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Unforgiveness: What Happens When I Refuse To Forgive

We have talked a lot about the importance of forgiveness, but we rarely live out the principle. The problem is, that there is such a heavy price to pay for unforgiveness. I feel like I need to camp out in the why’s a little longer though because the “How To’s” of forgiveness will not go heart deep if we don’t really internalize the why.

The danger of unforgiveness is that it has the potential to overpower and destroy every good thing in your life if left unchecked. Click To Tweet

Unforgiveness Has A Heavy Price Tag

Who else struggles to do the hard things of Christianity? Honestly, it’s not that I can’t or don’t do them, but I don’t do them well the first time… Maybe it’s just this way for me, but I have to really embrace the why for doing hard things. Forgiveness is no different.

So with the issue of unforgiveness, I have to ask a lot of questions and search out the answers until they are deep in my heart.

  • What does the Bible say about unforgiveness? 
  • Is there such a word as unforgiveness?
  • What are the dangers of unforgiveness?
  • What are the signs of unforgiveness?

Review Forgiveness

What do we know about forgiveness so far?

  1. What is forgiveness?
    • Forgiveness is a choice to surrender the debt I feel is owed me from a wrong done to me to God. 
  2. Why do we need to forgive?
    • Because Jesus said so. 
    • Forgiveness leads to abundant life. 
  3. How soon do we need to forgive?
    • Before the sun sets.
  4. What is the first step?
    • Forgiving others is impossible until we get the vertical relationship with God right.
      • How do we get right with God?
        • Confession
        • Humility

 I don’t know about you, but that feels exhausting! It feels humbling… 

Related Post: What Is Forgiveness and Why Is It Important?

When Forgiveness is Lip Service Rather Than Heart Deep

Forgiveness is humbling. It can bring you right down to your knees in a moment. And so it is much easier to choose unforgiveness.

We often let forgiveness stop at our lips. Someone wrongs us and we say, “I forgive you.” Maybe they never apologize, but we know God requires forgiveness so we go through the motions with Him. THe problem with shallow forgiveness is that it never reaches our hearts.

Forgiveness must be heart-deep to make a difference. I know because I have personally walked through the consequences of unforgiveness. Let me tell you a little about it.

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The Spiritual Effects of Unforgiveness

I wish my testimony was beautiful, that I met Jesus as a child and walked faithfully with Him ever since. In fact, when I meet people who have that story it hurts my heart how badly I wish it were my own.

Instead, my walk with the Lord has been filled with heartache and hardship. My childhood was filled with horrors like rape, abuse, neglect, poverty, and the like. While I grew up in a church, my church people lived one way in front of the preacher and a completely different way everywhere else.

Of course, growing up in church meant I had heard hundreds of sermons about forgiveness. We must forgive, the preacher railed, but I didn’t know how to do it. I tried… many times. But no matter how hard I tried to forgive the horrors of my life I was all tangled up in the consequences of unforgiveness.

Consequences of Unforgiveness

What are the consequences of unforgiveness? Maybe you would ask it more like this: What is the fruit of unforgiveness?

Bitterness, and resentment, are the effects of unforgiveness which are seen as cold, hard-heartedness.

In my life, this looked like sarcasm, cynicism, being closed off to real relationships, and never letting anyone get close enough to hurt me. I pushed people away and never let good people around. My friends were just as broken as I was because I didn’t believe I deserved anything but pain… because if you expect little you are hurt less often.

The root of bitterness and unforgiveness crept into my heart well before I ever understood what was going on and it has taken years to dig it out.

Unforgiveness in The Christian Life

My Spiritual life was no better than my social life because of unforgiveness. You see, God was in my heart throughout a lifetime of pain and suffering. I prayed, I read my Bible, I was in church, I was doing all the things I had been taught should keep a Christian from suffering such horrors.

I believed God was all-powerful, all-knowing, and could step in at any time and stop what happened to me. But He didn’t stop it. So I closed my heart off to Him as well. At some point in my youth, I decided I couldn’t trust God anymore… And it showed in my walk.

What Are The Signs of Unforgiveness?

