The Difference Between ‘Forgiveness’ & ‘Acceptance’

Would it surprise you to find out that many times you’ve forgiven people may not have significantly changed the fact that they and you are still not entirely at peace with each other? The difference between one-sided forgiveness (acceptance) and felt-forgiveness which facilitates restoration is marked.

The one advantage of simple one-sided forgiveness (which we’re all personally capable of and empowered to do) is we gain–from the power of God’s grace–the power to accept an offence upon us without wanting or seeking revenge. We can somehow understand and accept how and why people have come against us. We understand that it’s only hurt people who want to hurt people. Acceptance in this way brings us peace but it’s not true forgiveness, as forgiveness needs to be a two-way deal between both protagonists.

Forgiveness is part of the restorative process. When we hurt people, if we have God’s Spirit operating in us, we want to make things right again, and we’re not content and at peace until we’ve done so, or at least made a significant effort toward that end.

Yet, we’re prevented from restoring certain relationships because some people do not want to be at peace. They’d be happier to be in conflict with us, and at war. Clearly these people do not know God. They’re certainly not obedient to his Spirit, for God wishes all aggrieved parties to reconcile with each other, and ultimately with him. This is part of the purpose of living.

Forgiveness, then, has taken place when the offender says to the offended, ‘Will you forgive me,’ and the offended considers the offer at a mind and heart level, feels the offender means it, and actively commits to reconciling with the offender. Forgiveness begins with the offender, not the offended. But, equally, the offended has much responsibility in reconciliation toward restoration.

If the process begins and ends with the offended, ‘forgiveness’ can only ever be acceptance. In other words, when the offender takes no part of their responsibility for the transgression and doesn’t feel sorry, the only option the offended has open to them is to accept this, with God’s grace (as mentioned above). True acceptance–at the heart level–can’t be done apart from God’s grace.

It is a difficult situation to forgive someone who’s violated us and hasn’t themselves sought forgiveness because they don’t see the wrong they’ve done. But to ‘forgive’ someone in this situation is not impossible and practicing it more and more enables us.

It may not constitute true forgiveness, but this acceptance is just as important for us in moving on. Acceptance is an important tool that God gives us so uncaring, unloving people do not prove stumbling blocks for us.

Forgiveness and acceptance are non-negotiable, critical facets of godly life.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved.

Steve Wickham is a Registered Safety Practitioner (BSc, MSIA, RSP) and a qualified, unordained Christian minister (GradDipBib&Min).

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