How Do You Forgive Someone Who Hasn’t Forgiven You?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

How Do You Forgive Someone That Refuses to Forgive You?


Jesus taught much about forgiveness, but what does a Christian do when someone won’t forgive them, even if they’ve forgiven them? Are we supposed to forget about it after we’ve tried to ask for forgiveness and they’ve refused? How do you forgive someone who doesn’t forgive you? For starters, we can’t force someone to forgive us. One thing we can control is our forgiving them; and our praying for them. That’s tough when you may not actually feel like it or you didn’t actually do anything wrong, or it wasn’t even your fault, but look at the cross and read where Jesus asked for forgiveness for those who were nailing Him to the cross, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…” (Luke 23:34). And I don’t think Jesus was just talking about the Roman guards. He included the Roman authorities, yes, but also the Jews, but ultimately, we all are responsible for Jesus’ death on the cross.

Forgiving Others

We are to forgive others as our God has forgiven us. That much we’ve been taught. Jesus taught that “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt 6:14), “but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:15). Sounds like an either/or, doesn’t it? There is no room for forgive them “if” they forgive you. Those who crucified Jesus certainly didn’t ask to be forgiven for what they were doing! They loved it, but that’s why we are called the children of God. We are to act more like God as children typically act like their parents. They pick up parent’s traits as we’re to be more like Christ. And forgiveness is a huge part of this and shows are daughters and “sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).

Praying For Your Enemies

Jesus seems to turn the Jewish teaching of forgiveness on its head! The Jews thought it was righteous to forgive someone up to three times. Peter thought he’d up that ante and make it seven times, sounding holier than the Jews, but Jesus said that wasn’t enough. We are commanded to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21-22), which really means, we are to forgive others an infinite number of times. There’s not a point we reach where Jesus says, “It is enough,” but rather our Lord says, “Forgive others as God has forgiven you” (Matt 6:14; 18:33; Eph 4:32). And God has forgiven us infinitely more than we have ever sinned against others. Jesus never made it conditional like we sometimes do and read it “forgive others as God has forgiven us, but only if they forgive us.” Just because they never forgive you, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook in forgiving them.

But I Say

Bible Lessons About ForgivenessJesus placed His teaching on forgiveness against that which had been taught by the Jews, or as He puts it, “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Matt 5:43), but is that what the Scriptures really say? On the contrary, the Old Testament taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves and not hold grudges (Lev 19:18). This included the aliens who lived among the Israelites. There is no teaching in the Old Testament where it says “hate your enemy.” Now I’ve read these Scriptures many times, but God never adds any conditions to it, such as, “pray for those who abuse you…but only if they forgive you.” To the amazement of His audience, Jesus said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). And it’s not conditioned on someone receiving forgiveness; for anything real or imagined. Jesus said to them and He says to all, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28), and yes, even if they never forgive you!

Pray and Ponder

Here are a few ways you can learn to forgive someone who refuses to forgive you or still holds a grudge against something you’ve done.

Set aside some time and pray for that person. Even if they’ve not forgiven them, we are to pray for our enemies, even more so I would think those we know. Pray for someone who has an unforgiving spirit and holds a grudge against you. It’s hard to do, but a godly thing to do.

Examine the quality of your apology. What is really sincere or was it half-hearted? Make sure it was a genuine apology and that you have actually asked them to forgive you. Don’t assume you know how they feel.

Take responsibility for the harm you caused. Own it. We’ve all blown it. It’s what it is to be human. To err is human but to forgive is a divine attribute of God, for He forgave us; even while we were still ungodly, wicked enemies of God (Rom 5:6-10).

Know that forgiveness is their choice. You can’t force someone into forgiving you. It must be from their heart and not forced or by feeling guilty.

Try letting some time pass and apologizing again. Time may not heal all wounds, but it allows it to heal some.

Remain humble in all of this. Definitely don’t overestimate your side or underestimate their side.What Does The Bible Say About Forgiveness


Finally, you may just have to let it go. When you’ve done all you can, only God can do what only He can do. It must take the Holy Spirit to bring them conviction. Jesus said when the Holy Spirit comes, and He has come, “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). It is God who can convict them. All we might do is more harm than good and force them even further away from us. When we try to make people feel guilty about things or push them into forgiving us, we’re taking the place of the Holy Spirit. And that apology might not be sincere or from the heart. Therefore, it won’t stick. They still might harbor resentment. Only the Spirit of God is the One Who convicts the world of sin, and I know this; we make a poor imitation of Him. Do whatever you can; forgive them; hold no grudge; and when you’ve done all you can; let God do what only He can (John 16:8).

Here is some related reading for you: What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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