s offense come up inside you can pray: 

  • “God, I’ve forgiven them. It is over. There are new things you want for me now.”
  • “God, you know all the consequences of that action. I’m entrusting all those needs into your hands. I trust you to provide everything for your glory.”


VII.   What are the Practical Steps in Christian Forgiveness? 

Forgiveness goes both ways. 

  • Firstly, there are times we need to forgive someone (Matt. 18:15) 
  • Secondly, there are times when we need to ask forgiveness of others (Matt. 5:23-24) 


In general, forgiveness begins with a conscious choice followed by actions. The process usually takes place through a conversation. 

If we need to ask forgiveness of another person. The conversation basically goes like this: 

  1. One person says to us, “You sinned against me in this way.” 
  2. And we answer, “I did that. Please forgive me.” 
  3. And the first person ideally responds, “I forgive you.”


“Please forgive me” are three of the most precious, healing, and powerful words we can speak. 




By comparison, the same cannot be said of someone apologizing with, “I’m sorry.” 

What does “I’m sorry” mean anyway? 

  • Usually, it means the person who is in the wrong is trying to feel better about themselves. 
  • But it does nothing to acknowledge and resolve the hurt they have caused. 


On the other hand, if you have been sinned against, the conversation above is role reversed. 

  • We say, “You sinned against me in this way.” 
  • They hopefully answer, “I did that. Please forgive me.” 
  • And we respond, “I forgive you.”


VIII.   What is Your Next Step When It Comes to Christian Forgiveness? 

I suspect this article reminded you of someone who has hurt you. Isn’t it time to be released from the snare of unforgiveness? You have an eight-step process that can lead to absolute freedom. Why not use it? 

In contrast, you may have realized that you need to ask forgiveness from someone. You have all the tools you need. Now is the perfect time to ask forgiveness.


Further Resources

Binmin Podcast Ep. 21: Anger | When Life Is Tough

Binmin Podcast Ep. 22: Anxiety | When Life Is Tough

Binmin Podcast Ep. 2: “What are the Spiritual Disciplines?”


Anderson, N. T. (2003). Discipleship Counseling. Bethany House, 2003

Broger, John C. Self-Confrontation: A Manual for In-Depth Biblical Discipleship. Indio CA: Biblical Counseling Foundation, 2015

Clinton, T and Ron Hawkins. The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling. Baker, 2009

Whitney, D. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Updated 20th Anniversary Edition. Navpress, 2014


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