Forgiveness (Part 1)
True Friendship – Article Series
1. True Friendship (Part 1)
2. True Friendship (Part 2)
3. Friendship is hard
4. Why Friendship matters
5. What is distinctive about Christian Friends
6. Forgiveness (Part 1)
7. Forgiveness (Part 2)
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. ~ Romans 5:6-11 (NIV)
We’re about to undertake a massive task. Over the next two posts I hope to outline a theologically grounded, clear, and practical picture of forgiveness. In doing so, we will be seeking to answer the question: ‘why would I want to fix a broken relationship, and how can I do it?’ As a side point, we will also seek to answer the question of ‘when is it appropriate to end a friendship?’ These are personal questions and I understand that there may be a lot of past and present relationships that are at the forefront of your mind as you read. I can’t possibly cover all scenarios and situations, so I ask you to prayerfully read and seek to understand the picture presented here, and consider how this may apply to your relationships (in particular, ones with your friends).
In this first post I’m going to set up some theological truths, and in the second post we’ll see how these things all work themselves out. Some of you may want to read the second post before coming back to see where all this stuff comes from in the first post. Either way, these two posts are meant to be read together.
The Father’s Heart
The Christian Scriptures reveal to us the God who is kind and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and mercy (Exodus 34:6-7). Although we have sinned against Him, He still shows amazing grace to those who absolutely do not deserve it. When we have sinned against God, we have wronged Him, and a barrier is introduced between us. This barrier is both the sin and the consequence of sin.
The sin itself is the rebellion against God and the wrong that we have done, meaning that we are enemies of God. Paul, writing in Colossians 1:21, writes that this means we are alienated from God and enemies with Him because of our evil behaviour. But we also have the consequence of the sin itself. The consequence of sin is what we deserve because of it. And what we deserve is judgement. Against a holy, just, and righteous God what our actions deserve is condemnation (Romans 1:18-19, 2:5-10). And that applies to all of us.
But God, in Jesus Christ, loved the world and gave us His one and only Son so that we could have eternal life (John 3:16). We have previously spoken in post 4 about how ‘eternal life’ is about a relationship with God and not about living forever. And throughout the Scriptures the way in which this is achieved is through the ‘forgiveness of sins’. What can we say about this forgiveness?
Colossians 1:13-14 speaks of being brought into the kingdom of the Son who the Father loves as redemption, and links this to the forgiveness of sins. The reason why is that the price that the Father paid, in Jesus, was the price of our sins in order to purchase us back to Himself from the domain of darkness. Jesus Christ, by dying on the Cross for our sins, suffered the consequences for our sins and in doing so redeemed us. So we see here that the forgiveness of sins involves a transferal. This is expanded upon in Colossians 2:13-14 where Paul writes how the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s death is the cancelling of our debt to God. Additionally, in Hebrews 10:17-18 it says that the forgiveness of the wickedness of God’s people involves no longer remembering sin, and no longer requiring a sacrifice for sin.
So we see this big picture of God’s act in forgiving sins. It is the cancelling of the consequence of the sin. But it is also costly. It necessitated a payment for the sin. That’s what the death of Christ achieved. His blood shed on the cross is the payment for the sin that we have committed (Romans 3:23-25, 1 John 2:1-2, Hebrews 9:27-29). What a gift! What a sacrifice! The Father does not need to forgive us. But He graciously chooses to do so. This is why we call God our Saviour. Yes, we are saved from sin. Yes, we are saved from a useless life. Yes, we are saved from the dominion of darkness. But ultimately, we are saved from from His wrath. And we can be saved because the Father’s heart is compassionate, gracious, and forgiving.
Ok…so what’s next?
But if you’re following along so far, you may be wondering: what about the sin itself? Sure, the consequence may be cancelled because of Christ’s death, but what does God do about the sin in us? Is that just left there? And here’s another question on top of that: how do I receive this forgiveness? These two questions are actually linked. Let’s set this up.
