From my experience in helping people, many Christians have only a partial understanding of what it means and how to forgive another person. The result is they only experience a partial understanding of Jesus' healing work done at the cross.
One definition for forgiveness I like is "releasing the debt another owes." However, many struggle to understand what that debt is exactly. And when it comes to forgiving another person, it is not enough to know only what they did to you (i.e. the specific acts that hurt), but you also need to understand what the impact was towards you. And it is this impact, this cost, that you are forgiving.
For example, suppose you were bullied as a little child and it left you feeling weak, inferior and scared. And so now you decide, for your own health really, to forgive him. It is not enough to just forgive him for the bullying, for his actions. Instead, you need to 'count the cost' or the impact that his actions had on you. In this case, the bully would have robbed you of your security and your sense of worth. Therefore, to forgive would mean releasing the debt of security and worth that the bully took away from you. This is much deeper than just forgiving the actions.
But this is where things get interesting. You see, in John 15:5 Jesus says that apart from Him we can't do anything. That means you and I can't do anything of value without Him. Nothing, nada, squat, zippo, a great big zero (just so we are clear). So that means apart from Jesus we cannot forgive others, we need Him to do it in us. We still need to make the choice, but it is His work on the cross that makes it all possible. Let me explain, for it is here that many people get stuck.
Jesus didn't just die for your sins against God. He also died for all the sins others have committed against you (see 1 John 2:2). He paid for all their sins. What that means is that you don't need to try and muster up the power to forgive and release the debt others owe you by yourself. Instead, you recognise that Jesus has paid the price others owe you, just as He paid the price you owed God because of your sins.
But what this also means is the security and worth that the bully robbed from you has been restored by Jesus. Because of His work on the cross, He gives to you the security and worth that you need. He restores what others have destroyed (see Joel 2:25-27).
If it was love or acceptance that was taken away from you, then you can forgive those who wronged you and receive from Father even greater love and acceptance than was taken away.
If you were shamed by another, then forgive and let Father reveal to you the healing that comes from being the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.
For on the cross He has exchanged your hurts from others for His healing, grace and love. And when we recognise that Jesus has given to us what others took, we can thank Him and forgive everyone who has ever hurt us. And that leads to freedom.
Thanks for reading.
In Christ who is our Life,