Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Bible

Forgiveness and reconciliation are 2 completely separate processes, however are often lumped together. Unfortunately, combining forgiveness and reconcilation with the belief that reconciling is part of the forgiveness process leads to unnecessary pain and disappointment. In this article, forgiveness and reconcilation will be explained through a Biblical lens. We will explore what God says about forgiveness and reconcilation and how to walk through the 2 separate processes. This Biblical wisdom will change your life and others as you share this valuable information.

reconciliation and forgiveness

Before we dive in I wanna share a couple of big mistakes I’ve made in my own life in the area of forgiveness and reconciliation. First, I thought forgiveness and reconciliation were two in the same, meaning forgiveness was the same as reconciliation. The more I talk with others, I have seen I’m not alone in this line of thinking. Combining forgiveness and reconciliation set me up for a lot of unnecessary pain. I walked right back into relationships that were destructive with long standing patterns of pain and an intense lack of Godly remorse. Forgiving a particular person is our Christian duty and depends on us as individuals. Reconciling requires quite a few components that are mostly dependent on the other person. More on the 5 important components on reconciliation below. Don’t make the same mistake I used to make combining forgiveness and reconciliation!

Are forgiveness and reconciliation the same?

Are forgiveness and reconcilation the same? In a word, NO! Forgiveness is a commandment of God. In short, it is entrusting the offending party to God and His restorative justice. Important to note: You can forgive someone and still be hurt. One of the best things about forgiveness is that it does not require anything from the offender.

Reconciliation, on the other hand, it a process that requires much from the offending party. It requires forgiveness, confession, true repentance, rebuilding of trust and 2 very willing hearts. Often people jump to immediate reconciliation because they think it’s part of forgiveness. I made that mistake and it has burned me more than once. People (myself included) also jump to immediate reconciliation because they are afraid of losing the relationship. Deep down you might now that the person who betrayed you is not taking responsibility and therefore unrepentant because they don’t see their choices as a problem. 

The topic of forgiveness and reconciliation gets pretty murky and complicated if you’ve ever experienced a deep hurt.

Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive. C.S. Lewis

What is forgiveness and why is it important?

It isn’t surprising that forgiveness is a widely searched topic. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. Disappointment, hurt and betrayal, whether intentional or not are part of the human experience. Forgiveness is a vital skill and choice in a fallen world. We all face friends and family members that have offended or betrayed us. Additionally, we have offended and betrayed whether intentional or not. Therefore we all face broken relationship as a result of sin. Forgiveness is the first important step to reconciliation. Check out this popular verse on forgiveness…

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

For the Christian, forgiveness is important because we have God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is defined as “canceling a debt”- in the Bible, that debt is our sin. Our Heavenly Father graciously cancelled our debt of sin releasing us from paying that debt that we could actually never repay at all. He sent Jesus to die on the cross as the payment or cancellation for our debt (when we choose to accept Jesus as our Savior). Because of God’s grace in forgiving us, we are called to offer forgiveness to others.

Forgiveness Despite the Offense

The size of the offense doesn’t matter. Trust me on this- I have scoured the Scriptures hoping that there was some fine print on the topic of forgiveness, but there is not. Some of the offenses we face are small and easy to release and move forward. Other offenses require God-sized forgivness. One of the greatest stories of betrayal in the Bible is the story of Joseph in Genesis. In an act of jealousy, his brothers faked his death and sold him into a life of slavery. That is HUGE! He lost his home, his family and his freedom because of the sin of his brothers. This betrayal changed his entire life. If anyone had a reason to have a lack of forgiveness, it would be him. Instead, he forgave and went on to fully reconcile with his brothers.

Forgiveness is hard work and heart work. This is a spiritual act that can only be done empowered by the Holy Spirit. We have to choose this act of faith, trusting God to be the Judge and trusting His promise to work everything out for good. Dependence on God is the best way to move forward with forgiveness. It is also important to note that anything God commands in the Bible is for our protection. Choosing to forgive someone and release them into God’s hands is the most healing thing we can do and gives us personal freedom from the offense. The act of forgiveness reaps huge benefits such as spiritual, emotional and mental health.

