A TRUE STORY. (The names have been altered for the sake of privacy and confidentiality).
“I choose to forgive him.” They may seem to be very simple words to say. But for Bernice it took more than twenty years to be able to say them. Her husband had walked out on the family when their children were still in Primary School and Bernice had been left to bring up the children while her husband began a life with another younger woman. He had subsequently failed to give any real support to Bernice or the children. There followed a hurtful divorce and Bernice was deeply wounded. She said that every time she thought of him (and it was often) she went through renewed pain. She feared every occasion when she might see him again.
Bernice had learned over those twenty years what was involved in forgiving someone. She knew she needed to forgive her husband for many, many things. He had never said “Sorry” to her and she felt that he did not deserve her forgiveness. In the teaching on forgiveness she had been challenged by the command in Col 3:13 “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” She saw that humans must forgive in the same way God has forgiven them, even though they didn’t deserve His forgiveness. She made a choice to forgive her husband and in the presence of a couple of friends declared those words, “I choose to forgive him.” She felt more at peace as a result.
Then came a day that she had formerly feared would come. A member of her family had died and she knew her ex-husband would be at the funeral. She would not be able to avoid him then or at the family get-together that would follow later. She knew she had chosen to forgive him and had declared that before God and before her friends. But would she have the same feelings she had previously had when she had met him? For example, the sick feeling in her stomach; her mouth dried so that she could barely speak; wanting to run away from his presence.
Bernice returned home from the funeral quite ecstatic. Why? She had seen her ex-husband and she suddenly felt to her surprise a sense of compassion for him. She was able to speak to him without becoming emotionally distraught as had happened in the past. She felt she had been released in some deep way. What joy she had to share that with her friends who had been praying for her.
In the teaching which follows we will be able to see some of the truths that brought such healing and release to Bernice as she acted on them.
We will look briefly at the different words used for forgiveness in the New Testament with some scriptural references to note the different shades of meaning for each word.
- We will read of the amazing grace of God in forgiving sins committed against Him and those committed against our fellow humans.
- We will also see His grace described as He forgives the people involved as well as forgiving the sins.
- We will be challenged (as Bernice was) by His command to show to others the forgiveness He offers to us.
Terms Used For Forgiveness. Words used in the New Testament are:-
1). Aphiemi. Verb. To forgive
2). Aphesis. Noun. Forgiveness, remission.
3). Apoluo. Verb. To loose or forgive
4). Charizomai. (From charis = grace.) Verb. To (freely) forgive
1). APHIEMI. TO FORGIVE
The word is used in many ways and can mean to send away, to let go or forgive, to allow, to depart or leave. In the following passages we see its use in terms of forgiveness.
i). Receiving Forgiveness From God Necessitates Extending It To Others. Mat 6:12-15, Mk 11:25,26, Lk 11:2-4
Jesus taught His followers to pray, Mat 6:12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Lk 11:4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us ….”
He taught them to extend forgiveness to others having received it themselves. (Mat 6:14) For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
He taught them the need to forgive others as a means of receiving forgiveness for themselves. Mk 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
ii). A Paralysed Man Is Forgiven And Healed By Jesus. Mat 9:2-8, Mark 2:3-12, Luke 5:18-26
Faith in Christ is needed to receive forgiveness from Him. (Mat 9:2) And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
(Mat 9:5) For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6) But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he then said to the paralytic–“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
iii). Forgiveness Not Sought May Be Withheld. (In the teaching on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). Mat 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29, Lk 12:10. This will be covered more fully in a later chapter).
Mt 12:31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32) And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
(NOTE:- Other verses on this theme. Mk 3:28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter. 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness (the noun, aphesis) , but is guilty of an eternal sin. Lk 12:10) And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.)
iv). In The Parable Of The Unforgiving Servant. Mt 18:21-35
Jesus showed in this parable that forgiveness involved three things, a choice to be merciful; cancelling the debt owed; letting the sinner go free. Mat 18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Mat 18:27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
Mat 18:32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
Mat 18:35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
(We will deal more fully with this important passage in a later chapter.)
v). In The Story Of The “Sinful” Woman Who Anointed Jesus. Lk 7:37-50,
Forgiveness is not easy to understand as it is based on God’s grace or unmerited favour. Those who heard Jesus forgive a sinful woman did not understand the grace of God. How could a religious teacher forgive someone so wicked, was the thought in their minds. Again what right did He have to forgive someone like her? They failed to see that forgiveness brings release to those held captive to sin’s power and that the woman loved much because she had been forgiven of so much. Lk 7:47) Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”48) And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49) Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
vi). Forgiving Those Who Keep On Sinning And Asking For Forgiveness Luke 17:3-4.
Repentance is the key to receiving forgiveness. When fellow humans ask for forgiveness we need to offer it to them without first ensuring that they are absolutely sincere about their repentance. Lk 17:3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
vii). Forgiving Those Who Don’t Ask For Forgiveness. Lk 23:34
Jesus asked His Heavenly Father to forgive those who were ill-treating Him even while they were in the midst of doing so. They were ignorant that they were crucifying the Jewish Messiah. His words may have later impacted on some of those who heard Him ask for their greatest need, the need of forgiveness from God. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.”
viii). Unforgiven Sin Remains Unforgiven. (Jn 20:23)
We will look at this verse later but suffice it to say at this point that God’s people have the authority to declare sins forgiven when people confess them in repentance. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” (NRSV 23 … if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”)
ix). Repentance And Asking God For Forgiveness Are Needed To Receive Forgiveness. (Acts 8:22)
Peter said to Simon the former magician. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. Simon needed to recognise that what he desired was wicked in the sight of God, so he needed not only to repent of his attitude but to ask God to forgive him.
x). The Blessing Of Forgiveness. Rom 4:7. (Quoted from Ps 32:1)
Paul argued in Rom 4 that a right standing with God came from putting one’s trust in Jesus and not from the works one did. He quoted the words of Psalm 32 where David declares the blessing coming from being forgiven by God. “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered..”
xi). Confession Of Sin Leads To Forgiveness.
