5 Ways to Tell If You’ve Forgiven Someone

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25

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. Colossians 3:13

Whether in business, in church, or in family, relationships can cause pain and separation. It’s tempting to get even, but forgiveness is not an option for the believer, even for that person who has hurt us the most. Forgiveness is treated as an important attribute for followers of Christ in the Bible. Even still, I frequently hear people give excuses for not forgiving someone, such as:

“You can forgive but you can’t forget” … That’s most often true…only God (and sometimes time and old age) can erase a memory.

“I’ve tried to forgive them, but they haven’t changed” … That’s probably true. Forgiveness can be a catalyst for change, but it doesn’t guarantee change.

“I may have forgiven them, but I’ll always hold it against them” … Okay, that may sound logical, but it’s not forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a releasing of emotional guilt you place upon the other person. It’s a choice we make that happens in the heart. It’s not a release of responsibility or an absence of healthy boundaries, but it is a conscious choice to remove the right to get even from the person who injured you. It’s a release of anger and the right to hold a grudge.

Forgiveness is hard.

Recently I was talking with someone who wants to forgive the person who has hurt her the most. She wants to be free from the guilt of holding a grudge. She wants to follow the example of Christ in Biblical obedience. The problem? She’s not sure she has truly forgiven, because she still hurts from the injury.

I shared with her that while forgiveness is a decision…a choice…it is not an automatic healer of emotions. It helps, but emotions heal over time. Then I shared some ways she could determine if she’s truly forgiven the other person.

Here are 5 ways to tell if you’ve forgiven someone:

When the first thought you have about them is not the injury they caused in your life. You should be able to have normal thoughts about the person occasionally. Remember, you are dropping the right to get even; the grudge you held against them.

Ask yourself: Would you help them if you knew they were in trouble and you had the ability? Most likely this is someone you once cared about…perhaps even loved. You would have assisted them if they needed help. While I’m not suggesting you would subject yourself to abuse or further harm, that you are obligated to help them, or even that you should, but would you in your heart want to see them prosper or see them come to harm?

Can you think positive thoughts about this person? Again, you’ve likely been on positive terms with this person or in a close enough relationship for them to injure you to this extreme. Is there anything good you can come up with about them? If not, have your really forgiven them?

Do you still think of getting even with the person? There may be consequences that need to come for this person and you may have to see them through to protect others, but does your heart want to hurt them? If so, would you call this forgiveness?

When you have stopped looking for them to fail. If you have truly forgiven someone, then just like you would for anyone else, you would want them to succeed or at least do better in life. Forgiveness means you’ve stopped keeping a record of the person’s wrongs.

I realize this is a tough list. Those struggling with forgiveness will most likely push back against it a bit. Feel free to push back if you’re not struggling with forgiveness. (Or claim you’re not :) ) I know this, however, for your heart to completely heal, you eventually need to forgive the one who hurt you the most.

Have you seen a lack of forgiveness keep someone from moving forward in life?

What would you add to my list?

You may want to read:

7 Things Forgiveness Is

7 Things Forgiveness Is NOT

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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62 thoughts on “5 Ways to Tell If You’ve Forgiven Someone

  1. Thank you for your immediate reply.
    It has been a difficult decision because she is my sister and I pray for her salvation every day , but I am concerned for my mother who seems to believe that giving her the money will lead to her openness to Jesus. It has not turned out that way for many years.
    If my siblings do end up on the streets anyway in the future what then is my responsibility to them? My brother professes to be Christian but has not grown beyond the childish nature of a teen. He is 50 in a week.
    My mother actually has tried to convince me he should move in with us, my husband and I , but we disagree and know it will cause problems within our joyous marriage of 24 years.
    We give to local homeless shelters and to other organizations, but my mother says if we give to strangers why not our own family ?
    It would be painful to see my siblings in the street, but destructive to continue to give money or to take them in our home.
    My brother seems to have emotional and possibly health issues but refuses help and does not treat my mom with much respect .
    He pretends his bedroom from since he was 14 is his apartment and acts like my mothers things are his.
    Even to the point of using and breaking them. He is an artist but has never paid rent or helped her with much. Now he spends all his time on her computer . She is an enabler to the extreme thinking it is the Christian thing to do. But one day they both will need to stand on legs never used or strengthened.
    If they end up on the streets how can I live with the guilt I know I will struggle with, without letting it affect my wonderful marriage from God?
    I prayed for a best friend and He gave me one in my sweet husband.
    This is my first priority ,after God ,
    So I protect it with great help from God.
    Thank you for your help and we are looking for and will read the books you suggested soon.
    Any other insights would be very appreciated.

