(Formerly Seven Steps) Eight Steps To Complete Forgiveness When You've Offended Another

For a more complete and better written treatment read Dr. Jay E. Adams' book From Forgiven To Forgiving: Timeless Texts 1.800.814.1045

While trying to bring reconciliation and healing between many bitter, hostile, and hurting people, I recognized that simply to ask "will you forgive me?" wasn't bringing the kind of emotional and spiritual healing that Jesus Christ came to give to a broken world. Using Matthew 18:15-20 as a basis, I searched the Scriptures for biblical insights into confession, repentance, asking for forgiveness, restitution, reconciliation, and brotherhood. I discovered that the process of asking Christ into our hearts, and asking Him to be Lord of our lives as we became Christians, was the model for which I was looking.

In that light, I have used these Eight Steps To Complete Forgiveness in many cases. Therefore, I offer them to you with the hope that your experience and biblical insights will improve upon them. In pratical terms, true repentance will flow quite easily--but immature, false/worldly non-repentance will lack some of these elements. Therefore these steps are in greater detail to aid in bring true repentance or uncovering the "form of godliness."

NOTE: These steps should be used when you commit a sin (James 5:16, Matthew 5:23-26; Matthew 18:15-20), or when you see another sin (Matthew 7: 1-6; Galatains 6:1-5; James 5:19-20), when a leader sins (1 Timothy 5:17-22). We must be sensitive to honor Matthew 5:23-24, as these matters must be addressed quickly. To God, reconciling a relationship is important before the next worship experience.

Eight Steps To Complete Forgiveness

Step 1: Have the OFFENDER confess specifically to the OFFENDED what was done or said wrong that caused offense.

It appears that the specific act of confessing the OFFENDER's sins (Leviticus 5.5, Numbers 5:7, James 5:16, 1 John 1:9), demonstrates to the OFFENDED party the OFFENDER's godly sorrow, the OFFENDER's knowledge of the sin committed, and the OFFENDER's willingness to accept responsibility and consequences for their actions.

WARNING: If the OFFENDER cannot state specifically what he did or said that was wrong, his confession is incomplete. If the OFFENDER finds he cannot remember enough of the facts of his offense, he should ask the OFFENDED (be sure the OFFENDER has the correct spiritual attitude to hear) to help the OFFENDER recall from the OFFENDED's perspective, what was done or said wrongly.

WARNING: Failure by the OFFENDER on this step MAY BE a sign of rejecting the Word of God and the Work of the HOLY SPIRIT. It MAY BE the OFFENDER needs to study the Bible and compare GOD'S WORD with the OFFENDER's life.

WARNING: Do NOT proceed beyond any step until successfully completed! To do so adds to a "form of Godliness." 2 Tim. 3:5

If the OFFENDER comes to an OFFENDED to ask for forgiveness, and cannot recall what the OFFENDER did or said that was wrong, or the OFFENDER is unwilling to listen as to how the OFFENDED was hurt, then the process must be stopped! Next, ask the OFFENDER to come back when he has understood for what he is asking forgiveness. Failure to complete this step correctly will result in increased hurt and division.

NOTE: If at any time an OFFENDER is unwilling to listen to how the OFFENDED brother was sinned against, or if the OFFENDER is not willing to ask for forgiveness and be reconciled, the OFFENDER must be confronted with his unwillingness to change. If the OFFENDER persists in a wrong attitude, then you must proceed according to the biblical principles in Matthew 18:15-20 if the OFFENDED is unwilling to listen or begin the forgiveness process and be reconciled. In that case, the OFFENDED must be confronted with his unwillingness to forgive. If the OFFENDED does not repent of an unforgiving heart, he must be taken through the next step in the Matthew 18:15-2O process.

Step 2: Have the OFFENDING party identify the biblical principle(s) he violated.

In this step, the process of identifying the actual biblical values and principles that were violated helps both the OFFENDER and the OFFENDED to learn from God's Word, and learn from their experiences. As a result, their witness encourages the whole Body of Christ to grow more holy.

If the OFFENDER is unable to identify a biblical value, then either the OFFENDED, or a third brother (a peacemaker or a witness) should take the necessary time to search the Bible together until the biblical values and principles are found. Then the OFFENDER and the OFFENDED should come to an agreement upon the biblical values that were violated.

