What is Forgiveness and Why Does it Matter?

Forgiveness involves both God’s grace and mercy.  His grace is an unmerited (undeserved) favor toward us and His mercy, born of His compassion, entails an offered reprieve from eternal suffering.  However, before we attempt to define “forgiveness,” we must first understand what it is not.

Forgiveness is not merely accepting someone’s apology for slight or hurt, nor can someone be forced to receive another’s forgiveness.  Rather, forgiveness is a construct of and issues from a grander source: Love.  To “forgive” means to “remit, or cancel” one’s sins.  Hebrews 9:22 declares that God, Who is perfectly just, cannot forgive without atonement (restitution), for “without shedding of blood there is no remission for sins.”  The atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross makes forgiveness possible in that it speaks both “for us” and “against us.”  For unless we allow the cross to reveal the full severity of our sin, it will not take that sin from us.

“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).

Who needs forgiveness and who forgives?

All of humanity needs forgiveness for our disobedience reaching all the way back to the beginning in Eden, for “through one man (Adam) sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).  But through the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to us (Acts 13:38-39).

The rift in our relationship with God requires reconciliation with Him, and only God made this possible Who reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… and He has committed us to the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).  This shows that as much as we need forgiveness we also are required to forgive others just as our Father in heaven has forgiven us (Matt. 6:14-15).  Relational reconciliation in love is the reason for the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

What does it mean that I am forgiven?

Though referenced in the previous question, the idea that we have been given the “ministry and message of reconciliation” is further expounded by the apostle Paul when he declares that we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us!  He goes on to proclaim that through Christ’s atonement we can become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:20-21), for we have redemption through His blood, and the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).

Forgiveness of one’s sins truly involves sharing in Christ’s death and only then sharing in His righteousness: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

How do I know that I am forgiven?

Jesus said, “But when the Helper [Holy Spirit] comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26).

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent” (John 6:29).

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, for anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

“It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins… But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God… by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:4, 11-14).

Clearly, faith and belief are necessary to be forgiven and thus reconciled to God as one comprehends the tragedy of human fallenness and the power of the Cross.  But there are two sides to forgiveness and reconciliation: There is one who offers, and there is one who either receives or rejects the offer.  In no way, however, does rejection invalidate the substance of the offer.  To explain this further, another question can be asked:

Where does forgiveness take place?

Though acknowledged and continually avowed in the mind per choice, forgiveness takes place in the heart, aided by the Holy Spirit.  This applies to forgiveness both received and given.  And outward evidences surely assist in confirming sincerity.  “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10).

True faith in Christ will result in repentance as a change of conviction toward sin (particularly one’s own sin) flourishes in response to the renewing of one’s heart and mind (1 Tim. 1:5). This progression is part of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ that we must choose to faithfully pursue lest we fall from our own steadfast discipleship (2 Peter 3:17-18).

Jesus Christ died to sin once for all (Rom. 6:10).  Yet, the actual canceling/remission of an individual’s sin is conditional upon the individual’s acceptance of the Cross.  Thus, there is no forgiveness of those who insist on trying to pay their own sin-debt and earn their way into God’s favor (John 3:36).  Thankfully, those who are forgiven have Christ’s “payment” applied to them, a most gracious Gift that advances from offered to accepted upon heartfelt cooperation with a loving Savior.

…forgiveness is a construct of and issues from a grander source : Love

-Jon Scott Birch


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