Forgiveness is incredibly powerful. If it could be bottled, a daily dose would probably save a lot of marriages and other meaningful relationships. But what, exactly, does it mean to forgive? What are the “active ingredients”? How do we learn to forgive?

Embracing what Jesus has done for us and extending that in thought, word, and deed to others is the essence of forgiveness. In forgiving one another, we draw on the forgiveness that Jesus has given us by making a decision to release another from the penalty of sin. Rather than drawing a curtain and pushing each other away, we push sin and judgment away and draw near to each other. Put as simply as possible, forgiveness is releasing the other from the penalty of sin so the relationship can be restored.

Forgiveness means letting go of your right to punish another and choosing through the power of God’s love to hold onto the other person rather than his or her offense. In the process of forgiving, the first barrier you have to remove is within yourself. You have to decide to let go of the offense along with your desire to punish the offender. You have to decide to remain fixed on the value of the spouse or coworker instead of the offense. The bigger the offense, the more challenging it can be to let go; but the less we ruminate on the offense and feed our anger, the easier it becomes. Proverbs 19:11 teaches, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; / it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” To “overlook” an offense is to take no notice of wrongs done against oneself, to refuse to retaliate or seek revenge, to let affronts go, or, in a word, to forgive. Proverbs also express this theme. Proverbs 17:9 notes, “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense.” Proverbs 10:12 says, “Love covers over all wrongs.”

While forgiveness affects and can bring relief to our emotions, it’s much more than an emotion. It’s a decision we make based on our worship of God to forgive as he forgives. God’s forgiveness isn’t a declaration of emotion but a declaration that his people are forgiven and pardoned from their sins just as a judge would dismiss a case from a courtroom. In that sense, forgiveness is a decision, a declaration, a once-for-all-time pronouncement. When you forgive you have to trust that you aren’t reducing yourself as an easy target for more hurt, but that God will work through your forgiveness. Your forgiveness doesn’t guarantee a change in your spouse, but it does guarantee that you’ll grow and that you’ll be protected from bitterness. Trust combined with forgiveness is the path that God provides to draw back the curtains that separate you and your loved one.

Sometimes those with a history of being hurt prefer to live in a self-protective cocoon of anger rather than risk the trust required to forgive. Holding onto an offense may afford a sense of moral superiority over our spouses or friends and distract us from having to look at our own hearts. If this is the case, focus on God’s love and mercy and ask Him to help you forgive. God’s forgiveness required the sacrifice of His Son to pay the penalty for sin. Our forgiveness requires sacrifices, too, though in humanly way. Your suffering doesn’t atone for your spouse’s sin, but you’ll have to sacrifice in several ways. You’ll have to accept the wound that you’ve received. It also means that you’re letting go of any future payback. An important way that you sacrifice your claim to justice is by refusing to bring up the matter in a harmful way.

God considers it a “glory” to overlook an offense. We forgive because we have been forgiven, knowing that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). In other words, overlooking a wrong done to oneself is a sign of maturity and grace. Forgiving others is worthy of respect. It is a triumph for us to forgive and to take no notice of injuries and offenses. Growing in forgiveness will require you to stay focused on Jesus, interacting with Him and learning from him just as you must do in every other area of life.