Forgiveness

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?”

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16 responses to “Forgiveness

  1. Great thoughts, Gordon. I look forward to reading more about this from you.

    I have often wondered if there is a difference between our forgiving of people and actual reconciliation with them. In other words, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him, but did that mean they were then eternally saved? (Or, an even more difficult question is who the “them” actually is to whom Jesus refers.)

    Anyway, unless one comes to us and asks for forgiveness, can reconciliation take place? Or is it possible to forgive them while there is still separation and a break in the fellowship?

    steve 🙂

  2. Good questions, Steve. (You do have a way of making people think.)

    I think that perhaps there is a slight difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. It is possible for a person to forgive one who doesn’t ask for it. For reconciliation to take place, “it takes two”. Our Calvinist friends might have a different take on that, but I believe that confession and repentance is a willful act.

    As far as those who crucified Jesus, the Bible does not state that they sought forgiveness (with perhaps the exception of the centurion). I tend to think that this was Jesus asking the Father to refrain from the immediate judgment of those who were persecuting Him.

    To be perfectly honest, that answer is still a work in progress. That question came up in the recent conversations I had on forgiveness and I am still studying that, but that answer seems to me to be the most credible at this point.

    What do you think?

  3. John Marshall is attributed with the quote,

    “A pardon is a slip of paper, the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon.”

    Forgiveness is as much or more about God’s sanctifying work in me (and I reap the benefits) as it is about releasing the other person from their debt.

    Great thoughts. If I hadn’t just finished a series on forgiveness, this would make good sermon material!

  4. Gordon, I think you and I are quite in agreement on this one.

    The reason I brought it up is because, as you said, I believe there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. There are some individuals with whom I am not in fellowship because there was a break in the relationship, and reconciliation has never taken place.

    Others have looked at that and assumed that I must not have forgiven the person. However, with that person not being open to reconciliation, I’m not sure what other options I have to me! I believe in my heart that I hold no ill will toward them (no grudge), and have forgiven them for what part they played in the breach. But the breach remains since, as you said, “it takes two” to reconcile. Perhaps they haven’t forgiven me? I dunno. Without knowing what it is they are offended about, I don’t know how to ask for forgiveness! But I have made attempts to get together, even just to talk, and those attempts have not been returned.

    Again, good thoughts. I don’t always intentionally try to make you think!! 🙂 I just think out loud and you get the benefit (hopefully) of that sometimes.

    steve 🙂

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  6. Gordon, this is a good post.

    I have a question regarding God forgetting our sin. (Maybe you will cover it later… if so, just tell me to be patient)

    People tell me (pastors, Bible teachers, etc) that at the judgment seat of Christ (the judgment for believers) that Christ is going to judge our works. They say that this includes sin too. Everything we have done in our Christian life will be on display and go before the fire to be burnt up as wood, hay, and stubble, or remain as gold silver, or precious stones.

    They say this is where “every idle word” will be judged and so on and so forth.

    Well, my problem is this. If our sins were already judged on the cross, why the need to judge them again? Is God really going to bring up all of our sins in this life at the judgement seat? Has He forgotten them or has He not?

  7. Cameron, that is a great quote from Marshall.

    Steve, I appreciate you making me think. That is good iron sharpening there, brother.

    Janice, glad you liked it.

    Kristi, that is a great question and I think you are already on track for the right answer. The fact is our sins were judged in Christ on Calvary. Nowhere does the Bible say we will be judged for our sins before God.

    Believers will be judged as to the motive and quality of their works. (I Cor. 3) Unbelievers will be judged as to whether or not their names are in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 20)

    Having said that, I do believe that unconfessed sin in the life of a believer will affect their fellowship with God (I John 1) and can certainly bring correction from God. (Hebrews 12)

  8. I did like this post! 🙂

  9. Very insightful. I look forward to reading more!

  10. Gordon,

    Thanks for this post. This is very good. It made me think of one of my favorite passages of the Scripture:

    Colossians 2:13-14
    When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

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  12. Great thoughts brother and I look forward to reading your perspective. 😉

  13. I liked this post and i do appreciate the questions and answers from Steve and Kristi and Cameron and Bro. Gordon because my questions were similar ! I feel better already ! THANKS RON .

  14. Hi Gordon-

    Great post, as usual. I preached a sermon a few years back on this topic. You can find it at…

    http://sermoncentral.com/sermon.asp?SermonID=38943&ContributorID=7526

    If anyone finds it useful, you have my permission to utilize it in part or in its entirety.

  15. Yes, I have recieved God’s forgiveness, and the reason I’m sure of that is because I’ve learned to truly forgive others!

    We have what we call “Bread breaking” at church every once in a while, and what you do is come up to the basket and get a hunk of bread and take it to someone in the congregation that there needs to be forgiveness and/or reconciliation with. You share the bread and let the past fall behind.

    It’s many times, very powerful emotionally!

  16. Thanks everyone for your thoughts on this. Forgiveness can be a sensitive subject, and I am thankful for God’s grace which is with all of us, enabling us to forgive others.

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