Editorial: Let it Go

Forgiveness. Everyone needs it but few offer it, which means there are many people moving through life without the peace of being forgiven or the joy of being forgiving. When we forgive we have the privilege of doing something God does every hour of every day, and as forgiven people He expects us to do just that (Eph 4:32).

The most common NT word for forgiveness (Greek aphiemi) means “to let go.”[1] So what exactly are we to let go in extending forgiveness? In order to genuinely forgive someone we must first let go of the demand for repayment. When someone sins against us, we must resist the demand that we receive from the person what we feel we deserve, whether it is a contrite confession (accompanied with the proper amount of tears) or a heartfelt promise to change. Forgiveness is wholly an act of grace. The Lord Jesus absorbed the pain of our sins in order to forgive us, and we must be willing to do the same with one another.

Second, we must let go of the desire for retaliation. Paul wrote, “See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all” (1Th 5:15 NET). Stop entertaining fantasies of exacting revenge on your offender. Give up the crusade to even the score because the score will never be even. By “getting even” we actually multiply the amount of evil in the world, and because everyone has a different scale of justice as well as different pain thresholds, the score just keeps climbing and the world gets uglier.

In addition to letting go of the desire for personal retaliation, we must avoid the expectation that God will retaliate for us. It’s easy to quote, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom 12:19 KJV), and like Jonah, sit and wait for it to happen.

In some ways, the second part of Paul’s exhortation (“always pursue what is good for one another and all”) is more difficult. If our offender is a Christian, remember that we are in the same family; he is my brother in Christ. If the offender is an unbeliever, he is still made in the image of God. Focusing on these realities may make it easier to want what is good for those who have sinned against us. We are well on the way to completely forgiving when we actually desire good for our offender rather than evil.

Third, we must let go of the destructiveness of resentment. Peter spoke about the “gall” or “poison” (ISV) of bitterness (Act 8:23). Centuries later, Saint Augustine would say, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Few things are more destructive to a believer than clinging to the poisonous spirit of unforgiveness.

Even if your offender refuses to acknowledge wrong or has no desire to reconcile with you, there is still an extent to which you can forgive because there are many things you can let go.

So let it go. God did … and does. You’ll be healthier, holier and happier. And the world around you just might be too.


[1] Joseph Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995).