There is very little teaching about forgiveness and the things I have heard and read usually leave more questions than answers. On top of that, there are a lot of confusing and contradictory explanations. So it is my objective to give evidence of what the Bible has to say on the subject.
Christians think they have the Biblical perspective on forgiveness, but what I will show you may be contrary to popular mainstream thinking. I pray that this will not cause offence, as we look at "what saith the scriptures".
I learned this the hard way through personal experience. My hope is that you will understand without having to do it the hard way.
The importance of scripture cannot be emphasized enough, and I will let you know when something concerning this study on forgiveness is my own view. Deuteronomy 18:21-22, "And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptously: thou shalt not be afraid of him."
A prophet's job was to pass on to the people what the Lord wanted them to know. It was not the amount of things that a prophet got right that counted, but the test was that if anything was ever wrong then they would know that it was not God speaking.
The same is true today but more specifically with the scripture we have. People come up with all sorts of beliefs and doctrines which they claim are the real thing but like the Bereans in Acts 17, we need to test all things with scripture. If anything else we find is contrary to what we "think we know", presumably from other scripture, then we need to return to scripture and search out what God is really saying.
Our first assumptions and popular beliefs about forgiveness may not always be true. Paul tells us in I Thesselonians 5:21 to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." Likewise John says in I John 4:1 to "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."
That is the responsibility of each individual believer. Even if we have been deceived we are still responsible for what we believe. This may challenge some popular thinking.
I FIX THINGS
I am a mechanic. I fix things. It is in my nature to make things better again. In this disposable or throw-away society, people like me are becoming obsolete. Mechanics are becoming parts replacemen, and being told what to do by a computer. In the past a competent mechanic developed his diagnostic ability by applying logic and methodology, which then becomes experience.
Romans 5:3-5 explains this is how it works, "....knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed..."
Experience, of course, goes a long way when encountering problems yet to happen. In my opinion computers have disadvantaged us by removing the need to think through difficulties.
Even though I fix things I am not very creative. I have invented things that have made certain processes or functions work better but I have not created anything new from an idea. From this I am more apt to teach than preach. But God is both creator and fixer. We see his creation all around us ---a perfectly thought through design.
Perhaps too perfect in that He created us with a will to beable to freely return to Him the love that He lavishes on us. Even though we turned that into our downfall, He took measures to fix the situation and to restore the relationship through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this disposable age people tend to walk away from sitations that are uncomfortable or not self serving. Relationships suffer and become expendable. In the mechanical world I have trouble throwing anything away; I can see potential in things others discard. Things have to be pretty much destroyed before I'll let it go. Sometimes new parts can increase the longevity.
This logic of mine has led me to a better understanding of the importance to God for restoring and maintaining relationships, hence the need for forgiveness.
Relationships are important to God. Matthew 5:23-24 tells us, "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
As well in Matthew 6:14-15, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
More instruction in Mark 12:30-31, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart...soul...mind...strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is...Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself..."
John 15:12-13, "....That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
II Corinthians 5:18-19 speaks about reconciliation being our ministry, "All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation....."
Love for one another is not optional as in I John 4:20-21, "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? This commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also".
From verses like these it is easy to see that relationships are at the top of God's priorities.
PURPOSE OF FORGIVENESS
Much is written in scripture about love and forgiveness. From God's point of view, the potential is there for all relationships to be restored. We learn that all sins are forgivable in Matthew 12:31, "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men."
So, you need to ask two questions:
*****What is forgiveness?
*****What is it's purpose?
DEFINITION: Forgiveness (as a noun) is living in the state of which the offense is "just as if it never happened." This is not technically the dictionary definition but the best description I can give, based on scripture.
PURPOSE: To resore the relationship.
All of this is what God does for us, and for us to have fellowship with him, we have to do it for all those around us whom we will most likely offend at some time.