What does God say about reconciliation?

Forgiveness and reconciliation could sum up the entire Bible. God’s Word is all about the forgiveness we have through Christ’s death on the cross and being reconciled to God. It’s Christ’s loving sacrifice of His life, for our life, that reconciles us to God. There is no doubt about it- God’s heart is for reconciliation. However, reconciliation is not always possible. The world we live in is fallen and so are the people. Sin is a reality this side of heaven. Sin is a destructive cancer that has the capacity to grow when not confronted or dealt with biblically. Below are 5 key components to true reconciliation that will help guide you in knowing when reconciliation is possible. We are called to do our part to restore the relationship, but you are only 1 part of the relationship. Much depends on the other person.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Key Components of Reconciliation

Earlier I shared that lumping forgiveness and reconcilation was a big mistake that I have made in my own life. It was an example of the wrong way to enter back into an unsafe relationship. Because I misunderstood the Scriptures on this matter, I endured unnecessary pain and heartache. Misunderstanding Scripture was my first mistake and hopefully after reading this article, you won’t make the same mistake.

Additionally, I knew that if I confronted the mistreatment head on that I would likely lose the relationship. I truly didn’t want to lose the relationship so I overlooked that lack of taking full responsibility and accepted excuses for bad behavior. In time, that relationship ended anyways. Much heartache and pain could have been avoided if I knew then what I know now and am sharing with you today. The possiblility of reconciliation is only possible with the key componenents listed below. The main considerations are: forgiveness, two willing hearts, confession (taking full responsibility), true repentance and rebuilding of trust. When all those are present you have good reasons to believe that moving forward in a relationship that has been broken is a wise decision.

Let’s see how to know if the possiblility of restoration exists…

1. Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the first part of this process. Even if reconciliation does not take place, forgiveness is a choice or decision we make to release the offender from our punishment. This must take place in order to move forward and onto reconciliation. 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

Check out these articles for more information on forgiveness:

What is the Importance of Forgiveness?

Benefits of Forgiveness

Can you forgive someone and still be hurt?

7 Things Forgiveness is NOT!

2. Two Willing Hearts

The process of reconciliation requires two willing hearts. This is not a one sided affair. Nor is it for the faint of heart. Both parties need to come together and have an honest conversation about hard stuff. It requires humble hearts.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1

3. Taking Full Responsibility {Confession}

Full reconciliation becomes possible when the offending party takes responsibility and demonstrates a genuineness of his confession. If you are going to move forward with someone on forgiveness and reconciliation they will need to express that they know they did something wrong, offensive or hurtful. If they don’t express responsibility, then they aren’t going to change anything and you will likely be hurt again.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16

4. Heart Change {True Repentance}

True heart change requires someone to do their own interior work. It’s more than outward appearances or displays of tears, rather it’s evidence of clear changes over time. Superficial appearances of repentance will not yield lasting results. Impenitent sinners will just say and sometimes do whatever is necessary to escape the consequenses of their sin. Gospel Coalition did a great job of outlining signs of true repentance. 

First, a truly repentant person will be broken by their sin and deeply saddened and feel the pain they caused the offended person. They will also demonstrate a willingness to make amends and accept the consequences for the pain they caused another person. A truly repentant person cerainly won’t make demands of the offended party and become impatient with the healing work that needs to be done to repair a relationship that has been broken. In humility they will be willing to go the extra mile to help do what is necessary to make repairs. They will be patient with the process of reconciliation and rebuilding of trust. Finally, they will be awestruck by your offering of forgiveness. Humility is weaved throughout the entire reconciliation process.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10

5. Rebuilding Trust

A lack of trust makes it impossible to restore a relationship. Trust is a necessary component of any relationship to thrive. It is also a lengthy process to rebuild trust because is takes time plus tangible evidence of trustworthiness. Trust is not a feeling. Let that sink in a moment. Trust is actually a choice we should make based on evidence of a changed heart. Full reconciliation requires a rebuilding of trust.

