By Aaron Earls
Jesus taught His disciples to forgive others in the same way God had forgiven them. Many Christians say they’ve done that but haven’t received the same forgiveness from others.
A Barna survey found 76% of practicing Christians say they’ve offered unconditional forgiveness to another person who had hurt, upset, or sinned against them or someone they loved. Nearly 1 in 6 (15%), however, say they’ve never offered this type of forgiveness, while 9% say they’re not sure.
Fewer Christians say they’ve actually received this type of forgiveness from others. Slightly more than half (55%) say someone else has forgiven them unconditionally. More than a third (38%) say they’ve never experienced this from someone else and 7% don’t know.
The difference between the number who say they’ve offered such forgiveness and the number who received it “suggest the perceptions of giving versus receiving unconditional forgiveness may sometimes vary dramatically—meaning, while someone may feel they have extended unconditional forgiveness, the supposed recipient of that forgiveness m ay not feel the same way,” according to the report.
Those who say they have received unconditional forgiveness indicate they are more likely to forgive others than those who say they have not received such forgiveness.
Among those who have received forgiveness, 87% say they have given it in return, compared to 64% of those who say they have not received unconditional forgiveness.
A significant number of practicing Christians struggle with forgiveness in other ways.
Around a quarter (22%) say they find it difficult to receive forgiveness for something they’ve personally done wrong.
Six in 10 Christians say they can identify someone they are struggling to forgive, including 23% who say there is someone they “can’t forgive.”
The study found those who say they can’t forgive someone have other differences with practicing Christians who don’t have the same issues with forgiveness.
Theologically, those who can’t forgive someone are more likely to say people go to heaven because of good deeds (39% to 21%). Practically, they are less likely to believe mercy influences their words or actions (46% to 67%).
Regardless of their own personal experience, practicing Christians believe showing forgiveness and mercy to others is something they should do. Eight in 10 (81%) believe that offering undeserved mercy to someone else is an action God blesses.
Aaron is a writer for LifewayResearch.com.