The Healing Power of Forgiveness

David CerulloBy David Cerullo8 Minutes

The medical community is increasingly acknowledging the toll that unforgiveness and bitterness take on the body. Cancer, arthritis, chronic back pain … all these are often rooted in a lack of forgiveness toward those in our past who have knowingly or unknowingly wounded us.

Unforgiveness can lead to bitterness, which is toxic to your body and soul. Acts 8:23 talks about a man who was “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Refusing to forgive can release toxins into our body and cripple us with disease.

God is very clear in His Word:

If you find yourself in a place of torment today, God wants to release you. But the key to your prison cell may be in your own hand. You need to get away for some time with the Lord, asking Him to work His forgiveness in your heart. As long as it takes, spend time choosing to forgive each person who has hurt you. Tear up every IOU, and release them from their debts.

Offenses and Objections 

Perhaps you’ve been holding on to your offenses for a long time. Someone has hurt you deeply, and you feel justified in holding an angry grudge against them. If so, there are two things you need to remember:

The main person hurt by holding on to your offense is not the other person — it’s YOU!

As severely as you may have been wronged, your trauma is no greater than was experienced by many men and women of God in the Bible:

Because of the jealousy of his brothers, Joseph was thrown into the bottom of a well, became a slave in Egypt, and spent years in a dungeon. Yet he chose to forgive his brothers and welcome them into the prosperity God had given him. Instead of taking revenge against his brothers, Joseph told them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

Job found a wonderful reversal of his fortunes when he prayed for his friends—even though they had spent many days badgering and criticizing him (Job 42:10–12).

Naomi and Ruth faced grief and uncertainty after their husbands died, yet God gave them a wonderful new beginning when they moved back to Bethlehem (Ruth 1).

The Samaritan Woman at the well (John 4:1–42) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11) both endured trauma at the hands of men and because of their own foolish choices — but they each received a new beginning when Jesus forgave and restored them.

The Widow at Zarephath faced severe financial lack and the possibility of starvation, but she found God’s provision when she sacrificially provided for Elijah (1 Kings 17:8–16).

Stephen forgave those who were stoning him to death: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:54–60 NASB). This act of forgiveness was one of the primary factors leading to the conversion of the apostle Paul.

Jesus, while carrying the sins of the world on the cross, issued a powerful word of forgiveness that has echoed through the centuries: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

So remember this when you’re tempted to throw yourself a pity party and hold on to offenses toward others: God wants you to follow Jesus’ example and forgive those who have treated you unjustly.

Hurtful Ways

Forgiveness often is very difficult, but it’s an essential key to living in right health and wholeness in Him. Your winter season may go on indefinitely unless you make a decision to forgive anyone who has hurt you.

David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me” (Psalm 139:23–24 NASB). Make no mistake about it, unforgiveness is a “hurtful way” that will imprison you with torment unless you deal with it.

I know one pastor who goes away each month for a few days to spend time with the Lord. What does he do on these personal retreats? He always starts by asking the Lord to show him anyone he hasn’t forgiven yet. In fact, on one of these retreats, he spent three whole days forgiving people who had wronged him!

Like this pastor, you can’t just assume you’ve forgiven people who have hurt you. You may even need to spend some time asking God to search your heart. If you’re still talking about the offense — months or even years after it occurred — it’s likely that you still have some forgiving to do.

Take time today to allow the Lord to search your heart and remove any “hurtful way” or unforgiveness that is keeping you imprisoned in your past.

Steps You Can Take

We all need to forgive, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. The enemy wants to keep us bound in our bitterness and self-seeking anger. As you look to the Lord for guidance, I encourage you to follow these practical steps in forgiving others:

1. Remove yourself as the judge, recognizing that you have a capacity to do the very same thing as the one who offended you.
2. Repent of your sinful reaction to the offense, bringing your reaction to the cross and asking the Lord to give you a new heart.
3. Finally, forgive and release the other person, asking the Lord to bless them.

But what if the other person never repents of their conduct that caused the offense? Once we have forgiven, it is the Lord’s job to deal with any sins of the other person. Just like us, they are living in bondage if they continue to disobey Him, so our forgiveness is important for releasing spiritual strongholds in their lives.

You will be amazed by the Lord’s ability to restore all things through forgiveness. It’s not just a matter of unlocking your own prison door, but the cell door for others as well.

Forgive, and you will free all captives. Let go of the hurts, and you will bring forth life!

God bless you!

David Cerullo