When a Christian is not into reading the Bible or prayer. If you can’t be bothered with going to Church beyond the Sunday sermon – being in a community where others might see and know your issues… When you live one way Sunday and another the rest of the week there is a good chance there is unforgiveness in your heart.

Some other signs of unforgiveness in my life or the symptoms of unforgiveness:

  • Overuse of sarcasm
  • Easily offended
  • Quick to anger over small offenses
  • Cutting words instead of encouraging words
  • Too much entertainment and not enough quiet time with God
  • Overly emotional – or a lack of emotion (funny how both extremes point to issues with my heart)

What Are The Dangers Of Unforgiveness?

When there is unforgiveness in our hearts about old things, we are also not able to pray for those people with pure hearts.

And, we carry that cold hard heart – forged in the furnace of bitterness and resentment – into every relationship.

Have you ever loved a cold hard-hearted person? Maybe the fires of love cover it up at first, but when the new wears off the danger is that unforgiveness is a habit they can’t break.

My marriage suffered greatly in the beginning because of unforgiveness in my past. Not that Bud and I had a great marriage, believe me, he brought his own mess into our marriage, but it could have been easier. It wasn’t until I was at a breaking point that God began showing me how my unforgiveness of the horrors of my past was destroying any chance of forgiving Bud in our marriage.

The danger of unforgiveness is that it has the potential to overpower and destroy every good thing in your life if left unchecked. It did mine for a long time and I don’t want to see that happen to you, sweet friend.

Related Post: Marriage Communication Secrets: 5 Ways to Powerfully Improve Your Marriage

What Does the Bible Say About Unforgiveness? 

We already saw the most famous Scripture about unforgiveness in Matthew 6:14-15. The truth is though that there are many verses about unforgiveness in the Bible!

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV)

I love this one in Ephesians because Paul hits on the issue of bitterness that always trails unforgiveness in the life of a Believer. Take heart, even the disciples faced this!

Related Post: More Unforgiveness Scriptures in the Open Bible

Definition Of Unforgiveness

Is unforgiveness a word? No, it is not in the English dictionary, but it is a real thing. So if the answer to, “Is there such a word as unforgiveness?” is no, we have to look harder at the issue.

If the definition of forgiveness is to give up the debt owed by those who have wronged you to God, then we can reverse that for unforgiveness.

So, then, unforgiveness defined is to refuse to release the debt owed to you by those who have wronged you. To refuse to forgive is to hold onto the hurt and pain resulting in a closed-off heart.

Why does unforgiveness lead to a closed-off heart? When you are holding onto so much pain, you don’t have room for love. Your heart literally fills with bitterness and resentment to the point that it can’t hold onto anything good.

Rather than hurting those who hurt you, you ruin your own life. Refusing to forgive really is like drinking poison in the hopes that it hurts your enemy as Nelson Mandela once said.

A Bible Verses Unforgiveness Definition

“Pursue peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:14-15 NASB)

Unforgiveness defiles a person, ruining peace and causing us to fall short of the grace of God through bitterness. Ouch!

When there is unforgiveness in the Bible we see bad things follow.

  • Joseph’s brothers in Genesis sold him into slavery because of unforgiveness and jealousy.
  • Saul spent years pursuing David out of unforgiveness for God choosing David rather than Jonathan.
  • The woman caught in adultery was going to be stoned.
  • Philemon needed help forgiving Onesimus and releasing him from slavery.

Unforgiveness Hinders Prayer

We also know that when we refuse to forgive our walk with God gets stuck, our prayers are hindered, our growth stops, and our relationship gets cold and dry. We see that in this Scripture on unforgiveness.

“Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24 NASB)

Matthew 5 gives us a look into why this might be. God is relationship-driven and longs to be in a right relationship with us. However, He also expects us to keep in right relationships with each other. In this passage, He doesn’t even want our offering if we have an issue to make right with others.

Related Post: How to Fight the Real Enemy in a Biblical Marriage

How To Overcome Unforgiveness

We have seen the effects of unforgiveness in the life of a believer. Also, we have looked at the symptoms of unforgiveness that should warn us it is an issue or has become an issue again. The fact is, forgiveness matters to God and so we must learn how to overcome unforgiveness if we want to continue to grow in our walk with Him!

