It is essential that as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ we have some understanding of truths such as redemption, propitiation, justification, reconciliation and forgiveness. This will surely give us an increased appreciation for the person and work of Christ and fortify us in our Christian pathway. In this and subsequent articles, we will attempt to gain some comprehension of the subject of forgiveness, considering the forgiveness of sinners, saints and spouses. May the spirit of forgiveness mark us as the people of God.
The offer of divine forgiveness is surely one of the sweetest truths in Scripture to grasp. For those who have read Pilgrim’s Progress, the account bodes well for the burdened sinner whose soul finds relief at the cross. Well might we sing,
“At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the Light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.”
One well remembers the experience of finding peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. His words, “Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mat 9:2), are some of the most precious words a person could ever receive.
What is forgiveness? First, we understand that forgiveness is necessary because a transgression has taken place. In this context, the sin is against God Himself – most serious. In writing to the Christians at Rome, Paul summed up humanity as altogether guilty (Rom 3:23), before stating that through redemption in Christ Jesus we are freely justified by God’s grace. How is it possible for us to enter the Most Holy Place and approach the very God of heaven with a righteous standing? God, being just, demanded the righteous sentence of divine judgment to be met. So at the cross, He set Christ forth as the means whereby He could display mercy toward us, but execute perfect justice against sin. Christ alone could exhaust the fire of God’s judgment, He who is the Perfect Man, the Spotless Sacrifice, the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.
God’s forgiveness is always based upon man’s repentance. The Scriptures declare that where there is “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Act 20:21), He can “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom 3:26).
The forgiveness that God dispenses is absolutely unique. The work of Christ at Calvary was twofold. It dealt not only with the standing we have in Adam, which subjected us to death, but also with the sins we have committed. This is prefigured for us on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest went into the Most Holy Place with blood (Lev 16). He dipped his finger in the blood and sprinkled it once upon the mercy seat on the east side. He again took the blood and with his finger sprinkled it seven times before the mercy seat. What was happening? He was bearing testimony to the complete work of Christ upon the cross.
“Eastward” deals with our standing in Adam (east is often a picture of mankind at a distance from God – cf. Gen 3:24; 4:16; 11:2; 13:11), and “before the mercy seat seven times” deals with our sins against God. God made provision for every person of Adam’s race. Some children have died in the womb, having never committed sins; others are too young to comprehend. And then there are the mentally disabled, but for them, our God looks upon the shed blood of Christ and accepts that their distance in Adam has been fully met. For those of us who have accepted Christ by faith, we thank God that our sins have been fully dealt with. We can say that Christ “bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1Pe 2:24).
Similarly, forgiveness is twofold. Our great debt has not only been paid in full by the death of Christ, lifting the person out of their sin, but the actual record is eternally cleared. The place of a resurrected Christ in glory bears testimony to reconciliation and fellowship with God Himself. God becomes our Father, and we enter His family as children, taking our place among the many sons, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Unsurprisingly, this dual truth can also be seen on the Day of Atonement. As the work of that day came to an end, one of the last things Aaron had to do was to “lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness” (Lev 16:21). In this we see that not only was the full responsibility for our sins (past, present and future) accounted for, but the very trace of them has been taken away forever. In Christ, our sins are cast behind the back of God (Isa 38:17), buried in the depths of the sea (Mic 7:19), blotted out (Isa 43:25), and remembered no more (Jer 31:34; Heb 10:17). Considering the thoughts about “eastward,” it is of no surprise that David writes, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psa 103:12). Beloved saint, you are forgiven; rest in the enjoyment of it!
The first time we read the word “forgive” in the Bible is in Genesis 50:17. Jacob has died and fear grips the brothers of Joseph. Imagining that Joseph will take this opportunity to exact vengeance upon them, they send messengers to him, pleading his forgiveness. Joseph wept. He simply repeated what he had told them 17 years earlier, as well as promising to nourish them and care for their little ones. In this we see the permanence of forgiveness.
Based upon the infinite sacrifice of Christ, our sin will never rise again to condemn us (Rom 8:31-39). In a world with secular counsellors diluting sin, downplaying guilt and teaching that we must forgive ourselves, it behoves us as the people of God to have some grasp of biblical forgiveness. Beloved saints, let us never treat this as some dry theoretical doctrine. It cost God His Son. Fourteen times in the Bible we read the statement, “Blessed is the man…” Only one of those beatitudes is repeated and, unsurprisingly, it is, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (cf. Psa 32:2; Rom 4:8).
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7).
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.