To forgive means to send away or dismiss. It is not merely ceasing to be angry or resentful, but a deliberate letting go or dismissal of a debt, offence, or sin. In the Bible, forgiveness has to do with the sending away of your sins and the remitting of debts.
Two verbs are translated as forgive in the New Testament. The first (aphiemi, 863) means to send away. (See entry for Matt 6:12.) The second (charizomai, 5483) means to show favor or kindness (see entry for Gal. 3:18) and can imply the forgiveness of debts (see entry for Luke 7:42). The noun that is translated as forgiveness (aphesis, 859) is sometimes translated as remission. It means a dismissal, pardon or release.
Prior to the cross, Jesus preached conditional forgiveness to people living under the old covenant. “If you forgive, God will forgive” (Matt. 6:14, Mark 11:25). However, as the messenger of the new covenant, he both proclaimed and demonstrated unconditional forgiveness (see entry for Luke 23:34; see also Matt. 9:2, 18:22, 27, Luke 7:42, 47, 11:4, 15:22-24, John 8:11).
On the cross the Lamb of God bore the sins of the whole world (John 1:29, 2 John 2:2). All your sins, past, present, and future, have been forgiven or carried away as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). On the night he rose from the dead, Jesus told the disciples to preach the remission of sins or the good news of unconditional forgiveness (see entry for Luke 24:47).
After the cross, the apostles described God’s forgiveness in the past tense and as a gift to receive (see entry for Acts 13:38; see also Acts 2:38, 5:31, 10:43, 13:39, 26:18, Rom. 4:7, 2 Cor. 5:19, Eph. 1:7, 4:32, Col. 1:14, 2:13, 3:13, Heb. 9:22, 10:18, 1 John 2:12).
Manmade religion says that if you turn from sin, confess and behave right God may forgive you, but the gospel of grace simply declares you have been forgiven on account of God’s great grace (Eph. 1:7, 1 John 2:12). You were not forgiven because you are good but because God is good and he longs to be good to you.
God’s forgiveness is complete
At the heart of the new covenant is the complete forgiveness of sins. God does not forgive in installments but he forgives all our iniquities (Ps. 103:3). Before he died, Jesus prophesied that all sins would be forgiven and on the cross that prophecy was fulfilled (Mark 3:28). All your sins and trespasses were done away with once and for all and no further sacrifice for sins remains (see entry for Heb. 9:12).
God’s forgiveness is forgetful
God is love and love keeps no record of wrongs. God is not a recorder of sins but a shredder (see entry for 2 Cor. 5:19). He has no videotapes recording your misdeeds. Having dealt with your sins, he chooses to remember them no more (Heb. 8:12, 10:17).
God’s forgiveness is unconditional
Just as the love of God is unconditional, so is his forgiveness. There is nothing in the new covenant to suggest you must examine yourself for sin or do things to merit his forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is not based on anything you have done, but is freely given in accordance with the riches his grace (see entry for Eph. 1:7).
God’s forgiveness is universal
On the cross the Lamb of God carried the sins of the whole world (see entry for 1 John 2:2; see also John 1:29, Heb. 7:27). The startling announcement of the gospel is that God holds nothing against you or anyone, and that all may freely come to his throne of grace to receive grace. Not everyone is saved, but everyone can be saved because Jesus has broken the prison of sin.
God’s forgiveness is a gift received by faith
There is nothing you can do to get God to forgive you because he already did. His forgiveness, like his grace, is a gift freely given. From his side, all sin has been dealt with and nothing remains to be done. Your part is to repent (change your unbelieving mind) and receive his forgiveness with thanksgiving (see entry for Acts 13:38).
- the Sermon on the Mount; see entry for Matt. 6:15
- the unforgivable sin; see entry for Matt 12:31
- confession of sins; see entry for 1 John 1:9
- the sin that leads to death; see entry for 1 John 5:16
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