Studying Human Hearts: Forgiveness

A Scripture study from Caring, part three of four.

Read part two.

When Jesus was crucified, Luke 23:34 marks one of the last phrases he spoke: “Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus prayed this prayer of forgiveness over the very people who had him put to death. It was because of our sin, too, that he went to the cross. That’s how much he loves us—that he would humble himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because we have been forgiven much, we need to forgive much.

Behind the scenes

Read Hosea 1-3. Using the story of Hosea, we not only see a great example of God’s love to people who have turned their backs on him but it also shows us what forgiveness and restoration look like in a close relationship. It is also a good reminder that this forgiveness is offered to all of God’s children. Certainly, God will bring judgment on those who turn away from him, but Hosea’s example encourages those who are truly trying to live a godly life to stay faithful.

  • Do you know the saving power of God that he has offered to us through his precious son, Jesus, who sacrificed his life for you? If so, as one who has been redeemed or forgiven have you offered redemption or forgiveness to those in your life who have wronged you? 
  • Can you think of wrongs you have suffered from others that may be keeping you from freely expressing your love and kindness? What is the best way to respond? 
  • How can you keep the wrongs for which you have forgiven others from creeping back into your mind and destroying your peace?

Beyond the surface

Forgiveness is not always easy to do but forgiving is always the right thing to do. Read and reflect on the following Scripture verses about forgiveness:

  • 1 John 1:9 — If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
  • Colossians 3:13 — Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
  • Matthew 6:14-15 — For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Between the lines

Think of Corrie ten Boom—who, along with her family, assisted Jews in escaping from the Nazis during the Holocaust, saving almost 800 people. She and her family members were caught and imprisoned at a concentration camp. These are her words when asked by a former prison camp guard to forgive him: “And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’”

  • What are some of your personal experiences with forgiveness?

Closing thoughts

Reflect on the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers in Genesis 45:4-8: Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.”

Now pause and spend some time in prayer as you reflect on showing forgiveness to others.

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Do Good:

  • Download the full study and find more like it from Caring in the Scripture study library.
  • Watch the short film, “Human Hearts,” that challenges us to think about what we have been given and what we can, in turn, give to others. 
  • Worship with The Salvation Army and give to support the fight for good in your community.  
  • What does it mean to do good? Where can we discover joy? What is it really like to be homeless? How can I raise a kind kid? Subscribe to The Do Gooders Podcast with Christin Thieme to find these exact shows and more—all to help you be inspired to do good right where you are.
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Jonnette Mulch, Major

Major Jonnette Mulch is the Assistant Program Secretary for Corps Ministries in The Salvation Army Western Territory.