Jesus had many things to say about forgiving each other, but how does that work? Paul teaches in Ephesus 4:32 and Colossians 3:13, that we are to forgive the same way that God forgave us. How did God forgive us? We know there are several aspects to our salvation: let's look at them.(1)
We are to believe in Jesus Christ---John 3:16(2
) We are to confess Him as Lord and Saviour---Romans 10:9(3)
We know it is not
of works, but a gift---Ephesians 2:8-9(4)
We are to confess our sins---I John 1:9(5)
Repentance is required. It was the message of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-8 and of Jesus himself in Matthew 4:17. Peter is quite clear that the 2 options are repent or perish in II Peter 3:9.
From all this we learn that we receive new life when God grants forgiveness. Paul attests to this in II Corinthians 5:17 and Galations 6:15. We become new creations through salvation. We know from Matthew 12:31 that God is not conditional about what sins are forgivable, but we do see that the forgiveness he grants is ALWAYS conditional. Pride is the only thing preventing us from doing the steps mentioned above.
Forgiveness is the essence of what Christianity is all about, but I believe most true believers don't really understand it. Christians have built a whole doctrine around verses like Matthew 6:14-15 and Luke 6:37 - "forgive and ye shall be forgiven".
This doctrine implies that we are to forgive everyone for everything all the time regardless of whether or not the offender is repentant.
This is called unconditional forgiveness and is regarded as scriptural truth by many. The doctrine is expanded to say that God's forgiveness to us is conditional on our forgiving others (from Matthew 6:14-15) and that God will only forgive us in the same way or amount that we forgive others (from Matthew 6:12 the Lord's prayer).
What is wrong with that doctrine?
Several things, so let's work backwards:
(1)The problem from Matthew 6:12, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
If God only forgives us in the same way or amount that we forgive others then we will fall short. As sinful beings we cannot fully forgive. It is impossible for our wills to be able to create complete restoration.
I John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." This purifying happens when He forgives. We cannot do what only God can do. If we think we can forgive as completely as God forgives, we are fools.
Conversely, if we say that God will only forgive as good as we do, then we are devaluing God, making Him out to be something less than He is. He has never done anything half-heartedly. Again, we are fools if we reduce God to our level.
David says in Psalms 103:12, "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us."
Isaiah 1:18 tells us, "....though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Old and New Testaments alike confirm God's completeness in forgiving and cleansing us.
So what does Matthew 6:12 mean?
The word "as" has been made out to mean "like" or "in the same way". The correct usage should be "at the same time" or "concurrently" e.g.: "As you are washing the dishes would you also dry them and put them away." So with that in mind, we are to ask for God's continuing forgiveness while at the same time we are to be forgiving to others.
Since as yet there is no end to sin, we will have to continue in this process to maintain relationships. We could not be saved if this doctrine were true.
(2)The problem from Matthew 6:14-15, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
If God's forgiving of us was dependent on our forgiving others, we would never experience His forgiveness. We can never get it perfect and God would wait an eternity for us to make it good enough to forgive us. No sin can exist in God's holy presence.
God's forgiveness is conditional, but not on our forgiving. His conditions are the 5 points mentioned earlier for salvation. God is always ready, willing and able to forgive, but He does not always forgive.
Not forgiving others is one of those sins that we commit even after being saved and is one of the things that we need to deal with case by case with God, and perhaps others. Eternal rewards suffer when Believers do not deal with continuing sin in their lives. A toll is taken on our relationship with God and those we have sinned against. We saw that in Matthew 5:23-24, I Corinthians 11:17-32, and again in Hebrews 6:6 and 10:26-29.
Building a doctrine on "Forgive and you will be forgiven" is a doctrine of WORKS. Our forgiveness is conditional, but not by any merit on our part. We can't earn God's forgiveness. This a statement made in Luke 6:37 and it is just that --- a statment, not a doctrine. It is a statement about what our Christian life should be; about what should be exhibited in it.
