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Gracious Forgiveness

God graciously forgives us and tells us to do the same for others. When we forgive, we are reflecting the love of Jesus.

“Jesus died to forgive my sins.” This is an elemental truth about our faith. Our God is a forgiving God. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins. We need only ask for God’s forgiveness.

It sounds so easy. But it is also very costly. Our forgiveness cost Jesus his life. We must never forget that. And we must also never forget that forgiveness isn't just something we receive from the Lord; it's also something we offer to others. Jesus’ short example of prayer — what we usually call the "Lord’s Prayer” — clearly teaches that confessing our sins to God and​ forgiving others go hand in hand. It's usually much easier to celebrate Jesus’ forgiveness of us than to follow his commandments to forgive others.

But the Bible always ties these two things together — receiving forgiveness from the Lord and giving forgiveness to others.

The Bible also ties together forgiveness and freedom. Jesus forgives us and frees us from the power of sin. We forgive others and are freed from bitterness and anger.

Forgiveness isn’t as simple as saying, “It’s OK, no worries, forget about it.” We need to truly mean it in our hearts. And sometimes there are things that need to be worked out, consequences that must be faced, and reconciliation (or relationship repair) that also need to happen. Those are all important things. But they can’t happen unless forgiveness happens first.

Forgiveness is meant to be a two-way exchange where one person offers it (or asks for it) and the other person receives it (or gives it). But sometimes things fall apart and it's one-way. A person might offer forgiveness that's rejected. Or a person might ask for forgiveness that's not granted. Reconciliation requires both people to acknowledge, talk, listen, understand, and follow God’s lead toward a healthy and whole relationship.

Forgiveness is something we need to practice regularly. If we aren’t able to forgive the small things as a regular habit, it will be very difficult to forgive the big things.

Remember this: faithful followers of Jesus ARE forgiven — it’s our identity. As God’s forgiven children, we are called to be forgivers — that’s also our identity. Forgiving isn't just something we do. It's who we are.


Begin with a conversation starter,​ then use some of these warm-up questions.

  • Why do you think people hold grudges? Why is it so easy to hold grudges?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank yourself as a forgiver (with 10 being the highest)?
  • When did someone forgive you, and how did that make you feel?
  • When did someone not forgive you, and how did that make you feel?
  • How do you know if you need to forgive someone?

Read & Reflect

Use one or more of these passages to see what scripture says about gracious forgiveness. You can also engage with the passage by copying out part of it, rewriting it as a prayer, rephrasing it as its opposite, summarizing it with a single word or phrase, making a list or chart of similar and dissimilar things, or turning it into something visual like a doodle, design, or flowchart.

Jesus' Example

Read Mark 14:66-72 ​and John 21:15-17 (Peter's denial of Jesus and Jesus' forgiveness of Peter).

  • How do you think Peter’s denial made Jesus feel?
  • Do you think Peter expected to be forgiven by Jesus? Why or why not?
  • How do most people respond when they are betrayed by a friend?
  • The Bible doesn't show Jesus saying "I forgive you" to Peter, but their relationship was restored, implying forgiveness happened. What do you think that conversation was like?
  • What does Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter tell us about him as a human being?

Positive Example

Read Luke 15:11-32 (the forgiving father).

  • Describe the father's response to the younger son.
  • Do you think the son deserved to be forgiven? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the father forgave the son so quickly?
  • What are some reasons the father might have for not forgiving the younger son?
  • Do you think the father forgave the older son for being angry, bitter, unkind, and loving? Why do you think that?

Negative Example

Read Luke 15:11-32 (the unforgiving older son).

  • Describe the older son’s response to his younger brother and to his dad.
  • How do you think you would have responded if you were the older son? Why?
  • What can you learn from the older son’s un-model of love, grace, and forgiveness?
  • Why do people sometimes get angry and bitter towards people for things that weren’t done to them, like the older son did in this story?
  • What do you think the older son was actually angry about?
  • How is the older son similar to people who aren’t forgiving?

Teaching Passage

Read Matthew 6:9-15 and Matthew 18:21-35 (the Lord's Prayer and parable of the unforgiving debtor)

​A few things about the parable: 7 is an important number in Scripture. It symbolizes completeness or perfection. Parables are often filled with symbols and hyperbole (overstating things) in order to make a point. Keep an eye out for 7s and hyperbole. Parables helped teach truth that was easy to understand but often difficult to believe or follow.

  • Why do you think Jesus taught that people who don't forgive others won't be forgiven by God? Does that seem right or fair to you? Why?
  • What do you think is behind Peter’s question (Matthew 18)? ​
  • Why do you think Jesus answered with a story instead of just a direct answer?
  • What point do you think Jesus was trying to make? What does that mean for you personally? What does that mean for all followers of Jesus?
  • Who is someone that you haven’t forgiven that you should forgive — even if they haven’t asked for forgiveness? Will you forgive them this week — even if you don’t “feel” like it — not just with your thoughts (head) but also with your heart (changing your attitude towards them) and your hands (changing your actions and interactions with them)? This will only be possible with the Holy Spirit’s help.

Some Ideas About How to Show Gracious Forgiveness

  • Are you angry or holding a grudge against someone? Has that person asked for forgiveness? If so, find a time this week when you can personally tell them you forgive them. Is it someone who hasn’t asked for forgiveness? Then for now the forgiveness needs to happen in your mind and heart, between you and the Lord. If you find it difficult to forgive someone, praying for that person may help change your attitude towards them. Will you do that this week?
  • Pray and ask the Lord to soften your heart and to protect you from anger, bitterness, and grudges.


Student Card

Capernaum Version

More verses about gracious forgiveness

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” ​(Mark 11:25, words of Jesus)

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (Colossians 3:13-14)

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16)

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2103 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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