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The Bible reveals to us a God who is essentially loving and forgiving towards His children. His Son Jesus was the same, reflecting the character of his Father, and he is the model and inspiration for our own lives. He shows us how we should be loving and forgiving to those around us when they offend or hurt us in some way. What is it about us that God needs to forgive, and why is it so important? Early in the book of Genesis, we read that Adam and Eve did something which was contrary to a specific divine command – they sinned against God. As a direct consequence of this all their descendants became subject to sin and death. The Apostle Paul put it very succinctly in these words:

Therefore just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.

  • Romans 5.12 NIV

The Bible gives us information about how we can escape from the problems which have resulted from that first sin. The New Testament tells us to recognise when we have done wrong (1 John 1.8). It also explains how we can seek mercy and forgiveness from God through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4.15,16). The Bible tells us so much about the goodness of God and it can be hard for us to think that if we’ve done something wrong, God can still value us and want us to be part of His plan for the world. This includes a future place in His kingdom on earth and eternal life, even though we might think we are not worthy. But if we look for complete forgiveness, the Scriptures tell us how we can find it.

The example of David

David was a king of Israel, and he is recorded in the Bible as having led a godly life. He is described in the Old Testament as a man after his (God’s) own heart (I Samuel 13.14). However, sometimes he failed. His biggest failure led him to write Psalm 51, which explains his trust in God when he realised he had done wrong. Many Bibles have a heading over this Psalm which alludes to David’s sin (see 2 Samuel 11). It reads A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. David’s prayer is:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

  • Psalm 51.1,2

David’s words describe God’s forgiveness in a way that we can all relate to. Although you may have spilt something on the pages of a book and made it quite hard to read, the act of deliberately blotting something out is much more focused than that. It describes the act of erasing or removing all visibility and memory of the original, so that it is not possible to make out the original text. This is an excellent description of the way God has planned to work for men and women who have faith in Him; those who recognise their sinful state and seek God’s forgiveness and reassurance for the future. God wants to make it obvious that there is no point trying to remember our past sins. Through the act of forgiveness, He is able to completely blot out what happened and write over it entirely with something better. But to achieve this forgiveness and loving care from God, there are some other steps we must observe and follow.

A way of escape

Decay followed by death was the punishment meted out by God when the first human pair, Adam and Eve, failed to obey Him. This brought sin into the world and all their descendants are subject to what the Bible calls the law of sin and death (Romans 5.12; 8.2). But God made a way of escape from the punishment of death. In the process of rescuing the faithful from the permanent fate of death, and to allow them to change their way of life into something better, Jesus Christ was born and carried out his mission to save sinners (Matthew 1.21; 9.13). He was born a human being like us, but he was also the Son of God through the operation of the Holy Spirit on his mother Mary (Luke 1.35). Against the contrasting background of the rituals and sacrifices that were required under the Law of Moses, which couldn’t bring lasting forgiveness of sins, the teaching of Jesus brought a new message of grace and mercy to the people of his day:

But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them ... But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest. For he is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

  • Luke 6.32-33, 35-37

The importance of Christ’s sacrifice

This teaching of Jesus reflected on the work he was committed to doing during his ministry. He said: I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Luke 5.32). It was also a reminder of his future work to be accomplished when he returns to the earth, to cleanse it from sin and death and establish the kingdom of God. The culmination of his work was to commit himself to a sacrificial act – his crucifixion at the hands of his enemies. This would be a once for all time offering, no matter the sins or shortcomings of those he was representing. If believers would acknowledge their sins, they would always be able to seek forgiveness. That applies to all those who take to heart and respond to the gospel message, even in this present day! Jesus died and was raised from the dead. He had followed his Father’s commandments to the letter, and there was no way death could have permanent power over him (Romans 6.9). He knew very well that his life would end in suffering and a cruel death. He prayed for God’s will to be done and went through the gruelling preparation for his death. He was alone in the darkness of Gethsemane – his disciples had fallen asleep (Luke 22.39-46). This sacrifice does not only show how much love Christ had towards his followers and those that would become his followers down the ages; it also shows how God in His love for us always had a plan from the beginning. He determined to carry it out even though it involved the sacrifice of His only begotten Son (Acts 2.23). The Gospel writer John summed it up in these well known words:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