  2. I have been eagerly seeking help with a situation involving my sister. You have helped a great deal. My question is this-

    She had angrily attacked us with any talk about God or Jesus. She calls only when she needs something , generally money, and treats us with disrespect and manipulation if we don’t give it to her. Or to get it from my gentle mother who is in her 70s.

    I feel I must protect my mother who is already caring for a fifty year old son who may or may not have emotional and health issues. He also mooches off her and never left his bedroom since age 14.

    My sister has been bitter and nasty since I was five . I have few good memories of her. She has hated me and put a wall against me since I was a tiny child. Vindictive and mean she tortured me way past sibling rivalry.

    I forgive her for that but she continues to use family for money and never returns the favor . Or love.

    Now she is divorced from a man who had bisexual relationships while they were married and nearly broke from his childish hateful actions . She was hateful toward him and her son as well.

    Now she may be put out on the streets if we don’t help – again.

    Her heart hates Christians but her hand is always out for us to fill.

    Should we fill it again and again. My mother is running out of money and we have our own debts .

    What should we do?

    Please advise? Thank you!

    • I can't tell you what to do but I can say love and forgiveness is not enabling. There are times to exhibit discipline in the name of love and it be the best thing for the person.Several good books to consider. “Boundaries” and ” Necessary Endings” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.Also “Love must be Tough” by James Dobson. Any of them could help. They are all Christian writers.

  3. I filed a law suit against my employer for trying to sweep , one of my coworkers slapping me on my buttock under the rug. They also tried too say they saw me hugged up with this person and made physical gesturers. I understand I must forgive and I have choose to do so, however does that mean I need to release lawsuit?
    I have questions about if that is the right thing to do? What if this happens to some one else? and what if he does it again. I file a formal complain with my employer to handle it appropriately . I got no support and accused and also told to sit down and talk to the person because he was just playing. I can forgive but allowing them to treat me and anyone else in that manner seem wrong . Can you Help me Please.

    • Forgiveness isn't a legal matter. It's a spiritual/emotional matter. You can handle things in a legal way and still forgive in your heart. Not pretending that's easy though. 

  4. Help me here……I don't hate the person who hurt me but, I still don't trust them and I don't want them to be my buddy due to that lack of trust. Also, if a person has no idea they've offended you what do you do? It's been so long ago that I don't remember the details to even confront them yet, I still find myself feeling like I can't even look at them when I see them. I want to move forward and I want to forget but there is still this nagging inside of me and I don't know what to do. I've asked God many times to forgive me and to forgive me for not confronting them right then and there. I hate confrontation because in the past it was always turn against me as if I didn't know what I was talking about which always made me feel like an idiot and unsure of myself.

    Long ago I was terribly hurt over a woman who abused my little boy. After many years I called her and brought up what had happend and she didn't even know what I was talking about and still she never apologized. I still forgave and I've felt just fine since but not with the other two people I spoke about. Thanks for your input : )

  5. I thank you for your message on forgiveness. I noticed we have the same unusual last name. Where are you from. Maybe we are related.

  6. . My in-laws have always found one way or another to hurt me, from the very first year I meet my husband, It has happened so many times that when they "are nice" to me, I find it very awkward, and don't feel comfortable again. I feel out of place. I am a complete stranger to their "nice ways". I am really better off when I am away from them. I now run away from their phone calls, and visits, because we never could stay 2 years without having a serious issue, I have been married for 16 years now. they was a time it was going so far that it was affecting my children. until I read this message on "how to know if I have forgiven people", I thought I was using wisdom with them. Am I being wise or have I not forgiven? I honestly can NOT even think of having a different relationship with them. the trust is gone. I still pray for them, (am I hypocrite?), honestly I can't tell anymore

  7. There are two ex-friends of mines that really said nasty things to me. I chose not to have anything to do with them anymore. I can't feel happiness for them, but I don't wish for them to fail either. My feelings for them both just ceased entirely. What they said to me really caused me grief for sometime and I do hurt thinking about it, but I don't feel any ill will towards them. If they need help, I will help them, but as if we were strangers. Do you feel I have forgiven them? Because I really don't feel anything for them anymore but just as if they were random strangers that may need help on the street.