    Full Reconciliation {Restored Relationship}

    Accomplishing full reconciliation is larger work to restoring a relationship. Restoring a relationship means bringing it a place that is better than it’s original state. Full reconciliation can bring a relationship to a better place than it ever was before. However, ALL the components of reconciliation are necessary. Hard conversations, hurt feelings and trust broken is the messy relationship work that must be done in order to reconcile. But little-by-little too willing hearts (by the power of the Holy Spirit) can restore the relationship. 

    Partial Reconciliation

    While full reconciliation might not be possible, consider partial reconciliation. I have relationships in my life that have been mended enough to be at family events, however not mended enough to allow that person back into my life. We have no control over the other person’s response to repairing or restoring the relationship. If they are unwilling, forgive them and be at peace as much as it depends on you.

    If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

    Regardless of our situation, we are to be the light of Christ to everyone around us. A few ways this can be accomplished is to pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Do good to them when the opportunity arises (Romans 12:9), don’t speak poorly about them (Romans 12:14) and don’t celebrate their failures (Proverbs 24:17). Ultimately, treat them as you would want to be treated (Luke 6:31).

    Releasing a Relationship

    I must restate, the heart of God is for reconciliation. However, if neither full or partial reconciliation is an option due to unrepentant offender or a situation of abuse, (emotional, spiritual, physical), releasing the relationship completely might be the only option. The Bible is very clear that evil exists in this world and we are to protect ourselves from it. If releasing the relationship is the outcome – be prayerful about the heart of the person who hurt you. Also, be prayerful about your own heart – that it would remain soft rather than become embittered.

    But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the LORD. Isaiah 26:10 (NIV)

    How to Let Go of Resentment

    Wrapping Up Forgiveness and Reconciliation

    Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Consider them as two different entities. With that said, reconciliation is impossible without the act of forgiveness. In order to have full reconciliation we must have these important components: the offending party must take responsibility, truly repentant and a rebuilding of trust. The ministry of reconciliation is hard work and takes two willing hearts, but it is an amazing experience and can bring people together closer than ever when done according to Scripture.

    There are times that only partial reconciliation is possible or even no amount of reconciliation is possible.  If the person who hurt you is unwilling to change, forgiveness and peace can still be accomplished and experienced in your own life. God arranged it so we can choose forgiveness and experience peace despite our circumstances or people around us. 


    1. GG on November 6, 2019 at 6:06 pm

      I am struggling with this, but I am the offender. I am learning, in a very hard way, that Jesus’s forgiveness is what I need to cling to, because I was combining forgiveness and reconciliation with her, and she wants nothing to do with me anymore. I have Godly sorrow about what I did and has happened, and believe I have truly repented, but I am still under condemnation by her. I need to cling to Jesus, but my mind just replays our scenario over and over. Any advice would be appreciated!

