Forgiveness Involves More than “I Forgive You.”
Jesus said, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (Matthew 18:35, emphasis added)
Forgiveness involves more than us merely mumbling, “I forgive you.” We see clear evidence of this by looking at God’s character.
1) God’s Forgiveness is backed by love
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17, emphasis added) The whole reason God sent Jesus for us to have Eternal forgiveness, was because of His love for us (1 John 4:10). We can easily accept that love, but we must do more than accept it – we must embrace it as a pattern for our lives. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34, emphasis added) God’s love was manifested in His forgiveness for us. Our love for God should be manifested in our forgiveness towards others (John 14:15).
2) God’s forgiveness always involves a sacrifice
In the Levitical law, God required that an animal be sacrificed (Leviticus 4-7). He would look down from heaven, see the sacrifice, and forgive (Leviticus 4:31). In an action of love that only God can understand, He gave the ultimate sacrifice – His own Son – for our eternal forgiveness (John 3:16). To forgive God’s way, it involves a sacrifice; most often, a personal sacrifice.
3) God never “grades” sin – He just forgives
Sacrifices covered multiple “types” of sin in the Levitical law. There was no offense that could not be forgiven via sacrifice (Leviticus 4:26, 4:35, 5:10, 6:7, 19:22, Number 14:19, 15:28). When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He died for “small” sins of deceit, murmuring, covetousness, gossip, and idle thoughts as well as the “big” sins of dishonor, rebellion, murder, theft, fornication, adultery, and unfaithfulness. Christ died to forgive all sins (Acts 5:31, Acts 13:38, Acts 26:18, Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14). If we, through God’s grace, are to embrace Christ-like forgiveness, it means that we must be willing to forgive any type of sin that others commit: lying, thefts, deceit, rebellion, murder, and adultery.
4) God forgives fully without expecting repay
When God sees true repentance, He forgives (1 Kings 8:47-50, Acts 3:19, Acts 5:31, Acts 8:22). He does not hold grudges, wait to see if the person will “prove themselves worthy of forgiveness,” or “get even.” Those are all human actions. As Christians, we are commanded, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4) Nothing is said of conditional forgiveness (“Forgive if . . .”). Actually, we are commanded to not retaliate or get even (Proverbs 24:29, Romans 12:19, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, 1 Peter 3:9).
5) God does not “just forgive”
God’s forgiveness reaches far beyond the words, “You are forgiven.” When God forgives, He also heals (2 Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 103:3), cleanses (1 John 1:9), covers (Psalm 85:2) and forgets (Jeremiah 31:34). Following His example, we should be ready to restore and heal the relationships – not “turn a cold shoulder.” We should be willing to cover the sins of others – not gossip about them and unearth them for others to see.
With these five points (a deeper study on the character of God’s forgiveness would reveal many more), we see that there are some things that we cannot do with forgiveness:
~Forgive and stay angry (Ecclesiastes 7:9, Ephesians 4:26)
~Forgive and continually bring up the case (Psalm 85:2)
~Forgive and hate our brother (1 John 2:9-12, 1 John 3:15-16)
~Forgive and gossip about our brother (Leviticus 19:16, Proverbs 11:13)
~Forgive and retaliate/get even (Matthew 5:39-42, Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 3:9)
~Forgive and hold a grudge (Leviticus 19:18, Proverbs 24:29, Romans 12:19, James 5:9)
To forgive like Christ forgives us seems difficult if not impossible. But we can be assured that in any trouble we face, we can go to Christ, Who knows exactly how to help us. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
With every problem, God gives a solution. Our case is not a “singular exception” but rather something that all men struggle with. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
To forgive is not an easy path, but for the believer, it is the right path. We must daily choose whether or not we will follow the right path that God has set before us.