    • I don't know if that's the goal. Our minds are designed to retain information. It's how we reconcile and handle it that matters most.

  8. After hearing a sermon at church on forgiveness, I Googled "how to tell if you have forgiven" not knowing IF I would find anything of interest. To my amazement I found your post. It was exactly what I needed to read.

    What I read confirmed that I have not yet completely forgiven. It also reasured me that "Boundries" are sometimes necessary even if you have truly forgiven. In my case the boundry that I set up at the time of injury was to end the friendship, as I was no longer comfortable with it. At the time it might have been because I have not been able to achieve #1. Clearly God has more work to do in my heart. However I do think that that boundry is still necessary.
    When God has helped me through the forgiving process and I have truly forgiven them, do I tell this person that I have forgiven them? Even though they feel that they have done nothing wrong? Or would I be "getting revenge" by telling them that I have forgiven them?

  9. I am bookmarking this so I can continue to use it to check my progress. It has helped me see that I have forgiven some people that I was worried I had not but I had not forgiven others that I thought I had. Thanks for the post!

  10. I've heard it said that we know we have forgiven when we are angry about sin and it's consequences rather than at the person. I believe we are called to share God's hatred for sin in the world but also His grace.

  11. Great post! I think numbers one and five are the most challenging for me… But I'd call those something other than forgiveness. I'd call the first- grieving (often the pain of betrayal) and the last- trust (proven performance over time) which is a separate process from forgiveness. Thank you for continuing to challenge and sharpen me with these posts.

  12. The hardest person I have ever had to forgive was my ex husband and the fact he is gay. He was having gay affairs while we were married and lied to me over and over to hide these affairs. I’d been manipulated for years by him and the anger I was experiencing was giving me strength to stand up to him.

    I didn’t WANT to give up the anger. I couldn’t even sincerely ask God to take the anger away because I wanted to hold on to it. However I knew if I held on to it, I would become bitter and it would “eat me up”.

    I had to start “small” and ask God to change ME and my heart so I could just get to the point to sincerely ask Him to take the anger away. He answered that prayer and replaced the bitterness with a desire to forgive.

    I remember the exact time/place when He took the anger and replaced it with forgiveness. It was ALL GOD because I could never have done it on my own! I can honestly say I have forgiven my ex. Sometimes I still get mad when he lies or tries to manipulate, but it’s a short lived anger not a consuming bitterness.

    I’m so thankful God has forgiven me for the many times I’ve sinned against Him and for His provision to my heart for me to forgive others. He has used my pastor and other spiritual leaders in my life to teach me about His grace and mercy and He used those lessons during the process of softening my heart so I could forgive my ex husband. I think God also used your article to help validate that I really have forgiven him. Thank you for tweeting it.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. That sounds like a very difficult thing to forgive for sure. It's helpful to see how God worked in your life.

    • Did the Man ( husband ask for forgiveness? Forgiveness is not unconditional. If He did not ask , you cannot forgive him. However you can turn it over to God, and not seek personal revenge.

  13. So has someone truly forgiven yu if they want absolutly nothing to do with you even if they have to I mean think about it God forgave us so we could have a chance to grow in our relationship with him why shouldnt it be that way with each other lack of a relationship is still harboring that anger cause you need a reason not to associate with that? right

    • We have to remember that we are not God, not capable of all His ways. I would say no to answer your question in a completely perfect sense. In true forgiveness it should heal the wound enough to bridge the way for a healthy relationship again. But, to carry that out may not be practical for imperfect people, still capable of sin.For example, if the offense I'm forgiving is one of a sinful nature, to continue a “healthy” relationship with the person who I need to forgive may only be new temptation to sin. I can forgive them in my heart, but may not need to continue the relationship to protect my heart from sinning more. This is a broad example, but the principles have many implications.The key of forgiveness is what happens in the heart.