If the OFFENDED does not agree with the identified biblical values and cannot identify any himself, then an appropriate amount of time should be given for additional discovery, (the witnesses or peacemakers help in this process). If no biblical values are discovered or agreed upon, then the Matthew 18:15-2O should be taken to the next appropriate step; that is, tell it to the Church.

NOTE: The reason for proceeding to the next step in the Matthew 18:15-20 process is to bring other godly men and women into the process to help identify what is wrong, what is necessary to correct the broken relationship, and to oversee that all parties fulfill God's directions in their lives.

Therefore, when you come to an impasse, either alone or as a peacemaker, tell each party that you need the help of others. Ask for suggestions as to whom each party would be willing to listen to for spiritual direction. Then call another meeting and proceed to the next step. Some Scriptural helps to identify biblical values and principles are: Matthew 5:1-12; Romans 12--15; 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5--6; Ephesians 4-6; James 1--5; 2 Peter 1:5-9.

Step 3: Have the OFFENDER ask the OFFENDED "How were you wronged when I did (or said)...........?"

This step allows the OFFENDER to experience in part and hopefully bear the OFFENDED's burdens, (Hebrews 13:2) in a large way, by how the OFFENDED was impacted by the offense. We know that Christ suffered and died on the cross for our sins, when we offended Him--it appears important for the human side of the model for the OFFENDER to fully understand the consequences and impact of his sin against the OFFENDED. In addition, this can enable the OFFENDED to be released from some of the pain and hurt caused by the offense. Matthew 18:23-35.

WARNING: If the OFFENDED is not willing to share how he was sinned against by the offense, he may be acting as a Pharisee (not really wronged, but only interested in being judgmental in a unbiblical way--Matthew 7:1-5). Or, if the OFFENDED is not willing to seek reconciliation and is hanging on to his bitterness and resentment, the OFFENDED should be confronted with his "unspiritualness" and if unwilling to change, should be taken to the next step in the Matthew 18:15-20 process.

CAUTION: If this step is successfully completed, Do Not Stop Here, the tendency is for both parties is to "feel" in closer communion and, therefore, believe that the restoration process has been completed. It hasn't, proceed to Step 4.

Step 4: Have the OFFENDER recall, as best he can, a time when they were wronged/offended by another, in the same way they caused offense.

Examples are not always easy to recall in a short amount of time, but stick with it, the rewards will be more than worth it. Remember the biblical values and principles in Step 2, and this should help the OFFENDER to remember a time when someone sinned against them, violating those same biblical values principles, and how Christ has changed them, 2 Corinthians 1:1-7.

The OFFENDER'S sharing of how he was impacted when he was offended in a similar way, will help the OFFENDED believe that there has been full communication between them, and that the OFFENDER does understand what they did or said wrong, and how they hurt the OFFENDED.

WARNING: If the OFFENDER can not share a time when they were hurt by the violation of the same biblical values/principles, there is good reason to believe the OFFENDER still does not fully understand what he has done wrong, and will not be able to grow fully from this experience. Therefore, the OFFENDER should repeat Steps 1 through 4 until he does understand. All sin has it's origin in pride, power and control. Therefore, everyone is subject to similar experiences, though not in specific details.

If after an appropriate amount of time, there seems to be little understanding, then proceed to the next appropriate step in Matthew 18:15-2O.

If the OFFENDED seems to be less than satisfied with the OFFENDER'S understanding and sharing, check with the OFFENDED to be sure you understand what it is the OFFENDED feels was less than satisfactory, and in your discernment, if you think the OFFENDER has misunderstood, then have the OFFENDER repeat Steps 1,2, and 3.

WARNING: However, if you think the OFFENDER has shared appropriately and does understand, and the OFFENDED party continues to hang on to their bitterness and hurt, by asking for more and more understanding from the OFFENDER, then the OFFENDED must be confronted with their unforgiving attitude and proceed to the next appropriate step in Matthew 18:15-20.

In either case, give appropriate time for recall and sharing. If this step cannot be fully completed to the satisfaction of all, then the one who cannot recall, share, or accept, should be confronted with his lack of insight, wisdom, and spiritual imaturity. If he remains unchanged, then proceed to the next appropriate step of Matthew 18:15-20.