These are the steps that helped me over 20 years ago begin to walk in the freedom of forgiveness.

  1. Humility
  2. Soften my heart
  3. Understand the consequences of refusing to forgive
  4. Be changeable
  5. Remember we all sin
  6. Refuse to focus on others’ sin
  7. Look to God for help
  8. Refuse shame

Live Humbly

The Bible repeatedly instructs us to live humbly. Humility is a tenant of our faith. In fact, this verse helped me put the idea of humility into perspective.

“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”” (James 1:6 NASB)

But how do we walk in humility? Routinely confess our sin to God and remember how far He has brought us from the mess of our past.

Confessing my sin is a great step toward humility. When I confess my sin to God I am saying, “I messed up. I stole control of my life and did it wrong. I am sorry. Please help me want to do this your way.” 

I often have to start with asking him to, “help me want to do this right,” because usually, I don’t want to do it His way.  Can you relate?

Soften My Heart

One of the effects of unforgiveness is a hard heart that refuses to let anyone or anything in. To step toward unforgiveness I need a soft heart. God is the only one who can soften my heart.

Honestly, He has to lead me to His way of thinking about things because His ways are so incredibly different from mine (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

Understand The Consequences of Refusing to Forgive

God mercifully forgives me of my sins, and says I need to forgive others in the way I am forgiven. 

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also  forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive  your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NASB) 

Refusing forgiveness limits our ability to experience the joy of the Lord in our life. When we choose not to forgive someone, bitterness and resentment fill us up. They rob us of our joy. It is the path to a miserable life. 

Have you or are you experiencing that?

There are real consequences when we refuse to forgive. We must understand what they are, what we are choosing by refusing what God says we must do.

Be Changeable

Forgiveness flows from a softened heart; a heart that is moldable, changeable, and willing to learn. I want that kind of heart. I want to be able to forgive and avoid misery. 

Forgiveness frees us from the misery of bitterness and allows us to experience the free-flowing joy of the Lord. 

Forgiveness, like most other things in the Christian faith, seem like foolishness to those around us (1 Corinthians 2:14). So it is easier to just dig in our heals and refuse to forgive! We must resist the urge to dig in and instead be changeable, moldable in the trustworthy hands of God.

It is a practice that does not come easily to our human nature and it will take time to do well. 

Remember, We All Sin

It’s funny that we often struggle to forgive, yet we all still struggle with sin. It makes me think of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11

In this passage, we see Jesus calling the crowd (of religious people no less) to not judge others’ sin just because it is different from their own. 

“But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at  her.” (John 8:7 NASB) 

Jesus says we must forgive. He certainly forgave this woman caught in sin just as He forgives me. Can you relate to this lady? I certainly can. 

I have messed up so many times in my life; big messes that I am still dealing with consequences from all these years later. Saved as I am, I am still tempted in certain areas – in things I sure wish would leave me alone in time.

We All Sin

There is a telling passage in Romans where Paul reveals the struggle we all face with sin. 

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15 NASB) 

Does the way that Paul describes our struggle with sin speaks to you? I mean, if the Apostle Paul still struggled, I feel I have permission to admit that I still struggle. 

I don’t have it all together…

I sin…

Refuse To Focus On Others’ Sin

Part of the problem with unforgiveness is where I focus my attention. I sin. Others sin. Why do I tend to focus so much of my attention on their sin and how they need to change rather than working on my own sin?

Of course, when their sin affects me it is easier to focus on it, easier to overlook my own sin struggles. But the truth is we all sin and we all fall short of God’s grace and we all need forgiveness. Forgiveness from God, and forgiveness from each other, grace to keep growing and moving forward.

This is the hardest in my marriage for some reason. 

I have to stop pointing at my spouse and his mistakes and get to work on my part, because I certainly have my own sin struggles. Don’t you? 

But there is hope! 

Related Post: 16 Characteristics of a Godly Marriage

Look To God For Help

“And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12 NASB) 

We are told repeatedly that God is our strength and our help. Here, we are told we are a three-strand cord and it is the strongest to overcome hardships.

