The topic of forgiveness has been discussed at length across the globe, throughout history, and among several different religions and philosophies. However, there is one specific belief system in which the concept of forgiveness encompasses a depth and magnitude unlike any other in all of the world and that is Biblical Christianity.
The concept of forgiveness is mentioned in the bible at least 75 times throughout the Old and New Testaments. Depending on which translation you use, you may see words like “remission” used in place of the word “forgiveness.”
There are different themes in the Word concerning this concept of forgiveness but they are tied together. There is first the concept of God’s forgiveness towards us, as sinners; and then there is the concept of us, sinners, forgiving fellow sinners. The immensity of this biblical concept is extremely difficult for the human mind to grasp; which must mean that it is meant for our spirits to grasp instead.
Perhaps one of the most powerful verses on forgiveness that exists is the following which combines both of the aforementioned concepts in one passage:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 4:32-5:2
Is there anything more convicting than bringing to remembrance how vast the debt we have been forgiven of by God Himself? Truly, if we think about it, we naturally forget many sins committed against us, and we also forget many sins we, ourselves, have committed.
We may utter “I’m sorry” or receive one in return, and then we carry on and go about our lives. It seems as though for some things, we are quick and able to forgive without much effort on our part. However, we can all think of a few wounds that have been inflicted upon us throughout our lives, that left a scar, and still maintain a quality of soreness in our spirit when it is remembered.
Why is it that some sins are more difficult for us to forgive than others? When I think of the above Ephesians verse, I am comforted and convicted – comforted knowing that Christ has forgiven all of my sins – not just the ones that myself or others have long forgotten about and were seemingly non-impactful, but all of them.
Even the sins that I can still feel the spiritual pain from if I sit and think about it long enough. When I ponder the magnitude of forgiveness that Christ has offered us, I cannot help but cry out to him for his help in enabling me to offer the same level of forgiveness to others and perhaps, even to myself.
I firmly believe that if we all walked around with little screens above our heads which broadcasted our sins for all to see there is not one of us who would choose to befriend another human being. Can you imagine? We would all walk around reading each other’s signs and gasping “You thought WHAT?!” and “I can’t believe you’re capable of doing such things! Wow! Not going near that one!”
We would all instantly become ugly and unattractive to each other; we would be fully known by one another not just for things that we have done, said, or thought but also for all that we didn’t say, do, or think when we morally should have.
Isn’t it fascinating that if we truly knew each other inside and out – fully known – none of us would likely care to be in the company of anyone else! Who could we trust? We would be able to see that there is no one who is fully trustworthy perhaps. And yet, think of this: God does see all of these sins. He does fully know us. He sees every thought, every intention, every part of us and yet, he still chose to die for us.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:7-8
Christ sees all of us and He still chooses to be in relationship with all of us. How can we possibly grasp this concept? I do not believe we can on this side of heaven. But we can certainly be grateful for it and do our best to emulate it since it has been graciously given to us by our loving Father.
Let us take a look at the vastness of forgiveness as illustrated through the living Word, concerning God’s ability to forgive us, in spite of his ability to see all of us:
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. – Psalm 32:1-2
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. – Psalm 103:8-12
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man of his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. – Isaiah 55:6-7
God reminds us in this next verse, that when we are mindful of all that he has forgiven us of, we are more grateful and more loving people, knowing that we could not possibly cover the expense of our sins on our own:
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little. Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” – Luke 7:47-48
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble. – Prov. 28:13-14
The tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. – Luke 18:13-14
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore, you are feared. – Psalm 130:3-4
How can one not feel immense gratitude and humility when reflecting upon the following?
He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13-14
Now that we have gotten a glimpse of what the Lord has done for us and on our behalf, let us see what it is that he asks of us to do in response:
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:12
If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive you sins. – Matthew 6:14-15
If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him. – Luke 17:3-4
Notice that God adds the stipulation of the one who has sinned to repent and seek forgiveness for their sins; just as we must repent and ask for forgiveness of our sins as we approach God’s throne of grace. Does this mean that we should not forgive someone who sees no error in their ways?
What if people have sinned against us but they are either unaware of it, or they are unapologetic about it? God is big enough to handle the condition of their heart. It is our responsibility to recognize that God has the freedom to work on the condition of our heart. I often tell my clients that forgiveness benefits and blesses them; it is not necessarily an act that has to occur for the benefit of the one who has transgressed against us.
There are some people who will never ask us to forgive them, and perhaps they have truly done things to us that we believe are unforgivable. Forgiveness is absolutely supernatural. It does not come to us in our human nature; humanity seeks vengeance, holds grudges, and desires retaliation and revenge. Eve and Adam forever altered our DNA.
Think about how naturally sinning comes to us – do we have to teach little adorable children to steal? To lie? Do we teach them to hit their siblings or allow their attitudes to get the best of them? No. We have to teach them not to sin – not to lie, not to steal, not to do that which comes naturally to them. You see, it is in our DNA to be bad. We can have no goodness in us apart from that which God enables us to do or be.
If we are to forgive others, it is the same Godly grace and mercy that enables us to offer forgiveness, as it is the power of God to enable us to seek forgiveness from Him. Please note that nowhere in the Bible is forgiveness shown to be an approval or condoning of sins. So too, we do not need to approve of or condone the wrongs that others have done against us, in order to forgive them. Forgiveness is not at all synonymous with approval. Rather, it is seemingly synonymous with gratitude and humility.
It is a recognition of all that we are capable of and a realization that the same sinful nature runs through every other human’s DNA. It is taking account of all that God has wiped from our slate, knowing that we do not deserve any bit of it. Our sins are not approved of by God; they are not condoned in the slightest and yet, He forgives us of the sin.
Why do we tend to think that forgiveness of other humans’ sins against us is somehow condoning or approving of the sin? They are not one and the same to God. You can forgive people without them ever knowing about it. It does something for us when we make the decision to stop carrying that burden of unforgiveness around our neck like a noose.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30
It is incredible that God is able to carry the burden of all of our sins, and yet because he embodies forgiveness itself and is the giver of it – he is never weighed down by all of it. So too, he does not want us to be weighed down by unforgiveness either. I believe he wants us to pass those hurts on to him because he is the one who is able to handle them effectively when we cannot fathom doing so in our own strength.
If you are struggling with forgiving others, yourself, or you have unforgiveness in your heart towards God himself please get in touch with a Seattle Christian Counselor so that we can pray with you and help you get to the root this pain, so that you too may carry a lighter burden.
“Let Go and Be Free”, Courtesy of Darius Bashar, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Open Hands”, Courtesy of Milada Vigerova, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; Grainsacks”, Courtesy of ideadad, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Felix Koutchinski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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