Mark Twain once said, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Many in the world do not understand the subject of forgiveness since they fail to see what God says in His word about such. Some think that if we only pray to God concerning sin, no matter what the circumstances, God automatically and immediately forgives. Some think that we should forgive others even if they refuse to admit guilt, express remorse or show any signs of repentance. What are we to make of this confusing subject?
Let us first define this word in the way the Bible defines it, which it does employing five different terms:
• It uses a financial term called “ remission ” (Matt. 26:28). Concerning sin, man is indebted to God (Matt. 6:12), but in forgiveness, the blood of Jesus remits the guilt of past sins and forwards a zero balance.
• It uses a judicial term called “ justification ” (Rom. 3:24-26). Concerning sin, man stands guilty (James 2:10), but in forgiveness, the blood of Jesus removes our guilt and releases us from the penalty of sin.
• It uses a ceremonial term called “ purification ” (Titus 2:14). Concerning sin, our souls are defiled (Jer. 2:23), but in forgiveness, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from the filth of iniquity (1 John 1:7; Isa. 1:18).
• It uses a geographic term called “ sanctification ” (Heb. 10:29). Concerning sin, we stand in the realm of the world and all who are friends to it (James 4:4), but in forgiveness, the blood of Jesus cuts us loose and sets us apart for holy service in His church (Rom. 12:1-2).
• It uses a social term called “ reconciliation ” (Rom. 5:10). Concerning sin, we are separated from God (Isa. 59:1-2), but in forgiveness, the blood of Jesus satisfies the justice of God and allows us to draw near to Him in fellowship (Heb. 8:10; James 4:8).
Now, there is actually a great deal of difference in demonstrating a forgiving spirit and obtaining forgiveness, because forgiveness is a two-way street. Let us now distinguish the two. The Bible declares that we must be people who are willing to forgive (Matt. 5:44-45; 6:14-15; Mark 11:25; Eph. 4:32; Matt. 18:21-35). This was the demonstration by example of our Lord on Calvary in Luke 23:34: “ Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do .” Nevertheless, unless the perpetrator recognizes fault and expresses proper remorse, one cannot obtain forgiveness. Since we have offended God by our sins, we must obtain His forgiveness based upon His terms. The Bible is replete with passages that inform us of the need of developing a broken and contrite spirit (Ps. 34:18; 51:17). The New Testament declares thus for the child of God: “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness ” (1 John 1:9). Peter told the anguished ones who crucified the Lord, “ Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins …” (Acts 2:38) for this reason—while Jesus demonstrated a forgiving spirit, they still needed to indicate proper steps of recognition and remorse for what they did. With both of these, they were able to obtain forgiveness from God, which serves as a wonderful pattern for us in forgiving others also.