And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32
Recently, I have had several conversations with friends about forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive? Does God really expect me to forgive everything? Is it ever right not to forgive? Is forgiving and forgetting the same thing? Over the next few posts, I hope to examine these questions and perhaps others. Perhaps you have insights or experiences with forgiveness that you would like to share.
At some point in our life (perhaps several points), each of us will have a need to ask others for forgiveness. By the same token, we will have a need to forgive others. This need for forgiveness stems from the presence of the sin curse in us.
Our verse that I quoted above indicates that forgiveness is coupled with kindness and tenderheartedness. Kindness refers to an overflowing of grace in our hearts. Tenderheartedness describes the quality of showing pity, or goodness to others. The truth is, this is something that God produces in us. If we are going to forgive on a divine level, we must allow God to produce that forgiveness in us.
I think this begins with our fellowship with God. We know that God is willing to forgive anything that we confess to Him, (I John 1:9) and He desires for us to have that same willingness to forgive others. But if I am not willing to ask for God to forgive me for my sins, it is not likely that I will be willing to forgive others. If I do not ask God to forgive me for fear that He will not, I certainly will never find the strength to forgive others for the wrongs they commit against me. The strength to forgive is found in an understanding and receiving of God’s forgiveness.
What is forgiveness? When God forgives us, it is not that He simply “looks the other way” or winks at our wrong. It is more than Him looking at our sins and saying, “That’s okay, I know you didn’t mean to.” The word “forgive” means “to send away”. When describing divine forgiveness it actually involves three phases.
The first is remission of the punishment for sin. Let me say that God NEVER lets sin go unpunished. The fact is though, that Jesus has borne the punishment for our sins on Calvary. When we confess a sin to God, rather than pouring out His wrath upon us, He is reminded that His Son atoned for that sin and His sense of justice is satisfied. This should bring humility to us in knowing that God is not obligated to forgive us, but has chosen to do so for the sake of Jesus.
The second phase is removal of the cause of the offense. God tells us that He will remember our sins and iniquities no more. How does an infinite, all-knowing God simply “not remember”? God certainly is not forgetful, He chooses, by His grace to remove our offenses from before Him, casting them into the sea of forgetfulness. This is accomplished by the application of the blood of Christ to the offense. I will speak more of this in a future post in this series.
The third phase is removal of the stain of the offense. Sin leaves its mark upon us. It produces a vile stench in the nostrils of a holy God. It soils the garment of our self-righteousness, leaving us standing before God in nothing but filthy rags. When God forgives us, He removes not only the punishment and cause of the offense, but the residue of it as well. We all have garments that we refer to as “grubbies”. Those clothes that are so stained and soiled that they are only suitable to wear for the dirtiest of occasions. Do you realize that when God forgives you, your garments become white as snow? The Bible describes the righteousness of Christ being imputed unto us. I like to think of this as God taking my filthy rags of self-righteousness and placing them upon Christ on the cross, and taking the righteous robe of Christ and placing it upon my shoulders as I stand before Him. When we confess our sins to God, He forgives us, and there is nothing left to remind Him of our transgression.
This gives us the model of how we are to forgive. We will look into how we can apply this to forgiving others in the next few posts. In the meantime, the question for today is, “Have you received God’s forgiveness?”