      • Candy Thompson on October 29, 2021 at 7:21 am

        A young woman in our church was renting a duplex from us with her husband. She was having lots of marital problems and attended my post abortion class after I witnessed to her. We had them in our home several times for dinner and even hired him to do some work for us. She was trying to get back two babies that were taken away from her by DHS. Our church was helping her and she got close to the leadership doing the hair of the wives of all the leaders and even cut mine. We were out of town when she let us know that she had been awarded a home by the Cherokee nation and would need to break the lease to get out. I said we wouldn’t hold her to it if we could rent it quickly. Things began to get strained when I returned and showed it to a prospective tenant while she was still in there in the moving process. Her husband was out of the picture and had left. the smell of smoke (smoking was against the lease) was so bad the young Dr and his wife who were expecting a baby didn’t rent the duplex. We had spent thousands painting, reflooring pasts and on new appliances before they moved in. Our painter found the closet upstairs was lined with foil and had dirt from potting plants on the shelves and a hole in the wall in the bathroom she had covered up with a towel. When asked about the smoke she had blamed the neighbor, saying he was smoking marijuana and it came in their opened windows. when I told her what our painter said that it looked like they were growing marijuana, she began accusing me and my motives on the phone and rather than argue, I had to hang up. We presented a list of expenses for the smoke cleanup and wall repair as well as carrying off trash and repairing walls of splattered paint and the days the duplex was unrented, not holding her to her full lease. At church we walk by hardly speaking. I cannot pretend our relationship is OK when there has been no reconciliation. I’ve decided to go to our pastor’s wife and pastor to get help with a reconciliation. This was a good article. I’ve been waiting for it to work out and praying for her and haven’t talked to anyone about it. But it is not good for the fellowship to not have reconciliation. Thanks God Bless.

      • Patricia on May 10, 2023 at 11:57 am

        Been there several times. I had to learn to let it go and find the lesson within the pain. God is still
        For you even if this person is not willing to have anything to do with you. The issue now lies between them and God.

    2. deborah on November 7, 2019 at 7:57 am

      it is for her to forgive you, maybe she is not there yet. maybe the hurt was too bad.
      give her time, be kind when you see her, there is nothing else. let it go.

      • Sunshyne on November 7, 2019 at 1:32 pm

        Hey GG! I have to agree with what you said…”Jesus’s forgiveness is what I need to cling to”. You hit the nail on the head. I also like what Deborah responded with…”be kind when you see her”. The rest is outside your circle of control-it must be entrusted to God. Praying for you, that you would be able to release the other person’s response of unforgiveness.

    3. Frank Castellano on November 15, 2019 at 12:44 pm

      When I became a Christian, I confessed my sin against another Christian to ask forgivenss. Not only did she not forgive me, she has never forgotten it. Just a reminder that not all Christians have the ability to forgive.
      Thank you and bless you for your great work and effort in trying to help others. god bless you with His wisdom and repay you immensely for your time and love.

      • Sunshyne on December 1, 2019 at 9:50 am

        Hi Frank, Thanks for taking the time to share:) I’m sorry that this lady has not offered you forgiveness-but take heart, God offers you forgiveness (and His is the most important!). It’s true, that not all Christians choose to forgive, but they are absolutely able.

      • Patricia on May 10, 2023 at 12:02 pm

        This is where the scripture verse comes to mind that if we do not forgive our father in heaven will not forgive us. We can’t give to others what we have not received ourselves. What flows to us flows from us to others. When someone is unwilling to forgive they need to take a serious long look at their relationship between them and God and their own salvation. Matthew 7:21 not everyone that says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.

        • Adriane on July 20, 2023 at 6:26 am

          From my understanding that verse is not based on our salvation, it is a free gift (salvation). If we do not forgive we cannot lose our salvation otherwise there would be a condition on our part and we can’t earn our salvation. Our willingness to forgive is based on our understanding of how much we have been forgiven. You could recieve forgiveness from God and still struggle with forgiving someone else, forgiveness is a process. You’ll know you have fully forgiven someone when you desire good for them and that doesn’t happen over night but happens through prayer over time.

    4. Denise on December 28, 2019 at 11:07 am

      I am struggling. I am a committed Christian and have forgiven someone who has severly hurt me emotionally, more than once. I forgave the person each time over the years but the last time it happened I chose not to reconcile, as I can’t trust it won’t happen again and for my emotional well being. My mom insists that because I won’t reconcile, or forget, then I haven’t forgiven. She is now refusing to have a relationship with me unless I reconcile with the offender. I tried to help my mom understand this and even showed her the list of what forgiveness doesn’t mean. She rejected it completely, and is rejecting me.

