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Debunking 10 false arguments against forgiveness

Practice / Forgiveness
As Jesus’ followers, we are called forgive those who have hurt, abused, betrayed, and offended us. This can be a real struggle when we are still filled with pain, resentment, outrage, and thoughts of revenge. Overcoming such struggles requires some recalibrating of our understanding of healing and forgiveness as we examine God’s Word.

(See Chinese versions: 简体中文 > 揭穿十项对饶恕的谬误争论 | 繁體中文 > 揭穿十項對饒恕的謬誤爭論)


Colossians 3:13 ESV  Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

The impact of worldly teachings

We all subconsciously pick up many “lessons” and “beliefs” about forgiveness from this world which appeal to our human reasoning. While they may sound sensible and logical at first glance, it is important to pause and examine if they will keep us from knowing and following God or not.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NLT  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

1. “Just get over it”

The world teaches us to brush our feelings aside, sweep matters under the carpet, forget what happened and just move on, because it has no empathy for our pain.

As a result, we may fall for the idea that we can just “get over it” by our own strength and assume we can ignore an offence and do something else (numbing), pretend that everything is okay (dismissing) or not allow ourselves to feel upset (denial). This, however, does not change the fact that a sin has been committed against us.

When we don’t acknowledge how we truly feel and forgive others, the sin remains as a stain on our spirits until we confess our grievances and receive God’s healing for our hearts.

Proverbs 28:13 ESV  Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

God’s Word shows us that the Holy Spirit will comfort our broken hearts, set us free from our prisons of pain and bitterness, and shower us with His favour when we humbly seek Him. We don’t sweep away or forget the harm and pain that others cause us, we go to God for emotional and spiritual healing so we can pour His grace and love to others too. Please also see The importance of emotional healing.

Isaiah 61:1-2 NLT  The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

2. “The hero takes revenge.”

In action movies, the hero is always portrayed as the person who will not rest until he or she brings about “justice” by taking revenge. Those who do not take revenge are portrayed as weak, cowardly, disgraceful and as dishonouring the family name. The truth that these stories don’t show is that that vengeance doesn’t bring us true peace and will actually turn God’s face against us.

1 Peter 3:9-12 ESV  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

In a world that defines retribution, repayment, and revenge as “justice,” “righteousness,” and “good”, we can feel conflicted and even guilty about extending forgiveness and letting go of the right to judge and punish other people.

Luke 6:36-38 ESV Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

3. “I have high personal standards.”

Other times, we find it hard to forgive others because we don’t forgive ourselves easily. We are hard on ourselves and hold ourselves to very high standards.

Yet we need to see that holding on to perfectionist standards is idolatrous. When we value our own standards of performance more highly than obeying God’s commandment to love others as we love ourselves, we make ourselves more important than God.

Matthew 22:36-39 ESV  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

4. “They are bad.”

Growing up, we were taught that there are “good guys” and “bad guys.” Instinctively, we have learnt to associate ourselves with the good guys. To label anyone as good or bad, however, is an overly simplistic way of looking at things. The Bible reminds us that we are all sinners, no one is righteous. Someone else’s sins against us does not make us righteous.

Romans 3:10,23 ESV  As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

5. “You give some, I give some.”

The world teaches us that we must earn respect and demonstrate our worth. We come to believe “there is no such thing as a free lunch” and we need to “shape up or ship out.” As a result, we think that forgiveness needs to be earned as well, when true forgiveness is an unearned act of grace towards our offenders because we have first received God’s grace. We give forgiveness because God gave us forgiveness first.

Colossians 3:13 NLT  Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

6.“It is just between the two parties.”

Broken relationships and bitterness between two parties will always ensnare a wider circle of people. For example, we resent those who will not disassociate from those we haven’t forgiven, we become jealous when our enemies seem to be having a better time than we are, we force those who are close to us to choose sides, and so on. Bitterness will ultimately cause trouble.

Hebrews 12:14-15 ESV  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

Most of all, it costs us our relationship with God. Our bitterness defiles us and grieves the Holy Spirit. As a result, we don’t get to see Him or receive His grace when we pray.

Ephesians 4:30-31 ESV  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Debunking 10 common false arguments that arise from worldly teachings

Worldly teachings can corrupt our understanding of forgiveness and set up false arguments against forgiving others from our hearts.

