Forgiveness (Going Deeper)

Look at all the assumptions in the explanation of forgiveness: Forgiveness assumes someone acted wrongly toward another and that the offended person has a right to something as payment to make peace with the offense and the offender.

Acted Wrongly

Forgiveness begins by agreeing that wrongs (sins) exist and that actions have consequences.  Forgiveness would be unnecessary and even unreasonable in a world of relative truth where the dominant belief is:  Maybe it’s wrong for you but it’s not for me.  In such a world, forgiveness cannot exist and nothing needs to be forgiven…because nothing is truly wrong…and no one else is impacted by our actions.

We don’t live our lives that way, though.  We believe that others can hurt us and it’s wrong.  These are offenses that carry consequences.  We point to a standard of right and wrong going beyond personal preference—a legal standard grounded in a shared belief system.  Culturally, we’ve concluded that some things are evil.

Our lives have order to them because a world of absolute truth is our reality.  Right and wrong, good and evil exist.  Maybe we’re consistent in how we apply it or maybe we’re hypocrites.  Our actions typically betray whether we believe sins exist and must be paid for.  We hold tightly to this belief when someone has wronged us.  Someone did something wrong (sin), it has consequences beyond that individual, and therefore the sin must be paid for in order for justice to be done.

Sin is nothing new.  Right and wrong, good and evil are shown in the Bible dating back to Genesis.  Here we see Creation and all that is good.  However, in the Garden of Eden, the problem of evil arises.  It’s been part of human existence since the first sin by Adam and Eve.  The sin was a break in relationship–a sin against God who had commanded His creatures to obey regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Disobedience carried consequences (Genesis 3:7-19).

The Offended Has a Right to Payment

Anytime we hold out for an apology, demand a refund, or desire restitution, we demonstrate that we believe the offended party has a right to something—from the offender—in return for the wrong against us.  Holding a grudge is nothing more than holding forgiveness hostage until the ransom payment is made by the one who wronged us.  Many of us cling tightly to our grudges and wait to extract the full vengeance upon the offender.

Forgiveness, however, remembers that God is the first offended party in every relational transaction and therefore, He has the right to be repaid first.  In Romans 12:19, we read, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

Forgiveness is Costly

Let’s face it—forgiveness is costly.  It costs one person his right to harbor ill feelings and the other person anything from pride to money to his very life in payment as restitution.  When we want to settle the score now, we need to stop and honestly assess what that means.  Have we remembered the wrongs we have done?  Consider this: If it’s “game over,” the sins we have committed against an infinite and good God will cost more than we can pay.

In our own lives, it’s easy to simplify it to “an eye for an eye” (as seen in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21) as a code for exact reciprocity.  You hurt me.  I hurt you in the same way to the same degree.  It is debated among scholars whether this reciprocity was intended to be a guide for preventing excessive and escalating punishment…or a mirror to show us how we can never repay our debts to God whom we offend with every sin.

Forgiveness is costly when it comes to receiving God’s forgiveness.  In Hebrews 9:22, the Bible says, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” 

Payment Makes Peace

The fact that peace can be made through payment is often overlooked.  Some wrongs are never addressed, get buried deep in our souls and surface as bitterness, anger, hatred, or meanness.  While some offenses can be made right with a simple apology, the deeper offenses have a higher cost for peace.  Wrongs that are more damaging are harder to overlook, and they cost more to reconcile. 

We have sinned against an infinite God…and all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23).  Our sins are deep and wide. This is why it required Jesus’ death to make peace for us.  As fully God, Jesus’ life had infinite value and could provide infinite restitution.  This is the only way for us to have forgiveness and peace with God.  The Bible records “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).


This brings us to a final thought on forgiveness:  pardon.  This is the aspect of forgiveness that releases us from paying the full cost of restitution personally.  A pardon means the offended party offers forgiveness without receiving payment directly from the offender for the wrongs.  Pardons are more foreign to us because we like to see wrongs paid in full…until we consider our own wrongs.

On a strictly human plane, pardons are hard to come by.  Our pride and dignity are on the line and it can be hard to release others (perhaps out of selfishness or fear of appearing to be a doormat).  Pardons assume that payment eventually comes from another place.  We can forgive enemies from our heart even if they never apologize.  We can consider it paid in full because we handed the offense over to Jesus.  Any offense against us as Christians is really an offense against Christ in us.  If His pardon extends to all those who receive Him (including ourselves), then we can consider any debt against us to be paid in full because Jesus paid it.

From a Kingdom perspective, we are each offenders in our own way.  Yet, because of what Jesus did, we are freed from the consequences of our wrongs.  We can receive His forgiveness as if we’d paid it.  This is pardon—reconciliation and forgiveness—that we didn’t earn or buy.  We receive it by faith because God is merciful to us through the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

It sounds so easy–simply receiving!  Yet, it can be remarkably hard to live out.  This will be explored on the next page as we go deeper into Forgiveness and ask “How Can I Forgive?”

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Categories Articles | Tags: | Posted on March 4, 2011

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  1. by Teri

    On March 8, 2011


    This is so beautiful…I went on the site to try to figure out how to subscribe to the lenten devotionals and found this gem…thanks for blessing my day. So many people drown in depression and I believe most of it is due to lack of forgiveness, along with fear of looking at our own part in all of this…so hard. You are so wise and your words are so healing. Keep up this vital ministry!! Love, Teri

  2. by seminarygal

    On March 10, 2011

    Thank you, Teri. You’re absolutely right: Forgiveness is hard. Lately I’ve been pondering the idea of forgiving oneself and whether that’s even possible. If our actual sins are also sins against God, it seems to me that we cannot forgive ourselves. God’s forgiveness comes first–and it comes by way of pardon at Jesus’ expense. But knowing that God has forgiven us, why do we even question whether we will forgive ourselves?

    Holding a grudge against ourselves (i.e. forgiveness held hostage in order to self-inflict maximal damage) seems even more wrong. For those of us prone to recalling every shortcoming, oh great, there’s more for me to feel guilty about! I wonder if unconfessed sin may be less of an issue for some of us than RE-confessed sin?

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