Have you ever used a term for a while and one day come to realize that you may have been using the term incorrectly?
Being in the church and using “Christan language” as much as I do, I have used the term “forgiveness” for decades and a little while ago, I realized that I wasn’t really clear on a definition of the term.
I’ve heard and read a lot about forgiveness. There are tons of books out there that address various aspects of forgiveness, but they all seem to regularly suffer from the same flaw: I rarely find a satisfactory biblical definition of the term “forgiveness”.
- People will often talk about what forgiveness looks like, meaning they’ll talk about no longer “bringing it up” once you’ve forgiven someone…but that only tells me what forgiveness does, not what it is.
- People will talk about how God forgives and quote various passages that deal with the frequency or gracious nature of forgiveness (seventy times seven, right?), but again those tell me about how forgiveness looks, not what it is.
I recently wanted to really put my thumb down in a biblical idea of what forgiveness is in its essence; a single statement to summarize a definition of “forgiveness” that is positive and gives my mind a nail on which to hang thoughts about forgiveness. I’m not going to answer all the questions on forgiveness at all, but only try to define the term from the scriptures. So, here’s a short definition of “forgiveness” that I’ve come up with some biblical explanation:
***Forgiveness is a promise to no longer remember one’s sin and cease holding it against them***
Here’s some of the passages that lead me to that definition:
- Jeremiah 31:34 “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”. Hebrews 10:15-18 also quotes Jeremiah 31:33-34, pointing out two elements of the new covenant as (1) having the law written on the hearts and minds, and (2) having their sins and lawless deeds no longer remembered. That is why Hebrews 10:18 says “where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin”. God always knows a person’s sin, but if he chooses to no longer remember it, he no longer holds it against them.
- In Deuteronomy 9:27, Moses asks for forgiveness for Israel by asking God to “do not regard their wickedness or their sin…”
- In Psalm 25:6-7 David asks for forgiveness for the sins of his youth by saying : ” (6) Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. (7) Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!”
- It is very interesting to note how David talks to God: Remember your mercy which is old, but do not remember my youthful sins, and remember me in accord with your love and for the sake of your goodness. David knows full well that God is fully aware of every detail of his sin; he only asks God to not remember his sin.
- In Psalm 109, David asks God to deal justly with the wicked who attack him. He implores God to treat them justly, and in ascending magnitude of punishment he asks God to serve them back their wickedness. David asks God to appoint a wicked person against them (6), reveal his sin and ignore his prayer (7), cut his days short (8), bring him to the grave (9), may his children be beggars (10), may the bank seize all he owns and may bandits steal his stuff (11), let he and his family be kept from pity (12), may his name be cut off (13), and finally “May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the Lord, and let none of the sin of his mother be blotted out!” This is a call for ultimate judgment; a call for God to hold his sin against him. This is the worst and greatest punishment possible.
- In the trial of the false gods in Isaiah 40-48, God speaks in Isaiah 43 and defines himself as “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (43:25). Those two statements are parallel; God blots out one’s sin (through the death of Christ the payment for sin is made) and the action that follows from that is “not remembering”. God doesn’t actually make the sin so as to have not happened, but as the payment for sin is paid upon Christ, he can be just and no longer remember it, no longer holding it against the sinner.
- In Jeremiah 14:1-9, Jeremiah speaks regarding a famine. 14:1-6 describes the famine, 14:7-9 is a prayer for help. Then, starting at 14:10, the Lord answers and says “They have loved to wander thus; they have not restrained their feet,; therefore the Lord does not accept them; now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.” The famine was simply a just punishment for the sins of the nation of Israel.
- In Ezekiel 33:14-16, God comments on how if a wicked man turns from his sin walks in the statutes of life, “none of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him.”
- Hosea 8:13 & Hosea 9:9 comment on how God’s punishment involves God remembering the iniquity of Israel and punishing their sin.
- In Revelation 18:5, when Babylon is finally judged, a voice from heaven says “for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”
Now as I said previously, I wasn’t attempting to give a comprehensive lesson on forgiveness, but only to give a short and clear definition of the term. I hope that this post has been both informative and helpful to you.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Forgiven” Unger