      • Sunshyne on March 21, 2020 at 8:52 pm

        I am so sorry to hear that Denise. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation-so many people get the 2 mixed up unfortunately. I am also sorry to hear your mom is shutting you out as you set limits with someone who has a pattern of hurting you. Praying for you now.

    5. Trustee on January 20, 2020 at 12:19 am

      I’m glad I get this chance I am very hurt I’ve been a loving person but now I am angry and waiting for Lord to avenge me which I know it’s not God’s will to punish his children. My husband has hurt me more and never ever said sorry not even once refuse to talk about things and verbal abuse when I ask or try to communicate. I don’t ask or say nothing to avoid the fighting but I’m becoming more bitter all thing’s comes back because I tried to forgive without anything being discussed or said. I’m am very angry

    6. Dawn Baggett on April 13, 2020 at 6:13 am

      Thank you so much for this Biblical and needed clarity!

    7. Sunshyne Gray on April 17, 2020 at 4:37 pm

      So glad you found it helpful, Dawn! Thanks for stopping by!

    8. Nicoleta on April 30, 2020 at 11:42 pm

      Mat God bless you!!! This article is rain in the desert for my heart!❤❤❤💐

      • Sunshyne Gray on May 1, 2020 at 9:07 am

        I’m so glad you found it helpful, Nicoleta! Blessings!

    9. Anna Marshall on May 30, 2020 at 3:59 pm

      This article was very helpful and I am so thankful I came across it today. I have struggled for decades with an abusive sister who is a narcissist. Because I am a Christian I thought it was necessary for me to “reconcile” with her time and time again after so many episodes of abuse. This article has just confirmed to me again that forgiveness is not always followed by reconciliation. Isn’t there a point, Sunshyne, where protecting myself from her abuse needs to be more important? Sadly, my other sister who was my best friend and helped me so much to navigate our relationship with this toxic sister, passed away recently and I am having a really hard time with it all. I have a brother whom the toxic sister has turned against me so sometimes I just feel so alone. Although, of course, I know that I am not alone when I know the Lord is always by my side. If you have any other resources which you think would help me now I would so appreciate it. Thank you.

      • Sunshyne Gray on June 2, 2020 at 2:38 pm

        Hi Anna, I’m so glad you took the time to comment…my heart goes out to you. When I finish this response, know that I will lift you up to the Most High on your journey to find healing! I do have another resource for you…an amazing book that is written by a wonderful Christian author and counselor- “When to Walk Away; Finding Freedom From Toxic People” by Gary Thomas…Not many Christian counselors point out toxic behavior and the need to approach those relationships differently. Gary Thomas does an amazing job of doing just that in a way that honors God completely! Blessings, Sunshyne

        • F. Dameron on January 7, 2024 at 11:52 am

          This story reflects my own life except I have PTSD from it. I’ve been in therapy for four years and love my sister from a distance. Our dad abused all of us and we’re raised without knowing about Jesus. I decided to set boundaries for myself and her and have been saved and baptized in my Church. I pray for her broken miserable soul to be healed and made free.

    10. Rachel on October 19, 2020 at 8:46 am

      My long time boyfriend had recently cheated on me.. He apologised many times and asks forgiveness. I forgive him. I dont want to end our relationship with one mistake but I can still feel the anger and deep sadness over what happened.

    11. Gary on September 1, 2021 at 9:50 am

      Reading your thoughts really opened my eyes. For a long time (years) I have lived with the hurt that I thought was inflicted upon me by people in my past. I prayed many times for God to help me forgive. But it all still weighed heavy on my heart and in my mind. I thought I was forgiving theses people but was not feeling any better. Reading this today made me realize that even though they may have wronged me, it may have been me that put them in the position to do what they did. I know now that I must take some responsibility. Hopefully once I do that and ask God to forgive me for causing them to do what they did I can start to heal.
      Thank you.

