Forgiveness is a product of Calvary that restores man’s relationship with God and his fellow men. Those who do not experience forgiveness from God live with guilt. Those who do not extend forgiveness to others develop a bitterness that can be the root of many sins.
What is forgiveness? The dictionary defines forgiveness as “the act of forgiving; pardon.” Forgive means “to give up the wish to punish or get even with; not have hard feelings at or toward.” A bible dictionary writer said forgiveness is “one of the most widely misunderstood doctrines of Scriptures.” This same writer went on to discuss forgiveness as including the forgiveness of past, present and future sins. This view represents a serious misunderstanding of the doctrine of forgiveness. What is forgiveness? How does it work? What is not forgiven?
Forgiveness was first extended by God as a result of man’s failings in the Garden. God’s desire was that Adam and Eve would seek forgiveness and reestablish their relationship with Him. God could have allowed them to die physically when they sinned, but He extended life so forgiveness could be realized. He also shed the blood of an innocent creature to give Adam and Eve coats to cover their nakedness. In this act, God introduced the principle that the shedding of blood is required for reconciliation with God. Ever since this initial sin of man, humanity has needed forgiveness.
Every man since Adam faces a similar judgement from God for his sins. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Eze 18:20a). Apart from forgiveness, man is sentenced to an eternal separation from God. This universal state of man’s sin and condemnation is emphasized in Romans 3. Statements such as “they are all under sin” (v9), “there is none righteous, no, not one” (v10), they are all gone out of the way” (v12), “all the world may become guilty before God” (v19), “there shall be no flesh justified in His sight” (v20), “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (v23) indicate man’s need to be forgiven.
God’s holiness does not allow Him to have a relationship with sinful men. Herein lays the great need for the reconciliation of God and man. In order to facilitate reconciliation, God must either step aside from His holiness or man needs to be cleared and cleansed from sin. Since God cannot maintain His holiness and identify with sin, sinful man must be redeemed. The first step in redemption is man finding forgiveness for his sins. This is possible through the atoning work of the blood of Christ. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:14).
God’s willingness to forgive man was expressed by Jesus as He hung on the cross. “Father forgive them” indicated Christ’s desire for forgiveness to be extended. The men who condemned Jesus and all the rest of humanity have a hope of being forgiven. The promise of our sins being removed “as far as the east is from the west” (Psa 103:12) could now be realized. God’s forgiveness means “their sins and iniquities will [He] remember no more” (Heb 10:17).
It is important to understand that forgiveness relates to our standing before God, not a removal of the consequences of sin. Some people feel that if there are ongoing consequences for the sins they have committed, they have not been forgiven. This is not true with God or men. God may extend grace and mercy in the reaping process, but the law of sowing and reaping remains. King David committed a sin with Bathsheba. He sought forgiveness by God but his son still died. The peace he was able to express in the passing of his son indicates he accepted the consequence of his sin.
Men who are forgiven need to extend forgiveness to others. God expects men to relate to each other as He relates to them. Since He has forgiven us, our continued forgiven standing before Him rests in our willingness to forgive our fellow man. Every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, we express the desire to be forgiven as we forgive our debtors.
Forgiveness needs to be extended without a limit of frequency. The answer to Peter’s question to Christ in Matthew 18:21 is essential to both the understanding and outworking of forgiveness. So often we feel we have been wronged, and frequently by the same people. When does a person exhaust the privilege of being forgiven? Did Christ set a limit of 490 times? If we keep an account, we have not forgiven as we should. maybe we should consider how often God has needed to forgive us.
Forgiveness needs to be extended without reservation. Do we only need to forgive when we are asked to forgive? Do we only need to forgive if the motive is right? Do we only need to forgive if they ask for forgiveness in a properly worded request? When should we forgive? It seems Joseph chose to forgive very quickly and spared himself much bitterness. The brothers struggled longer with the wrong than Joseph did. Joseph sought the good of those he had forgiven. He understood that fulfillment in life is only realized when we forgive. Like Joseph, we can be thankful in the midst of an “Egypt” experience.
Did Joseph’s forgiveness free his brothers from their guilt and responsibilities? No, they retained their guiltiness before God and man until they sought forgiveness. Those who crucified Jesus were guilty until they were forgiven (Acts 2:36-38).
When we need to suffer because of another’s wrongdoing, we may struggle with the injustice. According to Romans 12:19, if a reaping of vengeance is needed, God will be more righteous in His settlement and justice than we would be. It is better to allow God to settle our personal offences.
In summary, we need to appreciate the forgiveness God has extended to us. Without His forgiveness, we would be wretched individuals. Because of His forgiveness toward us, we have many reasons to extend forgiveness to others. It is best to forgive within our heart at the time of the offence. Extend forgiveness without a critical suspicion of motives. Forgive often. Allow the experience to stimulate spiritual growth. If Christ could forgive those who wronged him, we can also. Do not play the role of God in settling the offence. No offence is too big to be forgiven. When forgiveness is requested, clearly verbalize forgiveness. Remember the conditional forgiveness we extend to God every time we pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Thank God often for the privilege to be forgiven.