The forgiveness of sins is an essential teaching in the Christian Church that seems to be confused quite often. Not only does Christ’s death on the cross cover all our sins; but, the application of the death of Christ to His people requires repentance.
Christ pardons the sins of His people not on the basic of anything they did but by His free grace. The Westminster Confession of Faith states this well.
Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins,and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 11 Of Justification Section 1
Repentance and Faith are gifts from God. When God gives His people repentance, they see themselves as sinners. Because they see themselves as sinners, they will forgive others. Forgiveness is an indispensable and necessary part of the Christian life. Those who forgive are forgiven. Those who do not forgive, cannot claim to be forgiven. Just because we are forgiven, it does not mean we do not pay for our sins in society.
“Pardon” and “Forgive” are the same thing
Forgiveness has several meanings. There are different words for forgiveness in the New Testament. All of which have the similar meaning or pardoning, forgiving, releasing from, setting free or discharging from sin.
The word “pardon” is used to mean complete forgiveness or to be set free from sin.
<630> ἀπολύω (apoluo)
Meaning: to set free, release
Origin: from 575 and 3089
<859> ἄφεσις, εως, ἡ (aphesis)
Meaning: dismissal, release, fig. pardon
Short Definition: deliverance, pardon, complete forgiveness
Definition: a sending away, a letting go, a release, pardon, complete forgiveness.
When the word “forgive” is used, it is in the same sense as pardon. It means to be set free from and is purely from God’s favor.
<5483> χαρίζομαι (charizomai)
Meaning: to show favor, give freely, forgive
Origin: from 5485
<5485> χάρις, ιτος, ἡ (charis)
Meaning: grace, kindness
Short Definition: grace, favor, kindness
Definition: (a) grace, as a gift or blessing brought to man by Jesus Christ, (b) favor, (c) gratitude, thanks, (d) a favor, kindness.
<5486> χάρισμα, ατος, τό (charisma)
Meaning: a gift of grace, a free gift
Short Definition: an undeserved favor
Definition: a gift of grace, an undeserved favor.
“Forgiven” also can mean sending the sin away. It can also be used as “to discharge.”
<863> ἀφίημι (aphiemi)
Meaning: I send away, release, remit, forgive, permit
Origin: from 575 and hiemi (to send)
God does not leave His people in their sin. He sent His Son to die for His peoples sin so they can have forgiveness. He forgives sins because that is a part of His nature.
God is a God of Forgiveness
God is a God of forgiveness. Humanity can still exist and not be completely destroyed from God’s sight because of His forgiveness.
. . . Thou art a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness; And Thou didst not forsake them.
(Neh 9:17 NAS)
Only God can forgive sins. Christ Himself can forgive sins because He is God.
Only God can forgive Sins
The Pharisees called Jesus a blasphemer because He forgave peoples sins. They knew God was the only one who could forgive sins.
And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Arise, and take up your pallet and walk ‘? “But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins “– He said to the paralytic– “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.”
(Mar 2:5-11 NAS See also, Mat 9:1-7; Luk 5:21-24)
Christ forgives sins and is only possible with God.
Forgiveness is only possible with God
Christ specifically taught that man could do nothing to save themselves. Forgiveness cannot be attained by keeping the Law, doing good works, or being successful in life.
And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking upon them Jesus said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
(Mat 19:24-26 NAS See also, Mar 10:22-27; Luk 18:25-27)
Only because Christ died for our sins, can anyone have the forgiveness of sins.
Christ’s death on the cross forgave all sins
The death of Christ redeems the sinner and forgives the sinner fully and completely.
For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
(Col 1:13-14 NAS)
The forgiveness of sins is only accomplished by Christ’s death on the cross. The penalty of sin according to the law, requires the transgressor of the law to be killed.
And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
(Heb 9:22 NAS)
The sinners death penalty was paid by Christ’s death on the cross. While we were dead in sin, Christ died for us, forgave us of our sin, and made us able to repent and believe in Him.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace
(Eph 1:7 NAS)
And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
(Col 2:13-14 NAS)
Christ’s sacrifice was one time and covered all sins present, past, and future.
Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.
(Heb 10:18 NAS)
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered.”
