Forgiveness: What Does It Mean? - A Guest Post by Leigh Powers

Forgiveness. It’s one of those church words we like to throw around. “Well, I just need to forgive him and move on.” “Forgive and forget.” But when we’re honest, we say things more like this: “I know I’m supposed to forgive, but why is it so hard?”

We know we’re supposed to forgive, but sometimes we struggle with the gap between the knowing and the doing. We talk about forgiveness, but we don’t always teach how to do it well. Forgiveness is more than just acting as if nothing ever happened or shaking off the hurt. It is not continuing to put ourselves in harm’s way, nor is it stuffing down our feelings and acting as though everything is fine. Forgiveness is a process in which we bring our pain to God for healing and allow God’s grace to be demonstrated through us. But before we can talk about how to forgive, we need to understand what forgiveness is.

Webster’s Dictionary offers three basic meanings of forgiveness:1

  • “To give up resentment of or claim to requital for”
  • “To grant relief from payment”
  • “To cease to feel resentment against (an offender).”

That last one is where our problem comes in. I can choose to give up my claim to restitution, revenge, or repayment, but how do I change what I feel? How do you get rid of those lingering feelings of resentment and bitterness—the ones that like to sneak up behind you and sink their fangs in over and over again? Forgiveness is a spiritual task, and we need to face it with Spirit-led strength. Yet life in the Spirit always requires our cooperation with what God is doing on our behalf. When God asks us to forgive, what does He actually want us to do?

The New Testament uses three basic words for forgiveness: apheimi, charizomai, and aphesis. While all three words can be translated to forgive, each has a special nuance that helps us understand what should be included in the work of forgiving.

Apheimi carries the basic meaning to send away or to remit or forgive.2 Apheimi has to do with the removal of punishment and the cancellation of the debt we owe for our sin. It’s the word used for forgiveness in 1 John 1:9 (NIV): “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for sins for all time—both our sins and the sins committed against us. Accepting God’s forgiveness means that we don’t have to try to pay God back for all the sins we’ve committed against Him. Jesus’ blood paid the debt. When we forgive others, we accept that Jesus’ blood is sufficient to pay the price of others’ sin against us. We cancel the debt they owe us because Jesus has already paid it for them.

Charizomai means to bestow an unconditional favor.3 Paul used charizomai in Ephesians 4:32 (NIV): “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Charizomai comes from the root charis, “grace.” Grace is the favor and blessing God bestows on us even though we have done nothing to deserve it. God graciously forgives us not because we deserve it, but because God is a gracious and forgiving God. We don’t earn forgiveness; we receive it freely. In the same way, when we forgive others we do so independently of their remorse, repentance, or restitution. We don’t forgive others because they deserve it; we forgive them because God displays His gracious character in and through us.

The last word, aphesis, is a noun that means dismissal or release.4 When Jesus said He was sent to proclaim “freedom for the prisoners,” He used aphesis (Luke 4:18 NIV). It is a suspension of the penalty and a release from bondage. Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf accomplished our freedom from the bondage of sin. When we forgive, we release people from the bonds we have placed on them—bonds like anger, resentment, judgment, having to make it up to us, or never getting things right. Forgiveness unlocks the cell door so they—and we—can move forward in freedom.

A healthy process of forgiveness needs to encompass canceling the debt, releasing from bondage, and bestowing favor. In forgiveness we let go of the debt we are owed, release the bonds of our anger and hurt, and  let God display His grace in us. Yet it is not something we do on our own. Understanding the process helps, but forgiveness is a work of the Spirit. God accomplishes it in us, but we take the first step. Are you ready to be willing to forgive?

Visit Leigh’s website to hear more about forgiveness in her blog series. Here’s the first post:


2W.E Vine. Vine’s Expository Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997. p. 452-453.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid. 

Leigh Powers is passionate about seeing lives changed as we encounter God through His word. A pastor’s wife, freelance writer, and mother of three, she strives to combine solid biblical study with real-world application. She blogs at My Life. His Story (







forgiveness, Forgiveness: What Does It Mean? - A Guest Post by Leigh Powers, Leigh Powers, Katy Kauffman

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