In these verses both James and John wrote of the forgiveness available to believers when they turned from sin and believed in Christ. Jas 5:15, And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
1Jn 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1Jn 2:12, I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
xii). Forgiveness Is Available Only To Those Who Have Faith In Christ. Acts 10:43, 13:38, 26:18
Peter in Acts 10:43 recognised that Jesus had fulfilled the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. He thus made forgiveness available to the people of God. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
In Acts 13:38, Paul preached Jesus as the Messiah who brought forgiveness. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything …
In Acts 26:18, Paul told of God’s commission for him to minister among the Gentiles. to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Faith leads to repentance and brings forgiveness AND a place among God’s people.
2). APHESIS. Forgiveness
1) The word means release from bondage or imprisonment, or the removal of punishment for sin.
2) Can also mean forgiveness or pardon of sins (letting them go). It may involve the remission of the penalty.
i). John The Baptist Commanded People To Repent In Order To Be Forgiven.
John was preparing the way for the coming Messiah. Part of the preparation was commanding the people to repent of their sins. Mk 1:4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. AND Lk 3:3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
ii). John The Baptist Was To Prepare The Way For Jesus Through Whom People Could Be Forgiven. Lk 1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
iii). Jesus Taught That Forgiveness Was Not Available To Those Who Blasphemed Against The Holy Spirit. (Mk 3:29) but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”– (NOTE:- See also 1 (iii) above under Mt 12:31-32.)
iv). Jesus Saw His Prophesied Death As The Central Feature Of The New Covenant. His death would make forgiveness available to those who would receive it in Him. (Mat 26:28) for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
v). The Risen Jesus Commissioned His Disciples To Witness To Him Throughout The World. They were to proclaim Him as the One who by His Death and Resurrection had made forgiveness available for those who would believe in Him. (Lk 24:47) and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
vi). The Apostles Commanded People To Repent Of Sin In Order To Be Forgiven.
Peter. Acts 2:38. And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. AND Acts 5:31, God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
vii). Peter Preached That Jesus Fulfilled The Role Of The Messiah. (Forgiveness was available in Him). He would die to make forgiveness available. Forgiveness became theirs as they put their faith in Him. (Act 10:43) To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” AND Act 13:38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything 39 from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
viii). Paul, In His Defence Before King Agrippa, Shared How God Had Commissioned Him. He was to preach Christ to the Gentiles so that they might turn to God and be forgiven. (Acts 26:18) to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
ix). Paul wrote of Jesus as the one in whom forgiveness for sins was to be found. Christ had come to redeem His people from sin by His sacrifice of Himself. The resulting forgiveness was to be found in Him and in no other. Eph 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, AND Col 1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
x). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews showed that forgiveness for sins required a blood sacrifice. Heb 9:22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. That sacrifice was the death of Jesus as the ONE sacrifice to take away sins for ever. No further sacrifice was needed, Heb 10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
3). APOLUŌ. To loose, forgive
This is translated in several ways in the New Testament. It is used thus:- to set free, let go, dismiss, loose, send away, divorce, depart, forgive.
It is used in Lk 6.37 for “forgive”, Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.
4). CHARIZOMAI. To give freely, to forgive
This word is the verb form of the noun, “charis” meaning grace. It means to act in a gracious way towards someone, to be kind, to give freely, to bestow, to pardon or forgive.
i). It Is Used In Terms Of Forgiving The Sins Or Debts Committed Against Another Person
Lk 7:42-43. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
ii). It Is Used Of Forgiving People Who Sinned Against Another Person
Eph 4:32. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Col 3:13. bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive
iii). It Is Used Of Forgiving The People And The Sins Of Which They Were Guilty
2Cor 2:10. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ,
2Cor 12:13. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!
Col 2:13. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
We noted at the beginning of the chapter that we would read of
- The amazing grace of God in forgiving sins committed against Him and those committed against our fellow humans.
- His grace described as He forgives the people involved as well as forgiving the sins.
- His command to show to others the forgiveness He offers to us.
We have seen in the above teaching that forgiveness may be described in different ways.
The verb “apheimi” (= to forgive) and the Noun “aphesis” (= forgiveness) both speak of forgiveness as the taking away of sin and the release from its penalty and power by trusting in the death of Christ on the cross.
The verb “apoluō” in its context in Lk 7:37 stressed the need to have a forgiving heart rather than a condemning attitude to other people. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. The person who is able to forgive is the one who will be forgiven. They have already experienced the grace of God in becoming open and willing to forgive.
The wonderful aspect of the word “charizomai” is in seeing the forgiveness as freely given to the penitent believer in Christ. Having experienced the grace of God in Christ they are able to be motivated and empowered to forgive. In fact they can forgive others in the same way God forgave His people, freely and absolutely. They as people are forgiven and set free. Their sins are forgiven and taken away as well.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
1). Do you think it is presumptuous for Christians to say that forgiveness from God is to be found only through faith in Christ? Give at least two reasons for your answer.
2). What is the basis of God’s forgiveness towards those who turn to Him for forgiveness? Why can He forgive people?
3). In the light of the above teaching what would you say to someone who has become a Christian believer but now feels guilty because they later committed some obvious sin?
4). Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished?” What does that saying have to do with our understanding and experience of forgiveness today?
Blog No.210. Jim Holbeck. Posted (Good) Friday 14th April 2017