If we want to experience the fullness of a relationship with God, then we have to learn to be forgiving. We are never exempt from being forgiving, but if we want to understand the doctrine of forgiveness, then we need to study the teachings on forgiving.
In Luke 17:3-4 Jesus describes the process like this, "...If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him: and if he repent, forgive him."
FOUR STEPS TO FORGIVENESS
The steps are:
1. Identify the sin or offence. This is something the Israelites should have been familiar with because this pattern was recorded in Leviticus chapters 4 and 5.
2. Confront the offender. This would include what was wrong, why it was wrong and the feelings produced in the one offended. This also is shown in Leviticus.
3. Repentance on the part of the offender. Also seen in Leviticus.
4. The offended one is to forgive. In Leviticus a sacrifice was made to restore the sinner.
This fits with Jesus' teaching on conflict resolution in Matthew 18, and with Paul's teachings. If we are to forgive the way God forgives (see Ephesiams 4:32 & Colossians 3:13) then we have to include repentance.
So by the law of non-contratiction, we cannot believe that forgiveness is both conditional on repentance and also unconditional. Both cannot be true.
So if repentance is a requirement of being forgiven, then what exactly is Jesus saying when He says "Forgive and thou shalt be forgiven"? We already saw that it is a model for how we should live the Christian life. But, beyond that He really wanted to stress the importance of being forgiving.
I think the problem was that people then, as now, have a stubborn streak in them in that they don't want to forgive. Hanging on to a hurt, even if the offender is repentant, gives the offended one a sense of power or control. People don't want to give that up. It is their hurt and giving it up would seem like the offender is gaining a second victory!
What Jesus was trying to teach was that repentance paves the way for reconciliation, in that the offender understands and responds to the feelings of the one he has hurt, and that the offended one can see justice done without revenge. This softens the heart of the offended one.
The forgiving spirit should already be evident, but repentance makes forgiving possible.
Neither the act of forgiving nor the act of repenting can unilaterally accomplish forgiveness. Just as it is a sin to not repent, it is also a sin to not forgive a repentant person.
THE TWO SPIRITS REQUIRED
A forgiving spirit and a repentant spirit both have to come together to accomplish forgiveness.
If as an offended person you are forgiving, or as an offender you are repentant, then you have fullfilled your obligation before God. For example, Jesus showed His forgiving spirit when He was crucified. He forgave the repentant thief, but the others He turned over to God.
He said in Luke 23:34 "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." He did not desire retribution for His own satisfaction. In fact, I can't recall any instance when He ever used His divine power for Himself.
We also have the example of Stephen in Acts 7:60, when he was stoned to death. "Lord lay not this sin to their charge." An omnipotent, outraged God would not have to forgive them but both Jesus and Stephen asked that God would do so. From scripture we know that these sins are forgivable and that God will not turn anyone away (see John 6:37).
Scripture does not record that these people were forgiven but I do believe that any and all of them that turnede to God in repentance at some time in their lives, are saved.
In either case (with people), the offender not repenting or the offended one not forgiving, the relationship has not been restored so we know that forgiveness has not been accomplished.
The instance of the offended one not forgiving would not happen with God -- He never turns anyone away.
In the case of the offender repenting but not being humanly forgiven, we see judgment shifting from the offender to the offended one.
We see in the eternal sense that forgiveness translates directly into life. Jesus told Nicodemus that "Ye must be born again". Just as God decreed how physical life begins with the union of two things, the egg and the sperm, eternal life begins with the union of two things also.
God's forgiving spirit meets with our repentant spirit and forgiveness is accomplished, new life begins. Just as life is something only God can give, I believe that forgiveness is also something only God can grant. I don't think forgiveness is something we possess to give to others.
What we have to nurture in ourselves is the forgiving spirit. In Philippians 2:5 Paul said, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." We can learn to be "Christlike" in our forgiving, but unlike Jesus, forgiveness is not something we possess to bestow on others.