This is the covenant I made before God when I said, “I do.” Husband + Wife + Holy  Spirit make an unbeatable team. Doing marriage God’s way leads to victory and abundant life because it puts God in the center.

The same is true of any relationship that needs forgiveness. You are not doing this alone. The Holy Spirit in you longs to help you in the journey. Ask Him. Let Him. Don’t try it alone, you will fail and end up more miserable. He is right there waiting to come in and change your heart and heal the situation.

Related Post: 14 Characteristics of a Godly Wife That Will Save Your Marriage

Refuse Shame

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, be okay with where you are right now. There was a time I was literally paralyzed with guilt and shame over how much I had refused to forgive and how long it had gone. I forfeited years of a closer relationship with the Lord, pushed away, and destroyed countless relationships… the shame weighed me down so deeply it hurt.

The enemy loves to use guilt and shame to keep us paralyzed and hopeless! DON’T let him!!! 

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 8:1 NASB) 

I love this verse. It gives me hope. God does not condemn me for my mistakes. He does however call me to learn from them and grow just like the woman caught in adultery. 

You can do this too.

Related Post: God Covers Our Shame in the Bible With New Life

Forgiveness Starts With God

“And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more”  (John 8:11 NASB)

God has been teaching me that loving my husband, even when he is unlovable, only works because Jesus loves me when I am unlovable. This is the same for my parents, siblings, friends, and co-workers.

He has been showing me that the One who saved me can help me overcome the disappointment done to me in this life. 

How Can We Overcome Unforgiveness When The Pain Runs So Deep?  

  • Cling to Jesus. 
  • Give the relationship to Jesus. 
    • In this season that is my marriage and the hard parts of it.
  • Own and work on my part. 
  • Don’t give up. 

Related Post: 40 Day Fast Guide: Be Still and Know God More

Get Alone With God

I hope you are serious about walking this journey with me. Nothing will change in your life if you just read this and move on. You need to take some time with God in a quiet place.  I know, I know, I keep telling you that, but it is that important.

Forgiveness doesn’t happen by listening to a sermon or reading a book. Forgiveness happens through prayer and time alone with God.

We are fighting a real battle against a real enemy. We need a battle plan if we are going to walk away victorious. Our weapons? The Bible and prayer! 

Related Post: How to Become a Strong Prayer Warrior and Why

Write Word

Today in your time alone with God I want you to read Mark 10:27:

“Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:27 NASB)

Read it out loud several times. Then write the verse out on a note card. Put it in a place you will see it often and hold tight to this promise!   This is a verse I fall back on a lot in prayer. Let me show you.

Lord, you said there are things that are impossible for me but that all things are possible for You. I need You to help me forgive this. It feels impossible, but I am believing You for this victory.

Will You Give Up Unforgiveness Today?

The God of Mark 10:27 is still the God who reigns today. We can take our broken lives (and marriages) to God remembering it is not really about us; it’s all about Him. Through Him, we will have victory and joy. Which of these steps to overcome unforgiveness do you need to focus on today?

  1. Humility
  2. Soften my heart
  3. Understand the consequences of refusing to forgive
  4. Be changeable
  5. Remember we all sin
  6. Refuse to focus on others’ sin
  7. Look to God for help

Even as I ask if you will begin the steps of forgiveness today I acknowledge that they can not be worked through in a day. It took me months to work through them one at a time until God slowly transformed me into a woman who forgives easily and is hard to offend, to begin with.

You can do this, but you have to choose to begin. Will you begin today?

In HIS love,

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Tiffany Montgomery

Tiffany of Hope Joy in Christ inspires Christian Women to grow in faith, live out Biblical Marriage Principles and raise Godly Children.  Join the Wives Only Facebook Group here or keep up with her through Pinterest.

2 thoughts to “Unforgiveness: What Happens When I Refuse To Forgive”

  1. I came across your post about 14 characters of a Godly wife/women. i love your work it speaks to me so deep. i wish i can have all your post that i can read it, i am now on the 7th character…. words of affirimation and how it had me in tears the prayer that came along with it, God really opened my eyes as i need to change from the deep inside of me to live the light that i want to be. thank you so much. MAY GOD BLESS YOU. How can i have all your posts at my finger tips. i would love to read them all, please 🙂

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