Forgiveness is the core trait of Christianity, and there are many inspiring examples of forgiveness in the Bible.
These examples teach us the vital role forgiveness plays as a Christ follower. God offers forgiveness freely and fully; we are expected to do the same.
We see that forgiveness is not just a one-and-done act but a continuous practice of faith.
By extending forgiveness, even in the face of repeated offenses, believers reflect the love we have received from our gracious Heavenly Father.
Let's look at 10 inspiring examples of forgiveness in the Bible and see how we can follow these great examples and let go of the hurt and pain that come with offenses directed towards us.
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Examples of Forgiveness in the Bible
The gospel's good news is that forgiveness is made possible through the sacrifice and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus.
True forgiveness is rooted in unconditional love, providing a message of hope, redemption, and a renewed connection with a compassionate and forgiving Creator.
Many Bible stories beautifully teach us about true forgiveness. Let's take a moment and look at ten inspiring examples of forgiveness in the Bible.
1. Adam and Eve
The first place we witness forgiveness in the Bible is in Genesis. Although not verbally expressed, it is clearly evident.
Adam and Eve, the first human beings created, were placed in a paradise garden.
Every evening, they enjoyed fellowship with the Heavenly Father. After tasting the forbidden fruit, they were banned from the Garden of Eden.
Their disobedience left them naked, alone, and afraid. God could have left them in that state to defend for themselves and suffer because of their choices.
But He did not. He clothed them and took them to another place to live.
God not only provided immediate reconciliation, but He also gave the assurance that there would one day be a Savior who would take away all sin.
He clothed them physically and gave them the hope of eternal life.
2. Jacob and Esau
Also in the book of Genesis is the story of twin brothers Jacob and Esau. (Genesis 25:19–34; 27; 28:6–9; 32:3–21; 33:1–16; and 36)
Through deceit and deception, Jacob, the younger brother, received the birthright and blessings that should've belonged to his brother Esau.
Anger and betrayal consumed Esau to the point that he threatened to kill his brother Jacob because of his deception. Jacob, fearing for his own life, fled to another country.
However, after years of separation, Jacob wanted to go home but feared that Esau would still be angry with him.
So, he devised a plan to soothe Esau's anger. He planned to overwhelm Esau with gifts and money Jacob had acquired while he was away.
When Esau heard of Jacob's return, and before receiving money or gifts, Esau greeted Jacob with open arms. Instead of vengeance, which Jacob had feared for years, Esau warmly embraced his brother.
This story illustrates the transformative power of forgiveness. It emphasizes the importance of reconciliation with a family member and the possibility of healing even through betrayal and deception.
3. Joseph and His Brothers
One of the greatest examples of forgiveness in the Bible is the story of Joseph. Joseph, the son of Jacob, was a dreamer, and his brothers hated him for it.
Their jealousy led them to the desire to kill Joseph. But one of Joseph's brothers tried to save him by suggesting they throw him in a pit to let him die so he could come back later to rescue Joseph.
Unfortunately, before the rescue, the other brothers had sold Joseph into slavery. Joseph was taken far away from his home, never to return.
Joseph's father was told by the brothers that Joseph had died. In reality, Joseph was a slave in Egypt, being falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned.
But the years spent in Egypt were preparing him for something great!
With God's help, Joseph's journey from being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers to rising to prominence in Egypt was later used to save the whole nation of Israel.
The turning point was when Joseph's brothers had to come to Egypt to purchase food during a great famine.
He recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Instead of using the opportunity for revenge, Joseph revealed his identity and assured his brothers of their forgiveness.
The story of Joseph and his brothers is a great example of the power of forgiveness. It shows us that wounds can be healed through compassion and reconciliation, and relationships can be restored.
4. Moses and the Golden Calf
Another powerful example of God's forgiveness in the Old Testament is found in Exodus.
After being enslaved for hundreds of years, Moses courageously led the Israelites out of the land of Egypt. The great deliverance came through a series of miracles that showcased God's power.
After their release, Moses led them across the Red Sea to the foothills of Mt. Sinia. There, Moses climbed the mountain and received God's law, the Ten Commandments, written by God's hand on two stone tablets.
As Moses came off the mountain, he found the people of Israel worshipping a golden calf they had created instead of worshipping the Creator who had just delivered them.
Moses, in righteous anger, threw down the two tablets smashing them into pieces symbolizing the broken covenant between them and God.
Despite the betrayal and disobedience, Moses intercedes on behalf of the people, pleading for God's forgiveness.
After their repentance, God responded with remarkable mercy. He gave Moses a new set of tablets and reestablished His covenant with the Israelites.
Of course, that would not be the end of their rebellion or God's mercy towards them.
5. David and Saul
David was a godly young man who worshipped God way before he was thrown into the spotlight after killing the giant, Goliath.
At one time, King Saul was, too. However, King Saul turned from God and began to resent David because of jealousy and pride.
After David killed Goliath, King Saul often had David to the palace. He enjoyed King Saul's kindness and even married the king's daughter.
He was best friends with Jonathan, the king's son–they became blood brothers (1 Samuel 18:3)
But God's grace was upon David, and his fame and popularity became greater than King Saul's. In reaction to his jealousy of David, Saul began actively going after David to kill him.
But David never took an opportunity to seek revenge. He knew that he was to be the next king.
He knew that Saul was disobeying God and trying to kill him. But David stayed faithful to God and forgave Saul of all his offenses against him.
