Forgiveness is a timeless principle across all ages. You might remember the story of Esau forgiving Jacob after he stole his birthright. When they met again in Gen. 33, Esau had 400 men with him, ready to destroy him. But when he saw his brother bow to him repeatedly in humility, Esau forgave him. Gen 33:4 tells us, “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.”
We find in their story that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily exonerate the perpetrator, but it liberates the victim imprisoned in a cage of bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness sets that prisoner free, and that prisoner is you.
Or as my MAD BAD fellow podcaster, Mike Moriarty, loves to say, “Forgiveness is like having a hole in your roof. It just keeps raining on you until you get it fixed.” LOL
Did you know that Paul wrote of forgiveness only 9 times in his epistles? I couldn’t help but notice that those 9 references highlight 7 principles about forgiveness.
1) The first principle of forgiveness is the timeless means by which we all receive forgiveness of sins from God – faith in Christ.
We find in the totally epic chapter of Romans 4 Paul’s first reference to forgiveness, which has to do with King David, of all people. Paul writes, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:4-8).
Let’s bask for a moment in the beauty of those verses.
King David, under the law. King David, who committed adultery and murder! If ever there was an OT saint who should’ve lost his salvation, been stoned to death, and sent straight to hell, it was King David! But he wasn’t. His salvation was never in doubt.
Here, Paul quotes Psalms 32 in which David sings of the blessedness of the man to whom is imputed righteousness without works. It’s a beautiful Psalm, too. David never talks about how he WISHES men were imputed righteousness without works. He talks about the blessedness of the man who IS imputed righteousness without works.
Why should King David, who was under the law, talk about imputation of righteousness without works if that was never the method of salvation in the OT? Where did he even get the idea that OT saints were saved without works? I’ll tell you where. “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
David knew, just as Paul teaches us, that all men in all ages obtained salvation by faith alone just like Abraham. David’s point about “the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” was the rule for all ages. Isa. 38:17 tells us, “…but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” Why were all his sins cast behind the Lord’s back? Because his faith was counted for righteousness. The method of Isaiah’s salvation was true for him just as it was true for Abraham just as it was true for David just as it is true for all of us. God’s righteousness is imputed to all by faith alone, which covers all sins.
What David was at risk of experiencing was not the loss of his salvation but rather the full consequence under the law for His sins of adultery and murder. As one of my mentors, Pastor Fred Bekemeyer, often said, “the law was about sanctification, not justification.” The law was not about walking perfectly in order to get saved but about consequences for their walk after they were saved. David should’ve been stoned to death, but God chose to punish David by taking the life of his illegitimate son, as we all know. David also suffered mightily through his children, particularly Amnon and Absalom, but I suspect also that David’s sins will have an impact on his reward and placement in the kingdom. So the first principle of forgiveness is the timeless means by which we receive the forgiveness of sins by God, which is by faith in Christ. God’s righteousness is imputed to all by faith alone, which covers all sins.
2) How many of our sins have been forgiven in Christ? All our sins.
“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you ALL trespasses” (Col. 2:13).
I always loved the differing views of Christ that are presented between chapters 1 and 2 of Colossians. In chapter 1, the second half, Paul emphasizes primarily the glory of Christ. Christ who delivered us from the power of darkness. Christ, who created all things, who is before all things. Christ, who is the head of the body, the church. Christ, who has all the preeminence.
But in chapter 2, Paul shifts gears. He emphasizes something different. He emphasizes the glory of His perfect work on the cross. For by the cross, we are buried with him in baptism and risen with him through the faith of the operation of God. For by the cross, we have been spiritually circumcised with the circumcision made without hands. For by the cross, we have been quickened together with Him. For by the cross, we have been forgiven all trespasses. For by the cross, the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, that was contrary to us, was forever removed. For by the cross, we are sealed, forgiven, and complete in Him.
