Four Promises of Forgiveness

Pastor Michael Bowman

One of the more helpful resources that I have found and that I often bring up in counseling others is Ken Sande’s four promises of forgiveness. You can find this in several different works by Peacemaking Ministries. Personally, I first read it in The Peacemaking Pastor by Alfred Poirier. It changed how I understand forgiveness. 

The four promises are four promises that you make when you forgive someone biblically. They are as follows:  

  1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
  2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
  3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
  4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.” 

Let’s look at each one and flesh it out a little more. Promise #1 is, “I will not dwell on this incident.” Think about a time that someone wronged you, asked your forgiveness, and you said the words, “I forgive you”, and subsequently started to think about the incident and play it over and over in your head. Maybe you told them off in a fake conversation in the shower or in the car, giving them what they deserve. You never really forgave them did you? When God forgives, he promises to remember our sins no more, and that is what it means not to dwell on the incident. Obviously, you can’t forget the facts of what happened, at least not right away, but you can make a conscious decision to no longer dwell on it and when it comes into your mind, to push it right back out.

Promise #2 is, “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.” If you aren’t dwelling on it you won’t be bringing it up, so you see there is logical consistency in these promises. More importantly, see again how this is the forgiveness that God models. Does God use your sin against you once you have been forgiven? Of course not. So when you have forgiven your wife for belittling you and disrespecting you in front of others, you don’t get to remind her of it to manipulate her into doing something for you. When you have forgiven your husband for his regular lack of sensitivity and he once again is harsh with his words, you don’t get to say, “See you’re doing it again, just like every other time…” This is a promise not to use sin as a leverage point to manipulate people. 

Promise #3 says, “I will not talk to others about this incident.” Imagine you have sinned against a family member or close friend. They point it out, you ask their forgiveness and they say you have it. How would you then feel if you walked into the room as they were telling a group of other friends or family about what you did wrong. That’s not forgiveness. True forgiveness means it’s been dealt with, it’s taken care of, it won’t come up again. If you feel the need to tell others about what has happened, not only is that probably sinful in itself (gossip) but it shows that the sin has not truly been dealt with.

The final promise, #4, is, “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.” God doesn’t allow our sin to break our relationship with him. He forgives it and reconciles us to himself in Christ. Because of his act of reconciliatory forgiveness, we can now forgive one another in the same manner. You don’t have to let sin destroy your marriage. It doesn’t have to keep you from speaking to your Father or Mother. You aren’t forced to sit in your bitterness, resentment or anger. When you forgive someone, truly forgive them, you make the promise not to break your relationship with them. This isn’t possible outside of Christ, but in him the world is being reconciled. You don’t have to be captive to someone’s sin against you. In forgiveness you can find true freedom. 

Hopefully you find this helpful. I would recommend committing these four to memory and think about them the next time you say, “I forgive you.” This is what it really looks like to forgive.