Forgiveness: The Saints and Forgiveness

Distinguishing Forgiveness

As we continue with the vast subject of forgiveness, a necessary requirement is to note the distinction between the judicial forgiveness of a sinner with God, and the familial forgiveness of saints with their heavenly Father. First, we must be abundantly clear that eternal justification for the believer in Christ is not jeopardised by the fact that there is definite consequence for deliberate, unrepentant sin in our lives as Christians.[1] While we have peace with God and rest our heads upon the pillow with the conscious knowledge that we shall never come into eternal condemnation, each of us must face the reality that there is not only the corrective hand of a loving Father in this life, but the Judgment Seat of Christ awaits, where our Christian lives will be assessed in relation to God (1Co 3), to others (Rom 14), and to self (2Co 5), exposing even the motive behind every action (1Co 4:5). No wonder the apostle Paul would write to the Thessalonians and exhort them to live in such a manner, that their “whole spirit [Godward] and soul [manward] and body [selfward] be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Th 5:23).[2]

That we can still sin may come as a disappointment or even discouragement to a new believer, especially one not raised in a Christian home. John teaches that “if we [Christians] say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he [God the Father] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:8-9). This links directly to our Lord’s ministry in the upper room when He washed the disciples’ feet, communicating that those saved need the continual cleansing from defilement of sin in their lives. Likewise, it was a prerequisite for the Israelite priest, and the reason why each time he entered the court of the tabernacle, he must first visit the laver. How gracious of God to provide cleansing and forgiveness in the lives of His children. What infinite blessing to know that “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2:1).

Dispensing Forgiveness

As noted previously, forgiveness for the sinner is dispensed upon the grounds of repentance. Likewise for believers, our Lord states in Luke 17:3-4, “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.” This seemed to perplex the disciples with their limited view of the subject. In Matthew 18:21, Peter wanted to know if seven times was sufficient for the limit of forgiveness to be extended to a fellow Christian. Maybe Peter felt quite smug about this suggestion; it was, after all, a generous increase on the teaching of the Rabbis, who stated that three times was the limit. What was our Lord’s reply? “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven [i.e., 490 times]” (v22). Is there an allusion here by our Lord to the 490 years that would run their course before Israel would repent and find forgiveness? And to think that the dispensation of grace would be inserted, where millions more would experience this forgiveness. How typical of our God is this overflowing grace.

Demonstrating Forgiveness

Is this generous spirit reflected in our willingness to forgive? On one occasion, a believer went to be reconciled to his brother, only to be told, “I’ll see you at the Judgment Seat of Christ.” Both men are now in heaven and their conflict was never resolved on earth. Such an attitude should not prevail among Christians. One must continue reading in Matthew 18 to discover what God thinks. Using a parable, our Lord graphically illustrates that any who have tasted the forgiveness of God should be quick to bestow the same. Alas, the opposite was displayed by the unforgiving servant, only to find that mercy was removed for him in judgment. Our Lord concludes with a solemn warning: “Likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (v35).

We are reminded of James 2:12-13: “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy.” Matthew 6:14 and Mark 11:25-26 reiterate the same principle. Unwillingness to forgive a repentant believer mars fellowship we enjoy with our Father and makes a mockery of our prayer life. May 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 be burned into our souls! We can have spiritual gift, a grasp of sacred subjects, a giving that superabounds, yet without true love it profits nothing.

Displaying Forgiveness

What’s the answer? Being ready to forgive should be the attitude of every believer. In the darkest moment of our Lord’s life there flowed out a heart of true compassion. Nailed unjustly to a criminal’s cross, disfigured from the brutal treatment of those who hated Him without a cause, He cried, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luk 23:34). We understand that those guilty of murdering the Prince of Life were not automatically forgiven of their sins. Our Lord was displaying the spirit of forgiveness, which ultimately would be enjoyed by many of them when Peter preached, acknowledging His words, “I know that you acted in ignorance …. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Act 3:17-19 ESV).

The moment we place a limit on forgiveness or fail in our readiness to forgive, we’ve lost sight of how we stand in the presence of God. The psalmist wrote, “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Psa 130:3-4). God’s grace is immense. For the sinner, where sin abounded, grace superabounded. For the saint, there is a fountain flowing with continual forgiveness, readily available. Our God gives and forgives; often we get and forget. How frequently have we experienced the gracious forgiveness of our Heavenly Father?

Is there a necessity in your life to extend the hand of forgiveness? Is there a need for you personally to make things right because of sin? Leave your gift, go quickly, make it right first with God, then with others, and let us live to face the Bema with confidence. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day” (2Ti 4:7-8).

[1] E.g. Act 5:1-10; 1Co 11:29-34; Heb 12; 2Jn:8; Rev 3:11.

[2] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.