    12. Glen stough on June 14, 2023 at 9:01 pm

      Ive read several stories here, and it breaks my heart to read them. I’ll try to keep this short. In a nutshell, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation can come by really understanding LOVE. When you learn to love those who hurt you thru the compassion and eyes of Jesus, you see a person who has lost their way. As much as possible, try and understand thier pain from trauma, events in thier life that shaped them. This does not condone them for the hurt they caused. But leave that to God. Jesus died for all our sins, and we don’t deserve that gift he gave us of forgiveness. Jesus loves the offender too- just not the sins they committed. He offers forgiveness to all- and we are commanded to do the same. Read the sermon on the mount In book of Matthew, read about love in 1 st Corinthians chapter 13… the book of James. There’s many more examples in the Bible. Get good council from your pastor. If you try to reconcile with your offender, do it in a loving way, seeking God, asking the Holy Spirit to give you the right words, the right time and for the offenders heart to receive it. If they reject it, that’s between God and themselves. You did your best- but that only helps if God is taking the reigns. Let him do just that- his will, not yours. Take your time, pray!! Continue in prayer always. There will be good and bad days, but God will heal you, if continually seek him. I’m currently on this journey myself, and it’s not over yet. It’s a struggle, but I press on, and I do see Gods hand in the midst of my own pain and he’s healing me thru the loss of my marriage, loss of a good friend in church..( who I still see in church every week ) and others who hurt me within the church. You have to be bpro- active and see how God leads you thru your journey of pain and healing. Trust him. Love your enemies, do good into them. Forgive others, as Christ has forgiven you

      • Becky on July 20, 2023 at 6:40 am

        Glen, such good counsel. Thank you for sharing! I’m very sorry for what has happened to you, but God richly bless you for leaning into Him and sharing what you have learned with us.

    13. Becky on July 20, 2023 at 6:42 am

      Thank you, Sunshyne!! As always, you provide so much help! You are such a blessing!

      • Sunshyne on July 21, 2023 at 10:04 pm

        Thank you for your encouraging words, Becky❤️

      • Sunshyne on July 21, 2023 at 10:04 pm

        Thank you, Becky❤️

    14. Shawn Schofield on July 21, 2023 at 12:23 am

      Thank you for this. I have read several articles on forgiveness and reconciliation and need constant reminders and affirmation. One thing I have struggled with in reconciliation is if the offender is removed from your life so reconciliation is not possible. As our pastor said, ” there can be forgiveness, but there will never be reconciliation” (restoration of the relationship). I struggled thinking they had to go together. So while this relationship has ended, my heart still has to do the work of forgiveness just the same.

      • Sunshyne on July 21, 2023 at 10:06 pm

        Praying for you journey to forgive, Shawn❤️

    15. JP on July 26, 2023 at 8:58 am

      You said several times “God’s heart is for reconciliation” but then go on to make what seem like a lot of excuses for not reconciling. Excuses scripture does not make, especially if we are talking about believers on both sides. Matt 18 makes it clear, even if you are the offended party you are to go to the offender to seek to right the relationship. And it prescribes a detailed process for doing that, why? Because that behavior on the part of your offender is harming THEM and if you are a true believer your love for them should override your offense. Matt 5 makes it clear that reconciliation is so important to God that he essentially says “don’t bother worshiping until you get things fixed.” I agree that full restoration may take time (Paul and John Mark) but the offended party is still obligated to have a heart ready to seek it at the moment repentance is seen. That cannot happen if the offended party refuses to even discuss the offense with the offender. It is often true the offender did not mean to offend or hurt the way they did, and they can’t repent unless you are willing to tell them clearly and specifically how they sinned against you. BUT that takes humility on your part (Phil 2) and the willingness to analyze was the offense really them, or my reaction to them? An unwillingness in the offended party to meet with the offender and discuss the offense ( especially if they have asked for that meeting to be able to make things right) is evidence of a lack of true forgiveness and that is sin on the part of the offended party, just creating more issues within the body.

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