What God Says About Forgiveness
Have you ever been forgiven for something? I’m not talking about something of minor importance that, upon receiving forgiveness, didn’t really impact you, but something with serious emotional weight behind it. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom that I began to understand the concept of God’s forgiveness.
Being viewed as “a good, Christian boy” my entire life built up a pride in me that I didn’t even recognize. I put my faith in Jesus at eight years old and, from there, built a solid reputation for myself among all who knew me as a faithful follower of Jesus. Despite the fact I dealt with a plethora of sins that went unnoticed by the public due to the privacy of its nature, I was able to deceive most everybody, me included, into believing I was living life the Christ-like way.
Throughout college, I was almost always viewed as living above reproach, and most people would’ve eagerly recommended me for a staff role at their local church. I had as good of a reputation as I could’ve hoped for, and, oh boy, did I take pride in it. That same pride would soon wreak havoc on my marriage and my perception of who I was.
After college and one year into my marriage, while serving in a ministry internship position three states away from my bride, I quickly bonded with a female friend who also served at that church gathering. We quickly built a close friendship, which escalated into an unseen emotional affair. Though my wife had already warned me that my relationship with this friend was crossing into dangerous territory, she continued to trust me. I, however, deceived myself in my disregarded arrogance, which eventually led to kissing this woman who was not my wife.
The weight of my sin immediately manifested itself in guilt and shame, and I spiraled into a panic, followed by the beginnings of depression. Later that day, when I confessed to her what I had done, my wife’s heart — that she had entrusted to me for eight years — was absolutely shredded to pieces. I had never been so deeply repentant in my life. My sin had destroyed my marriage.
At that moment, she had every right to call it quits, release herself of me, and start anew; she had even told herself that’s what she would do.
After hours of my wife unleashing onto me a tiny portion of the emotional torment I had caused her, she graciously allowed me to come home and stay in the same house as her. Day after grueling day, she lamented my sinful actions and poured out an ocean’s worth of agony I had forcibly funneled into her heart. By the grace of God, she allowed me to see the pain I had caused her without trying to condemn or shame me.
Then, one day, she walked into our home, looked me in the eyes, and with the most compassionate, tear-filled look, she embraced me with her loving arms and said, “I forgive you.”
At that moment, I felt all my shame shed off, and a blanket of true love swaddle my naked soul. At that moment, there was a fullness of repentance in my heart in a way I had never felt before. At that moment, there was a withering away of pride that I couldn’t kill off by my own doing. At that moment, a true belief in reconciliation shifted from a superficial daydream to a deep, firm heartbeat of reality.
In that moment, there was freedom.
Since that day, the lens I read scripture through is a lens of utterly gracious, infinitely kind, unexplainably loving forgiveness — forgiveness only made possible by the grace of God. What I used to often see as boring ancient stories, I now see as life-transforming truths of God’s unmatchable kindness, patience, and faithfulness.
In Genesis 3, I see a God who had been betrayed by humanity for the first time, yet He sacrificed an animal He created and loved to clothe His betrayers in its hide. In Genesis 12–17, a covenant promised by God to a sinful and often unfaithful man named Abram that through him, God will bring about blessing to not only Abram’s nation but all the nations of the earth.
In Exodus 34:6–7, I see a God who, when describing His own character, says He is “a God merciful and gracious…forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…” and in Judges, a God who will stop at nothing to redirect His disobedient, wayward children back to Him and His loving will for them.
I see in Kings and Chronicles a God who will allow His people to see the consequences of their unfaithfulness to bring them to a realization that His gracious and merciful character is well worthy of their trust and obedience. In the Psalms, God is active and present in the lives of His creation and does not abandon them no matter how far we try to stray.
In Isaiah, I see a God who promises to reconcile all the nations to Himself through a future Servant who will do so by being rejected and killed by the very people He is there to restore. Then, in the Gospels, the Servant King named Jesus, who does all of what is listed above — perfectly.
I see in Romans that God’s kindness leads us to repentance and that we are to model that same approach with our enemies. In Revelation, I see the promise of an eternal Kingdom filled with people who have been forgiven and reconciled to God by God’s utterly gracious, infinitely kind, unexplainably loving forgiveness through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Lastly, as I look at Scripture, I see a plethora of specific stories and commands of forgiveness, such as Esau forgiving Jacob (Genesis 33), Joseph forgiving his brothers (Genesis 50), Paul pleading with Philemon to forgive Onesimus (Philemon), and the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21–35) all highlighting the vital necessity of those who have been forgiven to forgive others in the same way, and many others that reflect the gracious and forgiving nature of God.
Throughout this entire library of books that we call the Bible, I see one fundamental story of forgiveness that is made manifest in the promise and fulfillment of the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross answers the Old Testament questions of how the Lord will forgive His people while also not excusing their sins.
As Tim Keller wrote in his book Forgive,
“Most significantly of all, at the end of His life Jesus gives the church the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, with the cup being ‘My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26:28). Here finally is an answer to all the questions raised in the Old Testament, especially since God revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:7 saying that He was the God who is both ‘forgiving wickedness’ and yet at the same time ‘does not leave the guilty unpunished.’”
Jesus referred to Leviticus 19:17–18, which reads, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
So, according to this command, when we have been wronged, we are not to hate in our heart, seek revenge, nor bear a grudge. Instead, we are to reason frankly (rebuke) and love the person who wronged us. Keller continues, “The command to not hold a grudge is a clear command to forgive. Yet we see a remarkably nuanced approach to forgiveness. We are to forgive and to confront wrongdoers about their sin. Justice and mercy are seamlessly combined.”
My wife did this well. She graciously rebuked me by allowing me to see the pain my actions caused her; she loved me by allowing me to stay with her and granting me forgiveness. When one receives forgiveness for something they’ve done that carries serious emotional weight, the only response is overwhelming gratitude and an appreciation of forgiveness that causes them to hand out forgiveness to anyone they can.
As read in his essay “On Forgiveness,” C.S. Lewis reminds us, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
So, if you want to know What God Says About Forgiveness, the reality is found in Jesus’ work on the cross. The major thread woven through the entire Bible and embodied perfectly in the person and work of Jesus is the magisterial principle and command of forgiveness.