  • John 3.16

The Apostle Paul wrote similar words to the believers at Rome:

But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

  • Romans 5.8-11

Christ as a mediator

Paul’s words remind us that Christ’s saving work actively continued beyond his resurrection and ascension to heaven. This is confirmed by the letter to the Hebrews where we read that: He (Jesus) has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as he is also mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

  • Hebrews 8.6

Note how the writer contrasts the Law of Moses (the old covenant) with a better covenant and better promises. The way to approach God has been opened up to all who have faith in the saving work of Jesus. We can come closer to God through our mediator Jesus and obtain forgiveness of sins if we truly desire to repent. This better ministry as a mediator, means that Jesus watches over the lives of the faithful and can represent their plight before God. Having been subject to the same temptations as us he can sympathize with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4.15). In this way, those who come to God through him in prayer, can be forgiven and look forward to the fulfilment of those better promises, to be saved from the eternity of death and receive the gift of eternal life (Romans 6.23).

Forgiving others

At the start of this article, we mentioned the importance of forgiving others. We do not have the power and authority to ‘blot out’ the sins of others as God did for David. However, it is an important feature of Biblical forgiveness that we must still actively forgive those for the wrongs done to us. To do this we demonstrate that we have the mindset which accepts that God is willing to forgive us beyond our understanding:

The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory is to overlook a transgression.

  • Proverbs 19.11

The words of the Lord’s prayer are another reminder of this responsibility:

... forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

  • Luke 11.4

It can be observed that, in this model prayer of Jesus, and in the passage that we looked at in Luke chapter 6, there is a need for us to forgive those who wrong us if we are to receive the ultimate forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. We need to be constantly able to forgive and overlook the evil someone may do us, knowing that there is even greater forgiveness waiting for us, if we follow God’s way as demonstrated in the life of His Son Jesus. When Jesus returns we want him to find us being generous and forgiving to those who may owe us something, or those who have harmed us, perhaps having hurt our innermost feelings. The objective of a follower of Christ must be to try and imitate his example and this may be hard for us to do. Even when he hung upon the cross his words were: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

  • Luke 23.34

By showing true forgiveness, we also show the Christian way of life to others. Sometimes our efforts to talk to others about Christianity are not successful. But on many occasions, the good character of ordinary people has led others to trust them, and eventually to share their faith in Christ.

An example of true forgiveness

There are some well-known examples of people who have forgiven at a moment’s notice, opening up a new way of life to the people they forgave. One example will suffice. In Acts chapter 9, we read about the Lord sending Ananias to a man called Saul, who became the Apostle Paul. Saul, in his misplaced zeal for his religion based on the Law of Moses, had done an enormous amount of harm to the early believers. He was the sort of person who alienated himself from understanding and receiving the message spread by the followers of Jesus. Ananias had heard of his reputation and was fearful of it. Yet Ananias only needed one simple instruction to go and connect with Saul, and to strengthen him in his new-found way of life. Saul’s life had changed, and in an instant. His past sins had been forgiven and Ananias had to show that same forgiveness. In a few words, he was instructed to put aside his fears, to show a forgiving spirit, go to Saul and baptize him into the saving name of Jesus (Acts 9.15). This reminds us that it is right to forgive others and show them God’s way. So quick was this forgiveness that we don’t even explicitly read words recording it. But it was necessary, otherwise the full weight of the message of Christianity would never have impressed itself on Saul. And Saul would never have become Paul, that person who trusted God enough to spread the gospel message to the Gentiles.

Picture Jesus’ parable known as the Prodigal Son illustrates God’s overflowing love and forgiveness towards his wayward children.

Etching by the Dutch painter Rembrandt


The importance of forgiveness is clearly spelled out for us in a number of Bible passages. When reading your Bible, think about the times when somebody had to forgive someone else, otherwise the amazing work of God could not have been done. In summary, we can remember the teaching of these key passages: the words of Jesus to his disciples Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent”, you shall forgive him.

  • Luke 17.3,4

The words of Jesus to Saul after his conversion I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you. To open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light ... that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me

  • Acts 26.17,18

and the words of the Apostle John to believers If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

  • 1 John 1.8,9
James Wharton, Surrey, UK
Source Light on a New World, Volume 29.4

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