Firstly, the way in which we receive the forgiveness of God is to repent and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We see this in Acts 2:38 where Peter calls on the people to repent of their sins and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, which is a public expression of faith. This was also the call that Jesus made in Mark 1:15, and consistent with the testimony of the New Testament. To receive the forgiveness of sins we must repent and place our faith in Jesus Christ. Repentance involves 3 things:
- Confession of a wrong
- Condemnation of a wrong
- Turning away from a wrong
All three aspects are crucial to seeing a full model of what repentance does and what it aims to achieve (we can see all aspects by looking at 2 Corinthians 7:2-16 and Psalm 51). Also, these 3 aspects are not easily distinguished. For example, in 1 John 1:5-10 we see John citing confession as the condition to receiving forgiveness.
Secondly, in the act of repenting and placing our faith in Jesus, a spiritual reality takes place where we die to sin and are given life in Jesus. We see this in Galatians 2:15-21, where Paul writes how faith in Christ means that we are crucified with Him and die to self. In other words, becoming a Christian means that we actually die to our old life and are given a new life. Thus we see that God in granting us forgiveness doesn’t condone our sin but He condemns it.
But more so, we also see that God is not just after a removal of the consequence of sin, but He also brings about the removal of sin itself from our lives. He does this by causing us to die to sin in the sense that we are no longer bound by it or have to follow it (Romans 6:1-14). He also does this by steadily transforming us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, meaning that we are putting the remaining sin in our lives to death as we grow in righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:18, Galatians 5:13-26).
So repentance and faith is necessary to receiving the forgiveness of sins. And in receiving this forgiveness God also deals with the sin in our life itself so that the consequences and reality of sin have been, and are being, solved.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Here’s the stark reality, though: although the message of the Gospel, and the offer of forgiveness, is given to all people, unless they repent and believe it they will not actually be forgiven. God desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-6) and the offer of Christ is given to all. But only those who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus will actually experience the forgiveness itself. Those who do not repent and trust in Jesus will still be judged.
The heart of the Father and the love shown to us, seen ultimately in Jesus, is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). And there’s a reason for that. God’s love for us is desiring to reach out and draw us back to Him. In other words, God is seeking to reconcile us to Him. The only way we can do that is if we turn away from our sins and turn back to God Himself.
It is for this reason that the forgiveness of sins is tied to reconciliation in Scripture. For example, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 shows this explicitly. The forgiveness of sins leads to reconciliation. That is its goal. We want to be forgiven by God so that we can be in relationship with Him. This is a free gift that we do not need to work for – we just need to receive it. And remember that in receiving the forgiveness of sins both the reality of sin and the consequences of sin in us are dealt with so there is no longer anything that can keep us from a perfect relationship with God. Romans 5:6-11 is also an exemplary passage that shows us God’s heart. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, so that His love would be demonstrated and we could be reconciled to God.
Be like God
In Ephesians 4:31-5:1-2 Paul writes that just as God has acted towards us in forgiving us, we are to do likewise in being kind and compassionate to others. This is the explicit link between the heart of the Father and what our attitude should be towards forgiveness. That’s why it is so important to examine what the Scriptures say about how God forgives. It is that horizontal dimension that we will be tackling in the next post.
But to finish up in this post I want to emphasise the importance of Paul’s command as shown in the teaching of Jesus. Jesus takes forgiveness so seriously that He says that if you are trying to offer some worship or service to God, but are unreconciled with a brother or sister, then go and be reconciled to them before you even think about worship (Matthew 5:21-26). Just think about that – to give an example of how this plays out, Jesus is saying that if there is someone who you are estranged from, seek out reconciliation before even thinking about leading Youth Group, or preaching that sermon, or praising His name.
In Matthew 6:9-15 we see that our forgiveness of other people’s sins must be a reality if we truly have been forgiven by God. If we don’t forgive others then we may not actually be forgiven by God because God’s grace should be the model by which we extend grace to others. In a very real sense, then, if we don’t show forgiveness then God will not forgive us because rampant and unbridled unforgiveness is foreign to the Christian life.
Finally, in Luke 17:3-6 we see Jesus’ incredible call to demonstrate such grace in forgiveness that we should forgive whenever someone truly repents for what they have done to us. We must, because we have been completely forgiven by God, and have experienced amazing grace and infinite love. This is hard, isn’t it? Like the apostles we may cry out to Jesus ‘increase our faith!’
But as we struggle and think through forgiveness, never forget the amazing love that God has first shown us in Christ Jesus when we didn’t deserve it, and when we didn’t want it. Praise be to God for His kindness. May He grant us the grace to follow in His example.