Luk 5:20-21 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (21) And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Col 3:11-13 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (12) Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (13) bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
We have all fallen prey at some time to false teachings on this subject of forgiveness. I hope that all of us have now come to see truth and clarity in this matter – what forgiveness really is, that it does not always include restoration of relationship, and so on. But this business still causes all kinds of grief and trouble to victims of evil that it still helps to be reminded of what God really has to say about it.
One of our friends sent me her thoughts and research on forgiveness and she did an excellent job. I want to share some of the things she discovered in Scripture. Many thanks to her! This is how her essay begins:
Corrie Ten Boom said ‘forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred.’ Corrie Ten Boom was wrong. This has absolutely no basis in Scripture whatsoever. The Bible NEVER speaks of forgiveness this way.
Most people’s idea of forgiveness comes from the New Age/ New Thought Movement or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. I recently saw a couple definitions of forgiveness and the person attempted to use Scripture. This person essentially said ‘forgiveness is a giving up of the right to hurt the other person back’ or not ‘entertaining fantasies of vengeance against the hurtful person.’ The Scriptures given were Col 3:13, Prov 15:1 -which has nothing to do with forgiveness and Matt 6:14.
Even Scripture that tells us to forgive, many times is used in complete isolation from the rest of the Bible, and we end up with a version of forgiveness that sounds more like something Oprah Winfrey would say, not what God Himself would do. The best way to understand forgiveness is to know what God’s forgiveness looks like and to look at what the Bible as a whole teaches how this is carried out. I believe God is the original author of forgiveness. So rather than going to the dictionary for its definition, we need to go to the Very One who made forgiveness possible, Jesus Christ Himself. When God forgives, what does He forgive, and to what purpose and how does that inform our forgiveness of others?
Now, what our friend is getting at here is that definitions are very important. Just what do we mean by “forgiveness”? Because, think about this carefully, there are really at least two aspects of forgiveness. There is 1) the forgiveness which the Colossians passage (above) is speaking of – a forgiveness which we exercise, and 2) There is ultimate forgiveness which ONLY God can grant. So when we start talking like WE can grant forgiveness, things get very muddled and damaging if we fail to be precise in what we mean. Most teaching and talk among Christians these days on this subject is muddled.
Our friend goes on (after quoting quite a number of additional scriptures that speak of God’s forgiveness) –
If we truly want to understand forgiveness we have to look at God’s forgiveness first, to lay a foundation, because forgiveness is imbedded in God’s attributes. If we distort forgiveness in any way, we will end up distorting His character and the Gospel. The way it plays out when God forgives us, generally will play out in the way we forgive others. I say, generally, because there’s not going to be an exact 100% 1:1 correlation. But we have to begin with God.
First of all, when God forgives, what does He actually do? The Biblical language for it is…
who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; forgiving iniquity and transgression;
He will by no means clear the guilty; pardons all your iniquities,
wipes out your transgressions; Passes over rebellious act
Retains His anger
Cleanses us from all unrighteousness
So from a Biblical standpoint forgiveness essentially is a pardoning of sin, a clearing of the guilty, a removing of debt or wiping out transgression. And because God’s forgiveness of us entails our salvation, there is a sense in which no one can forgive sins but God, and the people were right to marvel that Jesus would say this when they didn’t know He’s God. (I believe this means that there is a sense in which we extend God’s forgiveness when we forgive another person, so we better get this right. We do not have any right to invent our own version of forgiveness, just like we can’t redefine ‘love’!)
This is enough food for thought for now. I will continue to present her essay to you in portions in the next few blog posts. But let’s leave off here today and really digest the points she has made. When someone tells us “you must forgive your abuser,” quite often – whether they realize it or not – they are acting as if we must clear the record of the wicked person’s evil and treat them as if their evil has been atoned for. In other words, we are being told that we are to be a kind of Christ to the wicked, bear their evil upon ourselves, and thereby atone for their sins. Because, you see, that is the ONLY way God in Christ forgives sin. But we are not Christ.
…to be continued