Forget “Forgive and Forget” Part 2: God isn’t forgetful

Forgive and forget sounds like a holy action. Forgive the person who wronged you and forget about it; that’s the best solution to being wronged. But more than that, many Christians believe we should forgive and forget because they think it is biblical; that forgiving and forgetting sin is something our God does and therefore should be emulated. 

This idea likely comes from a handful of Bible verses that describe God as not remembering or “forgetting” our sins. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer 31:34) or I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins (Is 43:23). Though these verses suggest that God chooses to forget our sin, he actually chooses to not remember them, a subtle but important distinction. When God forgives sin and remembers it no more, he is putting it behind him in the act of forgiveness, but he has not forgotten. 

God is omniscient, so for Him to forget our sins would make him no longer all-knowing. We know from 2 Cor 5:10 that on the day of judgment each person will give account for their sins—God will recount all of our deeds, good and bad, and judge them justly. God is not a forgetful god in the way that I forget to water my plants, rather God chooses to not remember our sins by putting them behind him and no longer holding them against us by forgiving us.

Out of his deep love for us, God chooses to no longer hold our sins against us because he loves us and chooses to forgive us. So forgiveness, rather than being about forgetting something painful, is much more about deciding to no longer hold an action against someone or allow their sin to inform how you treat them today

Forgiving does not mean that we forget what happened—quite the opposite, it means that we remember it and choose to forgive and release the perpetrator from their debt in spite of it. Forgiveness offers an offender freedom from their debt, no longer bringing up their sin when we are having a bad day or hurling their actions in their face when they annoy us. This kind of action invokes a movement of love towards the one who hurt us in the same way that 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that love keeps no record of wrongs; love does not use past sins as weapons against another. Like our loving Father, we are invited to put sins behind us, out of view, no longer holding them against a wrongdoer. 

By remembering our sins no more, God models the pathway to restoration and reunion. He restores us into right relationship with him—our sin no longer stands between us creating hostility or the need for atonement—and he reunites us to himself.

Furthermore, when we choose to forgive, remember no more, and restore relationship, we also have the opportunity to allow that process of forgiveness to become a victory in our relationship with the other; forgiveness and restoration become crowning jewels in relationships, proof that the gospel is at work in our lives. Forgiveness can act as a trail marker indicating how far a relationship has come since that wound rather than being seen as an awkward situation to put aside. Forgiveness should be our treasure, our reward, our crown because it shouts of the supernatural and countercultural work of Christ. When we forgive, we choose the way of Christ and we can celebrate the costly yet beautiful decision for grace that shines in our hearts and the one we have forgiven.

Forgiveness is not simply looking aside. It is choosing to move forward even while the memory is fresh. And in Christ, by His Spirit, we have the resources to forgive and not pretend that an injury didn’t happen. Through the powerful working of His Spirit, we are able to forgive, as Christ has forgiven us.

Forget “forgive and forget” – Part 1

Recently, a friend of mine called in tears saying her boyfriend had confessed to cheating on her. They had been beginning to discuss marriage after dating for a few years, and she was heart-broken. 

But equally upsetting was the internal struggle with what felt like a religious requirement: she is a Christian, so the Christian thing to do is to forgive him. 

Though forgiveness might be necessary eventually, she felt the pressure to forgive him immediately because he was honest, he was repentant, he said he wouldn’t do it again, and he still wanted to be with her. 

If he repents, I have to forgive him, right?” It felt like a forgone conclusion. It felt like something she had to do. It felt like a transaction that had to take place if she was truly a godly and loving woman. But she was angry, hurt, and her trust in him had been shattered. What does it look like to navigate this kind of situation with godliness and grace, while also being honest about the pain and broken trust that his actions had caused?

At some point, you’ve probably been advised to forgive and forget. There are a lot of idioms that leak into Christian culture but aren’t actually biblical; forgive and forget is one phrase. There is a shade of truth to it, and likely good intentions, but when it comes to forgiveness, it attempts to reduce a robust and transformative process into a transaction.

Christian counselor Dan Allender says, “Forgiveness is all too often seen as merely an exercise in releasing bad feelings and ignoring past harm, pretending all is well…True forgiveness…is a powerful agent in a process that can transform both the forgiver and the forgiven.” 

As Allender points out, we often diminish the work of forgiveness to be about how we feel, but true forgiveness bears all the marks of resurrection hope and power. Christian forgiveness is not about a feeling, it’s about participating in the Triune God who forgives sinners and restores them into right relationship with himself. Christian forgiveness is a scandalous thing, showing grace to the enemy, wiping full slates clean, and demonstrating in action the power of the gospel—that Christ died so that sinners like us could be saved. When we forgive someone else, we show them the power of the gospel in the most tangible way we can.

On one hand, forgiveness might seem straightforward—you just choose to forgive and move forward. But this simplistic understanding of forgiveness condenses a full orchestra of actions and processing into a single line of music.

Real forgiveness requires truth-telling and honesty, rediscovering the humanity of the person who hurt you, navigating reconciliation, reunion, restoration, and repentance. No, forgiveness is no easy task, but we must each learn its rhythms and overtures—not just to protect ourselves from bitterness and resentment, but to follow after Jesus, our forgiving King. 

True forgiveness is nothing short of the power of God at work among us. So when we have a small view of forgiveness and how to do it, we miss the power of God at work in our lives when he forgives us, we miss the power of God at work in the person who hurt us, we miss an opportunity to make much of Christ and his good, good news.

There is so much more to forgiveness than forgive and forget; it’s time we recover a more robust—and biblical—understanding of what forgiveness is and how we do it.