Here are some common examples.

1. False argument: “If I forgive them, they win.”

Unforgiveness and bitterness can give us a false sense of control because at least, we feel we have a right to “justice”. The reality is, we remain enslaved to others’ sins against us by holding on to unforgiveness. We continue to carry the burden of what they have done. Forgiveness frees us from that burden.

John 8:34 ESV  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

What is even more detrimental to us is that we will jeopardise our own salvation. Jesus forgave our sins at a great cost to Himself. When we refuse to release forgiveness to others, we spurn God’s grace towards us and His commandment to forgive as He has forgiven us.

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

There is not to say that God does not care about or acknowledge our pain. He empathises with us in every way. Jesus has been tempted to be bitter and to withhold forgiveness too, so He knows how to teach us to overcome the sins of this world through His loving guidance. Jesus will equip us to follow His example through the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 2:17-18 ESV  Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Romans 8:26 NLT  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

The truth: “If I don’t forgive, I lose God’s presence and His favour. I cannot receive His forgiveness either.”
2. False argument: “If I forgive, I will look weak.”

In a merciless world, those who forgive can be accused of being cowardly and weak.

True forgiveness takes great strength and personal conviction because we choose not to give in to our natural desire to take things into our own hands and take revenge. Forgiveness is not weak at all.

More importantly, forgiveness is a trait of Jesus. We represent Him best when we forgive others their sins against us.

Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us…

The truth: “If I forgive, I look like Jesus. Jesus forgave, and He is now seated in the highest place in heaven.”

Philippians 2:9 ESV Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

3. False argument: “If I forgive, God won’t punish them. They need to suffer first.”

God works in ways we cannot see. His judgement on the sins of the world can come in many forms, although they may not be obvious to us. For example, God may withhold His blessings or healing.

Galatians 6:7 ESV  Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

Whatever the case, we are in no position to determine how God judges others. That is entirely up to Him because He is the One who created them in the first place. Our part is to forgive those who have sinned against us and trust Him to handle the matter.

Proverbs 20:22 NLT  Don’t say, “I will get even for this wrong.” Wait for the LORD to handle the matter.

At the same time, we must be careful not to judge or wish other people evil, because this will only invite God’s judgment on us too. Why invite curses upon ourselves by cursing others? We are blessed when we bless others – even those whom we may consider our enemies.

Psalm 109:17 ESV  He loved to curse; let curses come upon him! He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him!

Leviticus 20:9 ESV  For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.

Romans 12:14 ESV  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

1 Peter 3:9 ESV  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

The truth: “Forgive. God will handle the matter.”
4. False argument: “They need to say sorry first.”

Jesus did not wait for us to apologise before He died for our sins. He went ahead and did so anyway. This is the nature of God’s love. If we want to be genuine followers of Jesus, this is the type of love we should also extend to others. We cannot accept God’s love on one hand and then withhold it from people. That would make us hypocritical.

Romans 5:8 ESV  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 2:4 ESV  Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,

Matthew 5:44-46 NLT  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.

If we truly want to be children of our Heavenly Father, we need to learn to forgive without condition, pray for those who persecute us and love our enemies. Love keeps no record of being wrong nor does it rejoice in wishing others to suffer. We forgive others simply because we are God’s children.

1 Corinthians 13:4-6 NLT  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

Colossians 3:13 ESV  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

The truth: “We forgive because Jesus has forgiven us. It’s not about what others have done to us, it is about what Jesus has done for us.”
5. False argument: “They won’t change, so what’s the point of forgiving them?”

We can make the mistake of believing that by taking the first step to forgive others, our circumstances will change. The reality is, forgiveness changes us first; our mind, our heart, and our soul – not others.

Our bitterness grieves the Holy Spirit and blocks His restorative work in us. It also blinds us to what God may be already doing.

Most detrimentally, our unforgiveness can build walls against those we ought to be demonstrating God’s love to and become a stumbling block to our witness for Jesus Christ. For followers of Jesus Christ, forgiveness is a way of life, where we keep extending His grace, even if people do not acknowledge or appreciate it. We do this to honour and please God.

