20 Bible Verses about Forgiveness

Mon September 9, 2019 · Comments

Since the 1980s, forgiveness has been a significant focus of psychological research. In the following decades, researchers discovered the therapeutic value of being a person who forgives easily. Research shows that people who forgive more often demonstrate:

  • Stronger relationships
  • Emotional health
  • Slowness to anger
  • Clearer consciences


For thousands of years, the Bible has been reinforcing the importance of forgiveness. It tells us that God overflows with mercy towards us, and encourages us to follow His example with one another. Jesus tells us that the world will know that we're His because of our love for one another (John 13:35). And love requires forgiveness.

We've pulled together 20 verses about forgiveness that demonstrate God's loving kindness and our call to show each other mercy and grace. 

1. Do not bear a grudge (Leviticus 19:18)

"Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."

Jesus famously summed up the entire Old Testament law in two directives:

  1. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).
  2. "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).


These weren't new principles. Throughout the Old Testament, you can see God reinforcing these ideas over and over again. In this passage from Leviticus, God warns against harboring resentment and seeking retribution against those in God's community.

2. Moses prays for forgiveness (Numbers 14:19–23)

"In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now."

The Lord replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it."

After God demonstrated His love and power in delivering the Israelites from Egypt, you'd think that Israel would be on their best behavior. Sadly, that's not the case. Not only did they slip into idolatry, but they were always complaining.

Moses often finds himself interceding on behalf of his people. Here he reminds God of His love for the people and the fact that He’s pardoned them in the past.

We see God forgive again, but He also tells Moses that there will be consequences for Israel's continued disobedience. This generation will not enter the promised land. It's helpful to recognize that forgiveness doesn't always deliver the forgiven from the repercussions of their behavior.

3. God doesn't give us what we deserve (Psalm 103:10–12)

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Jesus instructs us to love our enemies so that we can be like our Father in heaven. He reminds us that God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45).

In Psalm 103, David reminds us that God is incredibly patient with us. He doesn't respond to us in the way we deserve but demonstrates His love for us through His graciousness.

When it comes to forgiveness, God doesn't just withhold His anger when He forgives us. He separates us from our transgressions. He uses a beautiful image of removing our offense from us as far from the east is from the west. It's a poetic way of saying that when God forgives, He places an infinite gulf between our wrongdoing and us. 

4. Cleansing us from our sins (Isaiah 1:18)

"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool" (Isaiah 1:18).

The Book of Isaiah opens with the prophet detailing God's judgments against Israel. These judgments aren't merely punitive; God wants His people to make a choice to live differently.

In the first chapter, Isaiah instructs God’s people:

"Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow" (Isaiah 1:16-17).

God is frustrated at the blood on Israel's hands (verse 15), and He uses scarlet, red, and crimson to describe their sin. If they'll repent of their behavior, He promises to restore them to the whiteness of wool. And it points to the once-and-for-all forgiveness we'll receive in Jesus.

5. Remembering their sin no more (Isaiah 43:25)

"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more."

God describes Himself as the One who removes our offenses from us. He tells us that He does it for His own sake, meaning that there is a mercy in the depths of His being that propels Him to be patient and forgiving. 

6. Turning from sin and seeking forgiveness (Isaiah 55:7)

Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

God longs to show mercy, and He's always encouraging people to turn from their evil deeds and thoughts. But it's dangerous for people to expect God to forgive behavior that they have no intention of quitting.

7. Looking forward to Christ's forgiveness (Jeremiah 31:34)

"No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

Through the Spirit's inspiration, Jeremiah speaks of a time when God's covenant people will have the law written on their hearts. When that time comes, God's people will know Him intimately and walk in His forgiveness. 

8. The Lord is merciful and forgiving (Daniel 9:9)

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.

Daniel was a prophet living in Babylonian exile. Israel was experiencing severe judgment when this book was written. Even though Daniel is one of the few biblical characters that doesn't demonstrate many flaws, he still considers himself a participant in Israel's sin and rebellion. And even though they're at the receiving end of God's judgment, Daniel demonstrates his faith that God is merciful and forgiving.  

9. God delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18–19)

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

Micah rhetorically asks if there are any other gods like Yahweh. The answer is obviously no. Unlike the gods that Israel's neighbors worshipped, Yahweh had a reputation for kindness, compassion, and charity.

We often miss the significance of Micah's words. The idea that any deity would delight in showing mercy would sound crazy to people who served gods of anger, retribution, or even apathetic disinterest. In contrast to the other deities of the region, Israel served a God who found joy in demonstrating forgiveness.  

10. Forgive us our debts (Matthew 6:9–13)

This, then, is how you should pray: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."

Jesus features the theme of forgiveness in the prayer He teaches the disciples. It's important to note that He doesn't merely tell them to ask for mercy, but encourages them to seek forgiveness in keeping with the forgiveness they extend to others.

Jesus tends to talk about forgiveness in this way. If we expect God to overlook our offenses, we need to be willing to do the same for others. He also expounds on this teaching in the parable of the unmerciful servant, where a servant is forgiven a great debt but refuses to forgive a much smaller debt of a peer.   