At one point, David had been so close to Saul while he slept that it would have been so easy just to end the relentless chasing he was exposed to because of King Saul's hatred.
But David chose forgiveness and kindness, even towards his enemy.
King Saul never asked to be forgiven, nor did he apologize to David. Sometimes, we have to give forgiveness even when the other person isn't willing to be forgiven.
6. King David
In 2 Samuel 11-12, David, a man after God's own heart, succumbs to temptation and commits adultery with Bathsheba.
This act leads to a series of unfortunate events, including the arranged death of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah.
When the prophet Nathan confronts David about his wrongdoing, David acknowledges his sin and repents. Despite the gravity of David's actions, God extends His grace and forgives him.
David expresses heartfelt repentance and seeks God's mercy. A reflection of his sin is mentioned in Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Psalm 51:1 (NIV)
This example exemplifies God's willingness to forgive, even when His people fall into grievous sin.
The story of King David reveals the transformative power of repentance and the depth of God's love, and that forgiveness is available to everyone.
King David's story highlights the profound grace of God and His great love.
Stephen's story is a powerful example of forgiveness and grace in the face of persecution. His faithfulness serves as an inspiration to all Christians.
In the New Testament book of Acts, Stephen was one of the men chosen to help the apostles by distributing food to widows in the early Christian community.
He was described as a man full of God's grace and power. And the Bible tells us that he performed great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:6)
Stephen was falsely accused of blasphemy against God and stoned to death. But as his enemies were brutally beating him to death, Stephen asked the Lord to forgive them.
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 (ESV)
This level of forgiveness is rare for Christians. But we see a similar act of forgiveness as Jesus is hanging on the cross.
8. The Prodigal Son
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a young man asks his father for his share of the family inheritance. So, the father splits everything between him and his older brother.
Taking everything he inherited, the foolish son left for another country, shaming his father and the family name.
After losing all his wealth through wild living, the repentant and humbled young man went home to beg his father to take him back.
He had forsaken his position as a son. But he was homeless, hungry, and willing to be a lowly servant in his father's household.
Much to his surprise, the father saw him coming and ran to meet him with open arms!
Demonstrating the power of forgiveness and the unconditional love of God, the father received his son back into his family.
This is a perfect picture of how we are with our Heavenly Father. When we rebel against God, even after salvation, God waits for us to humbly repent and return to Him.
He waits with open arms, offering the undeserving, unlimited, unconditional love of God.
9. Jesus On the Cross
The greatest example of forgiveness is during the crucifixion of Christ Jesus.
He was forsaken by His friends, mocked and abused by His enemies, and then beaten and humiliated by others.
Yet as He hung there above His abusers, He utters a profound prayer of forgiveness to God on behalf of those who were responsible for his crucifixion.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 (NIV)
What a beautiful illustration of the power of forgiveness, even in the face of extreme sorrow and grief.
Jesus' forgiveness on the cross demonstrates that we can forgive no matter what we are going through.
It emphasizes the importance of forgiveness, even in the most challenging and painful circumstances.
This ability comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. Offering forgiveness is foundational to Christian life.
10. Jesus and Peter
Peter was one of Jesus' disciples who had forsaken Christ. When the soldiers came to take Jesus as a prisoner, Peter initially fought against them and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers.
However, as Jesus went peacefully with His captors, Peter and the others fled and hid.
Earlier in the evening, Jesus informed His disciples that they would all be scattered like lost sheep to fulfill prophecy (Zechariah 13:7).
But Peter argued, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus, knowing his heart, revealed to Peter that Peter would verbally deny knowing Jesus three times before the morning light. (Luke 22:33-34 NIV)
However, after the Resurrection, Jesus found Peter and assured him that Peter was forgiven. Peter was restored as a disciple and a leader.
Jesus also gave Peter the opportunity to affirm his love for the Lord by asking him three times if Peter loved Him. Peter was increasingly more emphatic each time, assuring the Lord of his love and devotion to Him.
The Bible tells us that our hearts are “deceitful and wicked; who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9).
I believe Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to express his love so Peter wouldn't later on condemn himself for his unfaithfulness towards the Lord Jesus Christ.
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Sometimes, it's harder to forgive ourselves than it is to forgive others.
According to these examples of forgiveness in the Bible, true forgiveness involves letting go of resentment and extending mercy and grace to those who have wronged us.
It goes beyond simply saying you forgive someone. And it's more than “letting it go”.
These examples of forgiveness show us that forgiveness is rooted in God's character and that, as recipients of God's forgiveness, we are called to forgive others. And according to Matthew, we are to forgive over and over again.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” J
esus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22 (ESV)
Jesus tells us how important forgiveness is in our own lives when He answers how we should pray while teaching His disciples what's known as the Lord's Prayer.
“Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
Jesus teaches us that forgiveness goes both ways. If we forgive, we are forgiven. But our heavenly Father will not forgive us if we don't forgive. This is not the forgiveness of sins for salvation.
However, unforgiveness will throw up a barrier between our communion with the Lord.
True forgiveness involves love, compassion, and a willingness to reconcile. It doesn't mean forgetting the offense but choosing not to hold it against the person.
In Ephesians 4:32 (NIV), the Apostle Paul encourages believers, saying, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Ultimately, true forgiveness is a reflection of God's love and grace, and it is a central theme in the teachings of Jesus and is crucial to God's ultimate plan for humanity.