Step 5: Have the OFFENDER restate their sin(s) expressing Godly Sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10-14) AND wait for the OFFENDED's response.

I used to say for step 5: Ask for forgiveness. But the more I studied, the more I realized the asking put an unbiblical pressure/expectation on the OFFENDED. A simple confession before God and others, with Godly Sorrow is enough. The response from the OFFENDED is fully the OFFENDED's responsibility.

By now, a majority of the reconciliation process is completed and this step is a check point to be sure that all previous steps have been completed successfully. For example, if the OFFENDER still hesitates or does not demonstrate Godly Sorrow after an appropriate amount of time, then you must proceed to the next appropriate step in Matthew 18:15-2O.

WARNING: If the OFFENDED does not give unconditional forgiveness at this step, then he must be confronted with an unforgiving spirit, then proceed to the next appropriate step in Matthew 18:15-2O.

Step 6: Have the OFFENDER repeat in his own words, the answer given by the OFFENDED, when expressing Godly Sorrow.

This steps gives the OFFENDER a chance to restate clearly the answer he heard. This will usually bring a better understanding and become a foundational step toward rebuilding trust in a Godly relationship.

If the OFFENDER cannot repeat in his own words (assuming the OFFENDED responded Biblically) what the OFFENDED said, then there is good reason to believe the OFFENDER still does not understand how the OFFENDED was wronged. Great care should be given here to proceed slowly in repeating the steps to be sure it's not more than a communication block.

If the OFFENDED gives a conditional forgiveness, or does not forgive, or gives an "I'll forgive, but I can't forget attitude, he is to be confronted with his unforgiving attitude, and if unwilling to repent, he should proceed to the next step of the Matthew 18:15-2O process.

NOTE: If the OFFENDED fails to give complete forgiveness, the OFFENDER is still released from the bondage of his sin, if he biblically asked for forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 - 2:5)

Step 7: Have the OFFENDER ask, "What can I do differently, so I won't hurt you again?"

Here the biblical act of repentance and the turning away from his sin is brought into the forgiveness act. Each now bears the trust and responsibility to bear one another's burdens, and together work out a way in which they can show love and develop trust, based on biblical values and principles.

It's acceptable to include follow-up meetings, as necessary, to gain feedback, establish accountability so that reconciliation, restitution, and restoration have been completed.

Step 8: Restitution: What can we do to make you whole?

Far from the normal charge of punishment or revenge, restitution involves the whole Christian Community including the OFFENDER and OFFENDED, pursuing justice, mercy and faithfulness.

Here the OFFENDER recognizes what impact and consequences his sin has caused the OFFENDED, and is more than willing to do all he can to give back more than his sin cost the OFFENDED, and the OFFENDED shares equally the responsibility to bear the burden of restitution.

WARNING: If the OFFENDER stubbornly balks or refuses to participate righteously in the restitution process, then the Matthew 18 process of treating them as a non-believer opens the possibility the OFFENDED could/should take the OFFENDER to secular court, seeking justice from one not in the Christian Community.

WARNING: Here, it's possible for the OFFENDED to wrongly try to extract every penny (Matthew 5:26) from his OFFENDER, this demonstrates an unbiblical forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35). The same is true of "I can forgive you, but I won't forget it." The OFFENDED must be reminded of two cogent passages, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 (not shaming God by going to the secular court against another believer), and Matthew 18: 21-35, (God's definition of forgiveness).

WARNING: If the OFFENDED continues unsatisfied in his claim, then he is to be confronted with his unforgiving spirit, if he refuses to give complete forgiveness, then proceed to the next appropriate Matthew 18:15-2O step.

WARNING: If given enough time and the OFFENDER and/or the OFFENDED is unwilling to commit to a follow-through plan of restoration, then there is serious question of rejecting the work of God's Word and Holy Spirit and thers is not a complete repentance or forgiveness, Therefore, he must be confronted and if unwilling to change, proceed to the next appropriate step in the Matthew 18:15-20 process.

This process when done correctly by all parties, will bring a Holy Spirit directed reconciliation and a spiritual reunion that builds and does not tear down (1 Corinthians 13:10). May God bless you as a peacemaker!