Matthew 18:21-22 ESV  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?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The truth: “We keep forgiving because it is good for our soul. It doesn’t matter if other people change for the better or not. It changes us for the better.”
6. False argument: “They don’t deserve forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is the product of grace.

The word “grace” is mentioned over 100 times in the New Testament. Grace is broadly defined as favour that is undeserved. We are all undeserving recipients of God’s grace, over and over again. God knows that we are all weak and ungodly and He extends His forgiveness in His never-ending grace towards us.

John 1:16 ESV  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Romans 5:6-8 ESV  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The reality is, none of us “deserves” forgiveness. When we choose to follow God and honour Him, we will extend His grace towards others through forgiveness. This does not mean we allow other people to trample on us. Forgiveness is first and foremost, a matter of the heart. We are called to live in peace with others, but not necessarily be held hostage to their behaviour.

Romans 12:17-21 ESV  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The truth: “They don’t deserve forgiveness and neither do we!”
7. False argument: “I can’t forgive them because I can’t even forgive myself for the same things.”

We can take pride in our personal accomplishments, goals, and standards. By setting our personal laws, we can become our own lawmakers and fall into self-idolatry. We determine what is acceptable or not for ourselves – and even for other people.

1 John 2:16 NLT  For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.

When we become our own lawmakers, we also become our own judges. This gives room to Satan to come and accuse us every time we fail to meet our own standards. The devil will keep reminding us of our own failures as well as the failures of other people, leaving us anxious, frustrated, restless, and increasingly legalistic. This makes it hard for us to forgive others when we haven’t forgiven ourselves.

God’s Law is always based on love first, whereas ours tend to be about ourselves first.

Romans 13:8 ESV  Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

We need to learn to love and show ourselves mercy so that we can show others mercy too.

James 2:13 ESV  For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

The truth: “We need to forgive ourselves first.”
8. False argument: “I can’t forget what they have done.”

God created the human mind to be very powerful, where every experience is recorded in our subconscious. We may not be able to consciously recall all of them but that doesn’t mean they aren’t lodged somewhere in our subconscious. It is virtually impossible to erase our memories.

Nowhere in the Bible does God offer to forget our memories. What God does offer is to heal our pain and hurts so that our hearts are in a healthier state to forgive and love others. This is how we overcome – not by stuffing our true emotions down or trying to forget – but by inviting God to heal our hearts and forgiving in spite of what others have done. This is where we will truly be able to be set free or move forward

Jeremiah 30:17 ESV  For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord, because they have called you an outcast…

The truth: “We are not meant to forget. We are meant to heal and forgive.”
9. False argument: “It’s not fair to me.”

To understand forgiveness, we need to keep in mind that it was not fair to Jesus when He died for our sins either. He lived as a normal human, being just like anyone of us, and remained sinless. Jesus was faultless. He was never jealous, vindictive, judgmental, slanderous, and have any of the other qualities we are all so prone to. Yet He voluntarily died for our sins.

Forgiveness does cost us something, just as our forgiveness cost Jesus too. God will reward us for our trust and obedience when we forgive others. Such rewards last for an eternity.

Proverbs 25:21-22 ESV  If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

The truth: “We testify for Jesus when we extend the love that is not fair to us.”
10. False argument: “Forgiveness means I have to reconcile. I don’t want to reconcile.”

Because we are called to love our enemies, we can sometimes make the mistake of thinking that we should also draw near to and associate with them. This is not what God’s Word shows us.

While we can make peace with others in our own hearts, there are some people that we should not associate with. For example, the Bible says we should:

  • Not enter into partnerships with unbelievers | 2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
  • Not be friends with people who are prone to anger | Proverbs 22:24-25 ESV Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.
  • Not associate with Christians who are stuck in iniquity and unrepentant of their sins towards God | 1 Corinthians 5:11 ESV But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
  • Keep away from Christians who are idle and divisive, that do not live according to God’s Word | 2 Thessalonians 3:6 NIV In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

Boundaries are necessary for every relationship. For example, reconciliation is never wise when the other party is prone to abuse, violence, and destruction.

We all belong to God. No one has the right to destroy our hearts, minds, and souls. Knowing whom to reconcile and whom to avoid takes wisdom that comes from God.

James 1:5 ESV  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

The truth: “There are people we should not associate with, but we can release any bitterness or anger as an act of forgiveness.”


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