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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

In this article we will separate forgiveness and reconciliation, making the topic much clearer as you determine how to move forward in a relationship (or not) if you’ve been hurt. We will explore what God says about reconciliation and key components of reconciliation will be outlined. And… we will talk about full and partial reconciliation. Additionally, identify when reconciliation is not possible.

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. I think a lot of Christians make this mistake. As a result we barrel forward, slap on a smile and say, “I’m fine”… a lot. But, the reality is, we’re not fine. It might look okay on the surface, but underneath we are struggling.

Secondly, I wanted reconciliation so bad, I overlooked the offender’s lack of effort and change to a truly reconcile. In other words, I ignored the fact that there was no true change in the offender. It takes two people to fully reconcile a relationship.

Are forgiveness and reconciliation the same?

What is forgiveness and why is it important?

Forgiveness is defined as canceling a debt. As Christians, our debt was canceled through Christ’s death on the cross. In other words, we are released from the punishment of our sins. Therefore, we are called to release others from their sin as well.

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

Forgiveness is a choice we make to release others from our punishment. It’s a choice to entrust the offense to God. Consequently, it requires nothing from the person who hurt you. They don’t have to be sorry or change it all in order for you to forgive them.

Forgiveness does not bring instant healing or a warm fuzzy feeling. It doesn’t mean you tolerate or excuse wrong behavior, either. In fact, there are a lot of things forgiveness is not.

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. It’s Christ’s loving sacrifice of His life, for our life, that reconciles us to God. God’s heart is for reconciliation. Furthermore, reconciliation with God gives us peace (Ephesians 2:14). When we are reconciled in our relationships, peace and unity prevail.

What does it mean to be reconciled to others?

When we are reconciled in our relationships, peace and unity prevail. In other words, relationship has been restored. Sometimes the relationship can be restored to even better than before the offense. Unfortunately, reconciliation is not always possible. But, we must do everything we can to restore the relationship.

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

Key Components of Reconciliation

1. Forgiveness

The first thing that must take place, is forgiveness. 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.

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 Responsibility {Confession}

Full reconciliation becomes possible when the offender takes responsibility for the offense. Pretending everything is okay makes it all look good on the surface. But, it’s not okay beneath the surface. Consequently, it sends the message that the offense is okay.

4. True Heart Change {Repentance}

Taking responsibility is followed by a change in behavior. Perfection isn’t the goal here, but a change in behavior demonstrates turning from the offense. In other words, doing a new thing.

5. Rebuilding Trust

Tangible evidence is necessary to rebuild trust. 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.

What does it mean to be reconciled?

Full Reconciliation

Full reconciliation is restoring a relationship. Restoring a relationship means bringing it back to its original state. Full reconciliation can bring a relationship to a better place than it ever was before. However, the components of reconciliation are necessary.

Have you ever remodeled a room in your home? We recently did a bathroom make over. When the make over began it was a mess. Flooring was being pulled up, the toilet sat in the tub, and old mirrors ripped off the walls, leaving craters in the dry wall.

The process of reconciliation is very much the same. Hard conversations, hurt feelings and trust broken is the messy makeover part. But little-by-little too willing hearts can restore the relationship. The bathroom make over was worth the work to reach the finished product.

Partial Reconciliation

While full reconciliation might not be possible, consider partial reconciliation. 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 bad mouth 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 partial reconciliation is not an option due to unrepentance or a situation of abuse, (emotional spiritual physical), releasing the relationship completely might be the only option.

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.

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 forgiveness. In order to have full reconciliation we must see a changed heart, two willing people and a rebuilding of trust.

There are times that only partial reconciliation is possible. We can’t control the behavior of others. If the person who hurt you is unwilling to change, forgiveness and peace can still be accomplished by you. God arranged it so we can choose forgiveness and experience peace despite our circumstances or people around us.

15 Comments

  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!

  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.

  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

    Hi
    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

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