  14. I pray over and over to forgive my transgressors, but I still get butterflies in my stomach when i think about them, still feel resentful. I’ve outwardly forgiven them, aand I’d do anything for them. In fact, I’d feel terrible if they knew I still carried pain with me because of their actions. I think I have more work to do but i don’t know what else I can do.

  15. AWESOME post! This really speaks to me as I work through some bitterness/forgiveness issues. This guide helps me to see where I am in the process. Thanks for your wisdom!

  16. Continued from previous comment……. (due to space constraint)

    " But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one percent guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian character; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

    This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.”

  17. As I read this post on forgiveness, I would like to quote the words of C. S. Lewis from his book “The Weight of Glory” (which I found insightful and personally touching my heart):

    “ you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out. The difference between this situation and the one in such you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough.

    As regards my own sin it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought.”

    Continued in next comment….. (due to space constraint)

  18. Thanks Ron, I have gone back and forth believing I had forgiven, wasn't really sure. Had good night last night and looking @ the list realize it's a choice everyday. So…….every thought, every opportunity is a time to chose forgiveness.

  19. Ron,

    I love this list. I used it to see if I have the capacity to forgive someone. I still need to get through one of them.

    Thanks for the list. Will be sharing on my Facebook.


  20. That's a great list, Ron. The third one is the one I struggle with the most if the person isn't the least bit repentant for the things that they've done. It's hard for me to think positively of someone I know is deliberately deceiving or harming other people with their actions. How do you truly forgive and think positively of someone who you know for a fact is still causing harm?

    • Yes, that is a hard one. Of course, being hard means that it isn't easy. :) (Felt the need to say it both ways.)Keep in mind that forgiveness is a choice…a heart decision. It's not a license to sin or an approval or actions. It's granting grace. Grace is never deserved. Our grace…God's forgiveness of us…is never deserved. In the same way we receive forgiveness we are encouraged to forgive.

  21. I've heard from so many people that their inability to forgive is based on things that have been planted in their heads by the church itself, like "if I forgive them, that means I should never speak of it, think of it, or hear of it again" or "forgiving means forgetting". As a survivor of both childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault as a young adult (and a Christ follower), I use my story to help others know they are not alone… I speak of the offense at times but I don't call my attackers out by name when I share my story… because the part of the story that's important is that God has healed my heart. I have spent some serious time in tearful and sometimes very uncomfortably honest 'pouring my heart out to God' kinda prayer. I begged God to change my attitude, to help me let go of thinking it was my job to get even with those men for what they did to me. When I speak of what happened to me, I no longer feel the need to punish the people who perpetrated those crimes against me. I know that God is sovereign and He has worked this whole situation out for good because I'm able to help other survivors through the gifts He has given me. When I was finally able to let go of the notion that I somehow had to hang on to the hurt because I can't "forget" what it was like being sexually abused and assaulted, my life changed and God gave me a whole new outlook on things. I think when it finally clicked in my head and my heart that forgiveness did not mean I had to literally forget and bury the pain I had felt, I was finally able to let go and get busy showing other survivors that He can change their world.

    Thank you for this post, as it has opened my eyes to a totally unrelated situation that I need to get on my knees about. I have some more forgiving to do. God bless you!

  22. Your statement, "…forgiveness is a decision…a choice…it is not an automatic healer of emotions" was really comforting to me. I struggle with forgiveness with one person in my life. I've made the choice to forgive this person countless times, but I never feel as if the process is complete because I'm still hurting.

    I also liked your point that forgiveness does not prohibit one from setting healthy boundaries. It is sometimes difficult to feel like you've fully forgiven someone when you are still "protecting yourself" around him/her.

    Thank you for this great post, Ron. God bless!

    • Thank you for the feedback. Another thought. If you allow the person to keep causing the same injury you aren't helping them or anyone else. You are serving to enable bad behavior.

    • yes i have this same problem but with Gods help I will get myself to the point that I can feel that I''ve totally forgiven this person .I WANT TO BE FREE, from this.