It is essential to know what forgiveness is, but possibly as critical to understand what forgiveness is NOT.
Forgiveness Is Not Pardoning
Forgiveness does not remove natural or legal consequences. It certainly can lessen those consequences in many situations, but it is not dealing with the justice that may be required. Typically justice is outside our control, so God tells us, “Don’t seek revenge (justice); My perfect justice will be done.”
Forgiveness never removes the offense - you no longer pay attention to it or mark it against them. Knowing and doing this frees you and potentially the offender from slavery to the pain of the offense.
In another sense, forgiving is pardoning in the broad sense of the word. You no longer require any justice and leave it up to God. So, you "pardon" them to provide freedom for you.
Forgiveness Is Not Forgetting
If you can forget a wrong, then forgiveness is not necessary. Forgiveness is only needed because we remember. Forgiveness heals, healing leaves scars, and scars are GOOD!
I have some large scars on my back and front. When I see the scars, I can think of the pain I went through, the accident, the surgery, and the recovery. I could start picking at the scar and make it a bloody mess. But why would I? It is healed!
Forgiveness does not forget; instead, it remembers that the incident is healing or is healed.
You only have scars from wounds that are healed. If there is no scar, there has been no healing or forgiveness. The scar or the incident reminds us how God works in our life to conform us to the image of Christ in all situations. Praise the Lord; He has seen us through our healing!
Forgiveness Is Not Restoration or Reunion
The focus of forgiveness is the inside of the person. God is for restoration and reconciliation – and it may occur, but it is not part of, nor does forgiveness require it.
Restoration needs to occur in marriages and families to produce healthier future generations, so always pray for restoring broken families and marriages. But sometimes reunion is impossible or not best. The other person may have moved away, married again, or even died. Sometimes reunion is even harmful; for example, a husband may still be addicted to abusing women. A former business partner may be a forgiven thief but still a thief.
Reunion may be such a threat that it keeps us from forgiving. For example, forgiveness is unlikely if an abused woman believes it requires her to return to her abusive husband. And forgiveness is doubtful if a teenage girl thinks it is part of being reunited with a mean-spirited girlfriend. That is why it is essential to recognize the difference.
Unforgiveness is a terrible place to be, especially if a lousy definition keeps you from forgiveness and freedom.