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Biblical Forgiveness

Since the garden of Eden mankind has needed forgiveness from God. The subject of forgiveness is not universally understood by the world and some followers of our Lord Jesus Christ could use a better understanding. Though the words Forgiven/Forgiveness are not mentioned in Genesis 3, it is apparent from the context that the first couple on earth were forgiven.

First we shall consider God’s forgiveness and then our forgiveness of one another. For God to forgive any person today he or she must repent of their sins. It begins with coming to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord by repentance and faith in Him. Our Lord had said in Matt 11:28 “come unto me”. In John 7:37-38 “if any man thirst let him come unto me and drink”. Finally, in the Revelation (22:17), the message is “come”. Remember, the message is not “invite Jesus into your heart” (as some preach) but rather, come to Christ by Repenting and Believing. It was our Lord Jesus who preached “the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). His servant Paul the apostle preached the same when he told the Ephesian elders he had testified to both Jews and Greeks “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21).

Repentance is not changing your lifestyle but, rather, changing your mind. The word for repent, in Greek, is METANOEO which is the compounding of two words. NOEO is better rendered “understanding” and is prefixed by META meaning with/after, with being the most common. Therefore our word METANOEO literally can be understood as “change your mind or understanding”. It inherently has three aspects.

  • I must know I am wrong (Intellectual).
  • I must feel my wrong (Heart matter).
  • I must be willing to change my mind/understanding.

We sometimes say that repentance is Intellectual, Emotional and Volitional. The first is obvious. The second can be viewed by reading 2 Corinthians 7:10 (Godly Sorrow). The third is seen by the younger son when he said “I will arise and go to my Father” (and he did) (Luke 15:18-20).

John the Baptizer demanded of the entourage from Jerusalem to “bring forth therefore fruits meet (suitable or indicative of) repentance” (Matt 3). In other words, Biblical repentance always has fruit or evidence of a change of mind or understanding.

Now we must consider “believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15) as our Lord preached and “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21) as the apostle Paul preached. What is believe/faith? Both translate the same Greek word, PISTIS. It appears that “believe” was substituted for “faith” due to euphony. In the Elizabethan English of the 17th century, it would be a bit difficult to say “faitheth”. Keep in mind that though we have the two English words (believe/faith) they are one and the same in meaning. I sometimes say that believing is taking God’s word and acting on it in obedience. Therefore, when a sinner repents and exercises faith in our Lord Jesus as the One who died for our sins and rose again, we are FORGIVEN. The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:12 “I write unto you, little children because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake”. The first thing the child of God wants to know is “are my sins forgiven”? The words “little children” translate TEKNION which addresses someone with emphasis on being new or young. However, in verse 13 we find little children translating PAIDION and is the same word (in root form) for “chasten” (PAIDEUO), which means “child training”. Some people have the idea that chasten means “a board applied to the behind” with no other thought. It may come to that but the basic meaning is child training. In our passage (1 John 2:13) it means trainable children. It is a child with a bit more knowledge than the one in verse 12 and you will notice that he/she has the knowledge of the Father. Children, when first born, do not know their father but later learn about him. The passage (1 John 2:12-13) presents four (4) levels of maturity in a beautiful way.

Now let us look at the word forgiven. It translates the Greek word APHIEEMI. The Greek word HEIMI means to send (infinitive form) and is compounded and prefixed by the Greek word APO meaning “away from”. John was saying to the little children that their sins were sent away from them.

The Old Testament gives us some beautiful pictures of the truth of forgiveness. The Psalmist tells us (Psalm 103:12) that they are removed as far as the east is from the west. I am a pilot and when I set my compass heading to 270 degrees (west) I can never get there. If possible I could circle the globe but could never “arrive” at the west. However, the same can not be said about the north or south. You can arrive at either. Therefore, God is telling us in that verse that our sins are gone forever. Isaiah reveals that God has “cast all my sins behind thy (His) back” (Isaiah 38:17). He further reveals that God is the One who “blots out” our transgressions with the added benefit of “not remembering thy sins” (Isaiah 43:25). Not remembering our sins does not depict a weakness on God’s part (like forgetfulness) but means he will not bring them up to us again. How divine and gracious on His part. In chapter 44:22 the Lord blots out our transgressions “as a thick cloud”. I have seen thick clouds dissipate in an area as a change in atmosphere takes place. Weather is a great phenomenon designed of our God. The prophet writes that God will subdue our iniquities and cast all our sins in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). They (our sins) cannot be seen or found. What a great and profound truth, God’s forgiveness.

Perhaps we should give more attention to the New Testament. In Colossians 1:14 the word forgiveness translates the word we mentioned earlier meaning our sins are sent away (reference Ephesians 1:7 also). However, in chapter 2:13 the words “having forgiven” translate the Greek word CHARIZOMAI that comes from root word CHARIS (grace) that comes from CHAIRO meaning to rejoice. The work CHARIS (grace) has three features.


  • A favor bestowed upon an undeserving one.
  • It is always in abundance (coming from God. See Romans 5:20 and James 4:6 for the abundance feature).
  • It makes no demand in return


In Hebrews 2:9 we see our Lord tasted death for every person, but every person will not properly respond to Him and His grace. Thus, forgiveness in Colossians 2:13 and also 3:13 is telling us that God “GRACED US” our sins. WE DID NOT DESERVE THAT FORGIVENESS SO HIS FORGIVENESS WAS PURE GRACE.

We have looked at God’s great forgiveness so now we turn to our forgiving of one another. The Ephesian letter depicts our forgiving one another (4:32) “as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you”. God so values the redemptive work of His Son that he forgives for the Son’s sake (WHO BORE ALL OUR SINS). He delights to forgive us. Therefore, we should forgive one another. Upon what basis did God forgive us? On the ground of REPENTANCE. Remember earlier we gave attention to that requirement. To forgive anyone who refuses to repent is doing that person no favor. Notice how Luke 17:3-4 makes repentance a requirement before forgiveness. That is precisely what God required of us. Often I hear people say and teach that we must forgive even if they do not repent. Remember, that is not the basis upon which God forgave us.

The repentant person at Corinth was forgiven. It is clear from context that there was danger that he might be swallowed up with “over much sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:6-8). The first thing they were commanded to do was to forgive him (restored him to their fellowship), then comfort him, and then confirm their love. He was so broken over his sins that comforting him was imperative and lastly they were to CONFIRM their love. The love of one another must never stop but we don’t confirm our love until repentance is evident.

In closing I would emphasize that we can forgive in our hearts anyone at any time but to offer forgiveness to that person who is unrepentant could possibly keep him/her from repentance before God and that could be the worst thing we could do.

We must always show GRACE. May God help us to do so.

Donald Welborn