And here in Col. 2:13 the apostle provides a stark contrast for the saints of their condition without and with Christ. Without Christ, we were all, “dead in our sins…” but now that we’ve placed our faith in Him and what He accomplished on our behalf at Calvary, we have all been “quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” This is the spiritual transformation from our death into His life. If you’ve been quickened or made alive together WITH HIM, then inevitably all sins would have to be forgiven. No man could have a life IN CHRIST if God has not forgiven ALL of his trespasses because Christ Himself is sinless. To be in Christ is to be reckoned as sinless as Christ because His righteousness has been imputed to you. Before Christ that person is a dead man walking, dead in his sins under the judgment and condemnation of God. But gaining the possession of life in a risen Saviour necessarily means that all is righteously forgiven to those who believe. And all of this brought us to our second principle. How many of our sins have been forgiven in Christ? All our sins.
3) Forgiveness is essential to the restoration of a believer overtaken in a fault, who has repented, so he will not drown in sorrow.
Interesting to me that in 1 Corinthians, there is not one reference to forgiveness. Yet, 2 Corinthians has 3 verses talking about forgiveness. The first letter was one of rebuke and the second letter had a lot of correction in it as well that needed to be addressed but now he begins to speak of forgiveness. In 2 Cor. 2:5-8, we have in this section what many believe to be a reference to the boy who was sleeping with his stepmother. He was excommunicated. He greatly sorrowed over this wrong he had done. He repented in the sense that he changed the course of his walk by stopping this egregious sin.
Paul writes, “But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him” (2 Cor. 2:5-8).
I very much love Pastor Hal Bekemeyer’s teaching on forgiveness. He says forgiveness should be a matter of “auto-flush.” Like a commode that flushes automatically. Yes, I’m serious. That’s what Hal teaches. Why? Is unforgiveness like a stinking turd? It sure is, but forgiveness should always be automatic and flushed out of your system for your own good. And yes, I wrote “stinking turd” in a grace article. Sue me.
Yet, when Paul speaks of forgiveness regarding this boy sleeping with his stepmother, I suspect this is forgiveness in the sense of allowing him to return to the assembly after they excommunicated him. This boy had sorrowed to repentance. He was sorry for what he had done and changed his ways. He stopped the wrong that he was doing, which was a healthy process. Church discipline is necessary not only for the individual but also for the church as a whole because a little leaven leaveneth the whole lot. Yet, church discipline is always with a view to reconciliation and restoration.
Now that this boy had repented and was allowed back into the assembly, it was time for healing. It was time for restoration to the assembly, and forgiveness was a crucial ingredient to this process. If they had not forgiven him and allowed him back, he could’ve been “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” Drowning in despair. If the saints were incapable of forgiving him, this could have a traumatic impact on his faith and his walk. This was a sin for which Christ had died. This was a sin that God had already forgiven, just as He forgave the many egregious sins of everyone else in that assembly. They all had common ground in that they were all sinners saved by grace.
This boy may have strayed from the Lord in those sins, but the Lord never strayed from him because of those sins.
So the process of restoration didn’t simply involve forgiveness but they were to also love him and comfort him, because the love and grace being shown to him is love and grace that may well inspire him that much more to serve Christ with even more zeal. Thus, the third principle is that forgiveness is essential to the restoration of a believer overtaken in a fault, who has repented, so he will not drown in sorrow.
4) Forgiveness does not require micromanagement on the part of spiritual leadership.
Consider 2 Cor. 2:9-10. “For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ…”
I hadn’t thought about this before. Consider how Paul treats these believers like adults. Even though Paul was the one who advocated excommunication because of this sin, Paul didn’t feel that he also needed to be the one to determine whether this boy should be allowed back into the assembly. Paul didn’t need to travel all the way to Corinth, sit down with this boy and interrogate him in order to determine whether he should be allowed back into the church. If they felt that this boy had sufficiently repented, that was good enough for Paul. Which brings us to this fourth principle: forgiveness does not require micromanagement on the part of spiritual leadership.
5) Even an apostle isn’t above apologizing for the slightest infraction.
Did you know that Paul once apologized? Paul writes in 2 Cor. 12:11-13, “I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.”
Verse 13 is interesting. He writes, “For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.” What’s he saying here? A lot of commentaries suggest that Paul is being hugely sarcastic here, which I absolutely love! Sarcasm is not a sin! Praise the Lord!
