6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
In order to understand forgiveness we must understand the ultimate expression of forgiveness found in the relationship between God and humanity. Forgiveness is only possible because God is a God of grace. Forgiveness is rooted in His nature.
To forgive is to release a person from the penalty of an offense, to clear them of any charge and not hold it against them. But notice, God’s forgiveness is not indiscriminate; it cannot be abused. He does not leave the guilty unpunished. If someone is to be forgiven by God, there must be repentance – remorse over sin, turning from sin, turning toward God for forgiveness. Repentant sinners are forgiven.2 Those who do not repent will not be forgiven.3
- Isaiah 43:25
- Ezekiel 38:30-32
- Acts 26:20
Sin merits punishment because it offends the very nature of God. Therefore, to pardon or to excuse a sin, whether intentional or unintentional, is the result of God extending His astounding grace towards humanity. When someone is forgiven, it should be received with gratitude and regarded with awe and wonder.4 In Jeremiah 31:34 the Lord says, “I will remember their sin no more,” and Micah speaks of Him as casting sins “into the depths of the sea.”5 Such vivid language emphasizes the completeness of God’s forgiveness. When He forgives, our sins are dealt with thoroughly. God sees our sins no more.
It is made clear in Scripture that the forgiven sinner must forgive others.6 A readiness to forgive others is an indicator that we have truly repented and received forgiveness ourselves. Moreover, forgiveness of others is to be whole-hearted. It springs from Christ’s forgiveness of us, and it is to be like Christ’s forgiveness.
Forgiveness rests on the atoning work of Christ. That is to say, it is an act of sheer grace. “He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins.”8 On man’s side, repentance is insisted upon again and again. John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins9, a theme which is taken up by Peter with reference to Christian baptism.10 Christ Himself directed that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name.” Forgiveness is similarly linked with faith. Faith and repentance are not to be thought of as merits whereby we deserve forgiveness. Rather, they are the means whereby we appropriate the grace of God.
In order to appreciate (and understand) forgiveness, we need at least a cursory look at sin. The most characteristic feature of sin in all its aspects is that it is directed against God.13 Any definition of sin should foremost articulate that it is a direct affront to God, a rebellion and a contradiction to His nature. Sin is a violation against our ultimate function as humans – to bring glory to God. It is the failure to conform to His moral law in act, attitude, or nature. 14
The Origin of Sin
Sin has not always been in existence. Though, it was not God who sinned or messed up;15 rather, His sovereign hand ordained sin to come into the world.16 While evil existed in Satan even before humans were created,17 the Bible is more concerned with sin’s origin in regards to humanity.18 The origin of sin in humanity, as described in Genesis 3, began as an internal God-denying aspiration that manifested itself in external disobedience. As to the problem of how Adam and Eve could have been subject to temptation had they not previously known sin, Scripture does not enter into extended discussion. A reason for Scripture’s relative silence is that a rational explanation of the origin of sin would have the inevitable result of directing attention away from the Scripture’s primary concern, the confession of our personal guilt.19
The Consequence of Sin
Sin is directly opposite to all that is good in the character of God. Just as He delights in Himself and all that He is, so God necessarily and eternally hates sin. It contradicts His holiness, and He must hate it.
The fundamental effect of sin is alienation between God and the person or society that sins.21 The Bible invariably regards sin as both universal and pervasive. No individual human being is free from sin (except Christ) and no human behavior or action is free from the effects of sin.
When you choose not to forgive, you choose to remain in sin because you are knowingly disobeying God who calls you to forgive. Obedience to God allows us to experience life to the fullest, but rebellion or choosing to harden your heart is foolish and only leads to trouble.23 You are no longer a slave to sin and to the desires of your heart, you are now a slave to righteousness.24
What Happens When a Christian Sins?
- When a Christian sins, his or her legal standing before God is unchanged. You cannot cease to be a child of God, nor will He refuse to forgive a truly repentant heart.
- Romans 8:1
- Romans 6:23
- Our fellowship with God is disrupted and our Christian life is damaged. Each member of the trinity is grieved when Christians sin. As we sin, we diminish the degree in which we abide in Christ. This is damaging to our relationship with God and others, and maligns a fruitful ministry in the Lord. Although our relationship is intact, sin truly hinders our fellowship with God. The way we reconcile our hindered relationship with God is by repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness. Jesus reminds us that we should pray each day, confessing sins early and often, and repenting. 26
God is holy, pure and just. Therefore, He hates and punishes sin. Due to the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, we are born with a sinful nature. Thankfully, God is gracious enough to forgive us for our past and future sins. No act of forgiveness will be ever be greater than God’s forgiveness of your sin. Because we have experienced God’s forgiveness, we are called to forgive others. Forgiveness allows for us to be reconciled to God and to our fellow man.
- What does it mean to forgive someone?
- What is the ultimate expression of forgiveness?
- How does sin affect our relationship with God? Our position with God?
- Do you find it difficult to forgive others? Do you find it difficult to accept and believe that God has forgiven you?
2 Corinthians 7:10
How does this study reinforce your belief in the gospel?
- Nehemiah 9:17; Daniel 9:9
- Psalm 51; Isaiah 38:17, 43:25
- Ezekiel 18:30-32; Mark 6:12; Luke 5:31-33, 15:7; Acts 26:20; 2 Corinthians 7:10
- Psalm 130:4
- Micah 7:19
- Luke 6:37; Matthew 6:12, 14
- Colossians 3:13
- 1 John 1:9
- Mark 1:4
- Acts 2:38
- Luke 24:47
- Acts 10:43; James 5:15
- Psalm 51:4; Romans 8:7
- 1 John 3:4; Romans 2
- Job 34:10; James 1:3
- Ephesians 1:11; Daniel 4:35
- Isaiah 4:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-18
- 1 Timothy 2:14; James 1:13
- Berkouwer, Sin. 1971.
- Deuteronomy 32:4
- Isaiah 59:2
- Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22
- Psalm 28:14
- Romans 6:11-18
- Ephesians 4:30; Hebrews 12:6, 9-10; Revelation 3:19; Isaiah 59:1-2
- Matthew 6:12