(Rom 4:7 NAS)
Christ’s death on the cross did not “potentially” forgive sins for people on condition of their following or accepting it. Christ’s death “canceled out the certificate of debt” so as to completely remove the penalty the sinner is required to pay.
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.
(2Ti 2:10-13 NAS)
Those whose sins were placed on Christ will live with Christ.
Repentance and Forgiveness
The application of the salvation given to us by God is through Faith and Repentance. Repentance is an absolute necessity in the receiving of the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is defined as,
<3341> μετάνοια, ας, ἡ (metanoia)
Meaning: change of mind, repentance
The object of repentance is Sin. The simplest definition of Sin is,
<266> ἁμάρτημα, ατος, τό (hamartia)
Meaning: a missing the mark
Sin is the falling short of the glory of God.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
(Rom 3:23 NAS)
Repentance is the change of mind about ourselves. It’s acknowledging that we cannot change ourselves, remove our sin, or stop sinning. Repentance is a gift from God and cannot be faked or learned by studying. Repentance is “granted,” “given,” or “bestowed upon” God’s people.
He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
(Act 5:31 NAS)
And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
(Act 11:18 NAS)
with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
(2Ti 2:25 NAS)
Only those who have Faith or believe in God can receive forgiveness from God.
Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
(Act 10:43 NAS)
Christ did not come to save righteous people but sinners
Repentance is not an option. If you have no repentance you cannot have forgiveness.
“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
(Luk 15:7 NAS)
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
(1Ti 1:15 NAS)
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
(Luk 5:32 NAS)
And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Mar 2:17 NAS)
Only the person who mourns over their sin, knows they are a sinner, and publicly admits that they are a sinner can have forgiveness. Luke stated this in his gospel account.
And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. “The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
(Luk 18:9-14 NAS)
If someone thinks they never sinned or that they are righteous on their own account, they will not receive forgiveness from God. Righteous people have no need of Christ dying for their sin, because, they do not believe they sinned. Those who are forgiven confess that they are sinners.
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
(1John 1:8-10 NAS)
This does not mean confessing our sins saves us; but, the one who has forgiveness will confess their sins. The truth must be within the sinner in the first place in order for them to confess. Those who know they are sinners and that God forgave them will forgive others as well.
Forgive and you will be forgiven
Christ specifically stated that if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven.
“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”
(Mar 11:26 NAS See also, Mat 6:12-15; Luk 6:37-38)
One reason we must forgive is because of thankfulness to God. While we did not deserve to be forgiven, He forgave us out of the kind intention of His will. Not forgiving others will only hurt us. Harboring unforgivingness in our heart will only cause God to inflict judgment upon us till we repent. Whom God loves He will certainly discipline (Mat 18:23-35).
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.”
(Heb 12:6 NAS)
To retain unforgiveness in the heart is only to our own hurt.
Forgiveness is a reaffirmation of love
Forgiveness is necessary to show love towards one another and to reaffirm our love to God and His people. We should forgive to uplift each other and to keep us from falling into deep sorrow and depression.
Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ,
(2Co 2:6-10 NAS)
And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
(Eph 4:32 NAS)
Who can receive forgiveness if God’s people have no forgiveness?
Forgiveness does not mean to forget or that there is no penalty
Forgiveness does not mean everybody should forget your sin or that you should not suffer a penalty for your sin. God wants us to remember where we failed so we can not only keep ourselves from doing it again; but, to teach others to avoid the same situations.
‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place– unless you repent.
(Rev 2:5 NAS)
While we are sinners and forgiven by God, this does not mean when we sin we will not pay for it in this life. We are not to go making enemies or breaking laws as if there will be no consequence.
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
(1Pe 3:17 NAS)
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
(1Pe 2:13-15 NAS)
“Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
(Mat 5:25 NAS)
If a person murders someone, don’t think they can tell the judge, “Jesus forgave me of all my sins, so, you can’t put me in jail.” They will not escape the punishment of the court.
Nor will those who, after being put in prison for a crime and come to Christ in repentance, say, “I am a Christian now, so, you can let me out of prison.” They will be no means be released for that reason.
The thief on the cross still died on the cross with Christ (Luk 23:39-43), even though he came to repentance before his death. As if the thief could say, “I repented and will no longer commit crime, so, let me off this cross now.”