I think Paul was talking about money. The Corinthians were not inferior to other churches in the sense that they weren’t blessed inequitably compared to all the other churches. At Corinth, just as everywhere else, Paul wrought among them all “the signs of an apostle… in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” They were taught all the same doctrines of grace. They were not inferior in any way to any other church. They weren’t lacking in any way by how Paul had established their church.
The only difference had to do with money. Even though they were wealthy, Paul went out of his way to not be a financial burden. He wanted them to know that his ministry was not about taking their money. So the only possible complaint that could be made about how Paul established their church was in the fact that he practically denied them the privilege of financially supporting his ministry, and for that, he apologized.
Sarcasm? You betcha. I love these verses. Praise the Lord for sarcasm. Yet, even an apostle isn’t above apologizing (with sarcasm) for the slightest infraction.
6) As the Father is always prepared to forgive, so should we.
In Eph. 1:7, we find, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace…” In whom, in Christ, we have redemption. We’ve been liberated from the consequence of sin by the ransom of another, through His blood, which is a present tense possession, and that redemption includes the forgiveness of all our sins.
Now this point was already made in the second principle when we looked at Col. 2:13. But I find that there is a greater point to be made here from the context. The greater context to this verse is God the Father. Look more closely at the broader context in Ephesians 1. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself…”
The context of Eph. 1:7 is God the Father for the many ways He had showered us with all His gracious blessings in Christ out of love and grace according to His good pleasure, which He had planned to do before the world was ever created. Before we were ever created, God the Father was always prepared to forgive us. Before we ever sinned, He always wanted to forgive us. Even when He knew that we’d be at enmity with Him because of sin, His desire was always reconciliation, because He loves us. In fact, He loved us so much He planned a way for us to obtain forgiveness of all our sins before He even created the world, and out of that love, He chose to make the means of our forgiveness so simple, by faith alone in Christ alone. Then He blesses us beyond comprehension because of the riches of His grace.
God the Father isn’t some distant deity who doesn’t care. He is personal. He is our Father. He loves us. He planned for our means of salvation before the world was created. He planned to shower us with grace before He ever created us. He was always prepared to forgive because He wants that intimate relationship with each of us.
As the Father was always prepared to forgive, so should we.
7) We put on the attributes of Christ and forgive freely as a living “thank you” in our lives, because God forgave us.
And this brings us to the seventh and final principle of forgiveness. A verse Mike and I love to quote in our podcasts – Eph. 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” There is also a similar verse in Col. 3:13, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
And like before, the context to both of these verses are similar. In the immediate context to Eph. 4:32, the prior verse, we find, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” Similarly, in the immediate context to Col. 3:13, the prior verse, we find, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.” Put off the bad stuff and we put on the attributes of Christ, which means we must be forgiving, pre-disposed in our hearts to forgive.
When we consider Eph. 4:32 and Col. 3:13 about forgiveness, we usually take away from those verses that our motivation to forgive is because God forgave us, which is true. But consider the fact that in Eph. 4:32, God the Father didn’t forgive you for your sake. He forgave you for Christ’s sake. Not only did the Father automatically forgive you but notice that He forgave you for Christ’s sake. The Father forgave you automatically for His Son’s sake because it was His Son who went through the shame, the agony, the torture of that death on the cross for all yours sins! God forgave you automatically for His Son’s sake because He will never betray His Son! He will never betray the love His Son showed you on that cross! It’s for His Son’s sake that He will never betray the perfection of what He accomplished at Calvary! Thus, we should also forgive others for Christ’s sake because of what He accomplished for us on the cross.
But I’d also suggest that our motivation to actively put on all the attributes of Christ is also because God forgave us. The way that we say “thank you” to God for all that He has done for us is to live like the saints He has made us in Christ. The way we say “thank you” to Christ for our forgiveness, is to be like Christ in the outliving of our faith. So the seventh and final principle of forgiveness, is our motivation. We put on the attributes of Christ and forgive freely as a living “thank you” in our lives, because God forgave us.