11. Forgiven as we forgive (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.

Jesus covers a lot of ground in the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9–13). He addresses:


When He finishes the prayer, forgiveness is the only topic he elaborates on. Jesus wants us to see the link between receiving and extending forgiveness. While it's true that God has forgiven more than we'll ever be called to forgive, there's something else at play here.

The kingdom of God is all about reconciliation, and we are called to demonstrate God's desire for harmony in the way we live. Paul explains it this way:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18–19).

There can be no reconciliation without mercy. When we receive God's forgiveness but refuse to forgive others, it shows that we don’t truly understand God's heart. We're not merely called to be reconciled with God; we’re called to join in the ministry of reconciliation. That doesn't just mean allowing people to be at peace with God—but at peace with us, too. 

12. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37)

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."

Jesus's first couple of comments are negative. Don't want to be judged? Then don't judge. Don't want to be condemned? Don't condemn. But His last statement is different. It adds a positive spin.

Unlike Satan who is the accuser, God is renowned for His mercy. And He's attracted to like-minded people. When we're quick to forgive, it demonstrates an understanding and appreciation of mercy’s cost.

13. If they repent, forgive them (Luke 17:3–4) 

"If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them."

The kind of forgiveness Jesus calls us to is hard work. Jesus doesn't simply encourage us to forgive someone who repents of sinning against us—He demands it—even if it happens multiple times a day!

But instead of focusing on the difficulty of displaying this level of forgiveness, we need to recognize that this is God's heart toward us. We can't exhaust God's patience and forgiveness toward us. As we learn to appreciate, celebrate, and rest in this truth, we're inspired and empowered to practice it.   

14. Forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

As if the crucifixion wasn't terrible enough, Jesus suffered indignity after indignity. On top of that joke of a trial, Jesus suffered mockery, beatings, flogging, and soldiers gambling for His clothes.

Jesus didn't ignore the pain and humiliation they inflicted on Him. He forgave it because He knew that they didn't understand what they were doing. They had no real context for who He was and were caught up in the agitation of the crowd.

This is a good reminder as we learn to forgive others. Much of the dishonor and shame we experience comes from people who don't really understand what they're doing—just like when we damage others. As we give people the benefit of the doubt, it's easier to forgive their missteps.

15. Live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18–21)

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary:

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Paul is very practical. It's not always possible to be at peace with everyone, but it shouldn't be because we haven't put in the effort. Forgiveness is a critical factor in living at peace with others. This goes for maintaining peace with our loved ones and creating harmony with our enemies.

We need to remember that evil doesn't conquer evil; it perpetuates it. We overcome evil with love, mercy, tenderness, and grace.  

16. In Him we have forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7)

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.

There's absolutely nothing we can do to earn God's forgiveness. We have the privilege of redemption only because God is so full of grace. And that’s the beauty of forgiveness. It's a gift given to the undeserving.

As we follow Jesus's example and share forgiveness with the undeserving, we testify to a God who triumphs over justice with mercy. 

17. Be kind and compassionate (Ephesians 4:31–32)

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Jesus says that our love for one another is a sign that we truly belong to Him (John 13:35). Walking with Jesus should transform us into people who are kind, gentle, and aggressively committed to maintaining our bond of love.

We desperately need to remember that the kingdom of God is more than kindness, but it is never less than kindness. 

18. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (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.

The cross is the lens through which we are to look at the world. When we genuinely internalize what Jesus was willing to undertake to forgive us, it gets much easier to be merciful to others. Forgiveness is hard work, but very few of us will walk the road Jesus was forced to walk in order to be reconciled with us.

19. Jesus came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15–16)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Throughout Paul's letters, you see glimpses of sorrow for what he put God's people through. He was present and condoned the church's first martyrdom (Acts 7), and from there he went town to town persecuting the church.

Here he tells Timothy that by forgiving Paul, Jesus demonstrated His great patience. What's particularly interesting is that he doesn't think Jesus forgave him just to prove how full of mercy He is. More than that, Paul believes that by forgiving His enemy, Jesus was setting an example for us to follow. 

20. If we confess our sins, Jesus will forgive us (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.

James tells us that confession leads to healing (James 5:16). John confirms this truth. If we want to maintain our relationship with Jesus (and each other), we need to be open and honest about our missteps, mistakes, and misbehavior.

The good news is that our God—who abounds in mercy—faithfully forgives our sin. But more than that, He cleanses us from the inside out. This means that relationship is restored between ourselves and God, but also that our conscience is clear. We don't have to carry the weight of our failures and imperfections. 

Canceling each other's debts

When we withhold forgiveness, we are keeping people in debt. But unlike a financial obligation, no one knows what repayment looks like. Holding a grudge is a way of saying, "You owe me something, but I'm not quite sure what it is." Forgiveness cancels that debt.

When God forgives us, He doesn't condone the wrongdoing or eliminate the consequences. He simply says, "I am no longer going to hold you accountable for the debt you’ve incurred against Me." And it's the same when we forgive one another.

Forgiveness cancels debt, and as anyone who has ever become debt free will tell you, there's no greater feeling in the world.

To learn more about forgiveness, read this changed-life story.

Scripture references quote the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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