Forgiveness: A Major Theme in Scripture

Martin Luther is said to have begun his morning devotions by praying the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed. When I decided to give it a try, the alarming request in the Lord’s Prayer to “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” put reponsibility on me. Two verses later Jesus said, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” This is a serious charge with eternal consequences.  

These verses put a direct correlation between our relationship with people and our relationship to God. Lest that sound like I can obtain eternal salvation by something I do, other scriptures make it clear that eternal life is only obtained through faith in what God has done through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

The two sides of the “forgiveness coin” are our need for forgiveness from God and our need to obey God’s commands to forgive those who trespass against us. We receive God’s complete and perfect forgiveness when we see our great sin debt to the holy eternal God and receive the free gift of forgiveness and life by trusting in the atonement work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His death, burial and resurrection become the substitute and payment of the penalty for sin for all who believe. God is perfectly just and righteous. He doesn’t change. His justice demands that the penalty for sin be paid. In His great love, He made a way to pay that penalty Himself to purchase a people from bondage to sin. Since the Fall, humans come into the world spiritually dead with no capacity for spiritual life. By the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, humans are born again to eternal life.  

The other side of the “forgiveness coin” is the believer’s relationship with other people. The Bible is God’s Word and it has numerous commands and instructions for how to live a life that is pleasing to God. We are living in a fallen world and each of us are flawed, weak, needy people. We sin against one another. We hurt one another deeply, yet God commands us to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). He expects us to obey that command. God’s forgiveness for us in Christ empowers us to pay the cost of forgiving others who hurt us. We need God’s mercy just as the people in our life need God’s mercy and our mercy.  

Tim Keller writes, “To forgive is to refuse to hold people liable for what they have done to us. That is God’s job, not ours (Romans 12:19). And if Jesus died to forgive you of your infinite debt to him, how can you not forgive the wrongdoer his finite debt to you (Matthew 18:21-35)?”1

There is great cost to not forgiving. We forfeit peace of mind, heart, and emotions. We remove ourselves from the place of intimacy and blessing from God. Unforgiveness invites bitterness, resentment, broken relationships and on and on. Life is like a garden where weeds (of sin) destroy its beauty, growth, productiveness, and purpose.  

It is God’s Word that gives us eyes to see ourselves and others honestly, leaving no room for pride and self-righteousness. The Bible is used by the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to worship and praise and rejoice in the greatness of God’s lavish grace and love.  

This is an enormous and important topic. Let us fellowship with one another by encouraging each other with scripture truth about forgiveness.

1Keller, Tim, and Kathy Keller. God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. New York: Penguin Random House, 2017