Biblical Forgiveness


Living without forgiveness is unacceptable
A matter of concern that many Christians are having today has to do with the abundance of unresolved conflicts among the Lord’s people. God is dishonoured and saints are divided and separated from one another, sometimes acting as though they are not followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is an awful indictment against the Lord’s people as we walk our pilgrim pathway. What can be done? The good news is that the problem can be taken care of by following our Lord and His holy word. The bad news is that many of the problems will go unresolved because of disobedience. We must remember that God has given to us His perfect, holy word. How thoughtful and wise of Him to supply us with a wonderful blueprint. The need will only be met as we are obedient to His divine instructions about being restored to fellowship with Himself and each other.

The Holy Spirit is key to the work of forgiveness

The Holy Spirit of God who is the divine Author of the Bible indwells every child of God and He will, when we are willing, by His loving ministry, see to it that these matters are put right. He longs to see unity among saints. See these various portions of scripture for confirmation of this truth, Rom. 12. 16; 1 Cor. 1. 10; 2 Cor. 13. 11; Phil. 1. 27; 2. 2; 1 Pet. 3. 8. It was the passion of our Lord to introduce His followers to the truth relating to the Holy Spirit. It is in His discourse found in John 14, 15 and 16, that we get great insight about the Spirit’s Person and work. One thing we can be sure of – that the Holy Spirit, when grieved or quenched, will not allow the believer to be at peace until wrong matters are put right, see Eph. 4. 30; 1 Thess. 5. 19.

Working on the foundations that lead to forgiveness

In light of these things, it would be well if each of us read David’s prayer in Psalm 139. 23, 24. If we are willing to search our own hearts, surely the Lord will bring to our attention those things that are necessary to try and resolve continuing conflicts. Our Lord, in Matthew 5. 23, 24 and again in 18. 15-17, outlines what we must do if we would please Him.

By way of an illustration let us consider that brother ‘A’ has sinned against brother ‘B’. To resolve this problem, it is necessary for brother A to leave any gift or service which he desires to offer to the Lord before the altar, or wherever he would seek to begin his spiritual exercise. First, he must be reconciled to brother B, and then he can satisfy his desire to offer the gift to the Lord. However, brother B has a solemn responsibility as well. He must go alone to brother A and tell him his fault. The proverb puts it so well when it insists that, ‘Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful’, Prov. 27. 5, 6. These responsibilities are certainly contrary to human nature. The flesh is never ready to bow to the authority of God and His word. Such, however, is necessary if we would please our Lord and reap the benefits of deep and satisfying relationships with one another. If both brothers A and B are obedient to the words of the Lord Jesus, they will likely meet half way between.

Someone has said that the three most difficult words to utter are ‘I was wrong’. When we are sensitive to the Spirit’s ministry, and it is one of His prime activities to bring about conviction, it will not be that difficult at all. He will lead us to repent when we are wrong or have wronged someone. Rom, 2. 4. The goodness of God will lead us to repentance. Also, godly sorrow will energize or work repentance in our lives, see 2 Cor. 7. 10.

But what does forgiveness really mean?

We have briefly considered some of the ‘mechanics’ of this subject without focusing directly on our key word, ‘forgiveness’. To forgive someone for sinning against us we will need to see that the person is repentant. Our Lord said in Luke 17. 3, 4 that we are to rebuke the one who sinned against us. The condition for forgiveness is repentance, nothing less and nothing more. The word repent translates a word from the original language with the basic meaning of ‘a change of mind’. Intellectually, we must know something is wrong or we would never change our mind. Emotionally, we must feel something is wrong. The apostle Paul put it plainly when he said that godly sorrow ‘worketh repentance’. Finally, our will must be involved. We must be willing to change our mind. Once repentance has had it’s perfect work, a confession of the wrong becomes easier. At that point, the person who was sinned against can freely forgive the erring one and feel safe in doing so. He senses the sorrow of the one who hurt him and can now forgive. To forgive means we completely dismiss the issue. The word translated ‘forgive’ in the passage just cited, means ‘to send away from’ and if it is sent away, it should not come up again. It would be evil action on our part to say we forgive someone their wrongdoing and then bring it up again.

We find another word in the original language used to indicate forgiveness. The apostle Paul clearly states in Colossians 3. 13 that we are to forgive one another. The word ‘forgiving’ translates the same word that is, in its root form, rendered ‘grace’ in most places. We are to grace one another. In that verse we also see forbearing as our responsibility. The forbearing of one another is suffering one another. The word translated ‘forbear’ is used in the original language fifteen times and seems to present the idea of lovingly putting up with one another. How wise of our Lord to put these two truths together, forbearing and forgiving.

The final responsibility for forgiveness lies with us

A final word of caution can be found when our Lord said in that if we ‘forgive not men their trespasses, neither will our Father forgive our trespasses’, Mat. 6. 15. To allow us to do this our hearts need to be conditioned by the awesome sacrifice and sufferings that our Lord went through in order to forgive us. Therefore, having been thus conditioned by an intense look at Him on Calvary, we should find it that much easier to forgive one another. Our forgiveness of each other is to be tempered by those beautiful words found in Ephesians 4. 32 where Paul says, ‘Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you’. The kind of love that our Lord commanded us to have for one another can do no less. May God help us always to be ready to forgive each other. However, if an erring one refuses to respond, we cannot offer to him our forgiveness. It would hinder his recovery and would not be for his good. Nevertheless, let us always be prepared to forgive one another for our Lord’s sake. Forgiveness should always be there as an option even when repentence is not forthcoming.


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