BECAUSE OF THAT I BELIEVE IT IS WRONG TO ACTUALLY FORGIVE SOMEONE WHO IS NOT REPENTANT,(showing no desire to change).
If "forgiveness" is something that can be bestowed on people who are not repentant then we have removed altogether the responsibility for sin and everyone will go to heaven. We know that this is not so because Peter says that God is "...not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." II Peter 3:9.
To be forgiven for sin which one is not willing to take responsibility for is part of the deception Satan wants the world to believe.
Just forgive, forgive, forgive; everyone is going to heaven. Wrong thinking!
This was Satan's objective in the Garden of Eden. I think he fully intended Adam and Eve to eat from the 'tree of life' after eating from the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil'. If he could have accomplished that, mankind would have lived on eternally in a sinful state. Heaven would have been acquired without having to deal with sin.
Jesus alludes to this in John 10:1, "...He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." None of us deserve to go to heaven but we have all been made worthy by the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
To receive eternal life by circumvventing the cross makes a mockery of Christ's death. While salvation is a free gift, it cannot be had without us humbling ourselves before God and acknowledging our sin. We cannot be forgiven without us being repentant.
There is the necessity of us understanding our sin and why it is wrong. We need to understand how God wants to have a relationship with us and for us to feel how deeply our sin has hurt Him. Most of us don't initially understand all this, but God moves an immeasurable distance to us when we accept responsibility for our sin. Because we are to forgive the same way in which we have been forgiven, we need to apply that to all of our relationships.
We need to be forgiving in our demeanor, but not forgive until the offender takes responsibility and repents of his offence.
The offender needs to step inside of the body of the one he has hurt and really see and feel the pain he has caused. It is only when he can understand this that he can be truly repentant.
If we were to study Leviticus, we would see that this was God's objective in teaching the children of Israel. Also noteworthy, that God required both a sin offering and a guilt offering. Sin comes with a price and an offering had to be made to make things right with God.
We see several examples in scripture of people (like King Saul) who acknowledged their sin but did not repent or change their ways. What we see in Leviticus is that not only is there an acknowledgment of sin and the resultant price that has to be paid, but also that there is guilt involved. The guilt does not necessarily go away just because the price of the sin has been paid.
The removal of the guilt has to do with repentance. While paying the price of sin is important, changing your ways is also important. Paying for sin has no value if the intention is to just keep on doing those same wrong things. The guilt should make us want to live better. How many times did Jesus say "Go and sin no more?"
The writer of Hebrews has some dire warnings to Christians who deliberately go on sinning. He says in Hebrews 6:6, "If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame." Again, they have insulted the Spirit of grace offered on the cross.
Repentance is an essential part of forgiveness, but the New Age movement has deceived Christians into removing it from not only daily living, but also from the Gospel. On the other side, the New Age movement has brought about unconditional forgiveness.....and Christians have bought into it.
There is no support in scripture for unconditional forgiveness.
When God forgives, He forgives unconditionally but forgiveness is always conditional. God has to see repentance before he will forgive, but once He has forgiven, the sin is gone forever---that is the unconditional part: He never brings it up again as we are so apt to do!
The misunderstanding of forgiveness has cause many Christians (and even Christian leaders) to go astray. Brian McLaren, a prominent leader in the emergent church movement, made this statement in regard to the atoning sacrifice of Christ:
God is "unwilling to do what He requires of us --- that is, to forgive unconditionally." That same misunderstanding has messed up the thinking of a lot of Christians over the years and is probably central to people like McLaren reinventing Christianity to their own liking.
It seems that they somehow came to the realization that forgiveness from God is conditional after having believed that it was unconditional. Coupling to it the belief that God requires us to forgive unconditionally makes for two different forgiveness doctrines, hence the idea that God requires of us something that He Himself will not do.
IT MAKES GOD LOOK WEAK AND FALLIBLE!
That is not my God....the God of the Bible. My Bible tells me to forgive the same way that God forgives us; there is only one true doctrine about forgiveness.
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