The Fear of Forgiveness

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23–24, esv).

Forgiveness is the starting point in restoring relational harmony—there are no enduring relationships without it. Truly forgiving means you’ve released someone from the debt they incurred when they hurt you. But forgiveness goes both ways, and we need to seek it as well as grant it.

It’s important to be intentional about pursuing forgiveness—and it may be harder to ask someone to forgive you than it is to forgive them. We’re not talking about a quick “sorry.” That has nothing to do with requesting forgiveness; it’s just telling someone how you feel and not really giving them a chance to respond.

The most effective (and sometimes fear producing) way to gain forgiveness is to actually ask for it. Admit what you did wrong and then say only, “Will you forgive me?” And stop there. It’s not “If I did something wrong” (you know you did), or “I didn’t mean to,” which excuses what you did. Nor is it, “I know you got hurt,” which subtly shifts the blame on them for being too sensitive.

True forgiveness is sought with simply, “I was wrong. I have no excuse. Will you forgive me?”

Why is this so scary? Because we instinctively try to avoid putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. We’re terrified of the moment when someone we love could look us in the eye and say, “No, I don’t forgive you.” That response might be as painful as the hurt we caused them. But that’s the reality of forgiveness—we have to give it, ask for it, and accept that it involves the potential for pain.

Jesus is clear that we’re to take responsibility for the relational conflict we’ve caused. “First, be reconciled.” How can we approach the Lord when we’ve neglected the brokenness between ourselves and others? God doesn’t receive our worship if He knows we have no intention of loving those closest to us. We can fool others; we can’t fool Him.

We need to ask for God’s help as we seek forgiveness and then pursue it wholeheartedly. There are no enduring relationships without it.


  • What is your typical approach to dealing with hurt you have caused?
  • Who do you need to forgive right now? Who do you need to ask for forgiveness? When will you do this?

Father, I confess that I have sinned against people in my life, and I need to seek their forgiveness. Please help me to have the humility and courage to obey You in this. Fix my eyes on You and enable me to do this for Your sake, holding fast to You whatever the outcome. Thank You that You are slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and thank You for the ultimate example of forgiveness You gave us in Your Son, Jesus. I love You and I ask You to make me more like You, whatever the cost. In Jesus’ matchless name, amen.