Forgiveness: A Practical Way to Begin Loving Your Enemies

This article is the third in a series on biblically directed relationships. The first two articles can be found here and here.

The gospel offers not only salvation but also transformation—Christ saves and changes his people. The consistent message of the Bible is that the way Christ-followers relate to others should be radically different because of the new relationship they have with God through Christ. Our goal is to live a life of dependence on the gospel and walk in the Spirit of love toward God and neighbor. Forgiving others is not an optional add-on for disciples. It shows that we have understood the gospel.

Who Do You Love?

Jesus expects his followers to show love not only toward brothers and sisters in Christ but also those who haven’t yet repented and believed the gospel. Loving those who love us does not evidence God’s transforming power. People who’ve not experienced the redemptive power of Christ know how to love other people who love them (Luke 6:13 cf). To love even the difficult people in our lives, however, is not so easily done. Yet this is Christ’s expectation for those who follow him.

“Forgiving others is not an optional add-on for disciples. It shows that we have understood the gospel.”

Throughout Scripture, we see that the gospel necessarily leads to healthy, loving relationships. Christ-followers today demonstrate the values of his kingdom by loving the difficult people in their lives. We forgive our enemies and actively do good to those who persecute or hurt us.

In a very tangible way, this is how we can know for certain we have expressed true forgiveness. Of course, we can only do this with God’s help as we walk by the Spirit in dependence on Christ. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1–2 ESV).

Forgiveness and Love are Closely Related

In Christ, we see a clear connection between forgiveness and love. God forgives sinners in Christ because he loves them. In addition to forgiving them, he demonstrates love by giving them the rich inheritance earned by Christ’s obedience. He blesses his forgiven former enemies with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Every blessing we enjoy in Christ is a gift of love, not something we earned or deserve (Eph. 1:3–14). It will take an eternity to explore exactly how God’s forgiveness relates to his love, but there is a clear connection. We shouldn’t try to separate God’s forgiveness and God’s love as he has demonstrated both together in Christ.

Similarly, disciples of Christ forgive others and love others. We are called to bear with the difficult people in our lives. We forgive them freely and do not hold anything against them. We set them free. We release them. That’s the first step. The next step is just as challenging. We are to actively love the people we have forgiven. The gospel doesn’t just release us through God’s forgiveness. It also blesses us with an infinite number of gifts we don’t deserve.

Forgiveness Results in Loving Activity

Forgiveness is a tricky thing. Sometimes, even when we believe we’ve forgiven someone who has hurt us, a seed of bitterness may remain somewhere deep inside. The fruit of that seed could spring up at a later time. As imitators of God in our relationships, then, forgiveness must ordinarily lead to active steps of love in order to drive out any bitterness that remains.

“We shouldn’t try to separate God’s forgiveness and God’s love as he has demonstrated both together in Christ.”

One simple way to move forward is to literally keep a record, not of wrongs but of potential areas of love and service. Write down a few tangible ways that you can do good to the person who hurt you—ways to actively express love to him or her. The more difficult that step feels to start, the more important it is to complete.

Think about how to bless that person or how you could assist them or surprise them with something good. Ask the Father to enable you to actively bless them with a heartfelt word, a simple act of service, a useful gift, an invitation to a meal—the possibilities are endless. Particularly, as it pertains to crossing cultures, this is an important step. You must not assume that what speaks to you would necessarily speak to someone else. Make sure that you consider cultural norms and differences (like how forgiveness is thought of and enacted within that culture) before engaging with them.

Go Love Someone

Next, go and do a few things on your list. You will likely find that actively loving a difficult person transforms your attitude. Before long, you’ll realize that genuine forgiveness has taken place. More importantly, you will have taken clear steps to live a life pleasing to God by actively loving someone you were trying to forgive.

This is such a simple way to apply the gospel. But, though simple, it’s definitely not easy. Loving others measures the genuineness of forgiveness toward difficult people, evidences the Holy Spirit’s work in a believer’s life, and can lead to restored relationships. It’s a gospel-centered, manageable approach that translates into any language or culture.