Forgiveness – definition
Traditional Legal Model – Any sin incurs a debt and an entry in the record books of heaven for which justice demands a payment or penalty. The penalty and record of the sin can be erased or forgiven only by the payment of blood – the death of either the offender or a substitute. God grants forgiveness on the basis of the payment by the death of His Son if and when the sinner requests it. Forgiveness is conditional and mostly a bookkeeping or legal matter.
Biblical Healing Model – Sin damages relationships, always hurts the sinner in some way and usually hurts others as well. Any “penalties” are simply natural consequences resulting from the sin. Sinners can be described as sin-sick and in need of healing. God always forgives every sin; He does not hold our sins against us. What is needed on the part of the sinner is a realization of that freely-offered forgiveness and acceptance of it. Forgiveness is relational and (this is important to understand) a two-part transaction.
From a Modern Dictionary
- the act of forgiving or the state of being forgiven
Forgive verb (used with object)
- to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
- to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
- to grant pardon to (a person).
- to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.
- to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.
(www.dictionary.com, accessed Jun. 10, 2019)
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
- The act of forgiving; the pardon of an offender, by which he is considered and treated as not guilty. The forgiveness of enemies is a christian duty.
- To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty. The original and proper phrase is to forgive the offense, to send it away, to reject it, that is, not to impute it, [put it to] the offender.
(http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/Forgiveness, accessed Jun. 10, 2019)
Questions about Forgiveness
It helps our understanding to address the following questions.
- Does forgiveness remove the legal debt incurred by individual acts of sin?
- Does forgiveness remove the record of sins on one’s account?
- Does forgiveness remove a negative attitude toward us from God?
- Does forgiveness mean that God forgets the sinful act happened?
- Does forgiveness remove the guilt and shame we feel for having sinned?
- Does forgiveness restore us to an attitude of trust in God?
Let’s briefly look at each.
- Does Forgiveness Remove the Legal Debt Incurred by Individual Acts of Sin?
No, because there is no legal debt. The understanding that forgiveness cancels a legal debt comes from a misunderstanding of how God’s law functions and is at the root of the problem in much of the misunderstanding of God’s character and His plan to save us. See the glossary definition of law for a correct understanding of how God’s law functions. Closely connected to that is a correct understanding of the meaning of God’s justice.
- Does Forgiveness Remove the Record of Sins in One’s Account?
No, because there is no record for the purpose of settling accounts. While the all-knowing God does not forget anything in terms of not being able to recall events, He does not remember our sins with an attitude of “you’ll pay for that.” Read how love thinketh no evil (keeps no record of wrongs).
- Does Forgiveness Remove a Negative Attitude Toward us from God?
No, because our loving God never has negative feelings for us even when we sin. His relationship to us is much more that of a loving parent. The idea that the justice of an offended God must be satisfied comes from a misunderstanding of the meaning of God’s justice. This is well-explained by this illustration.
- Does Forgiveness Mean that God Forgets the Sinful Act Happened?
No, the omniscient God never forgets anything. See a discussion of forgetting and remembering wrongs. The fact that sin happened, all of the resulting negative effects and that it was cured by the self-sacrificing remedy God provided will be insurance that it will not occur again. (Nahum 1:9)
Forgiveness is a Two-part Process
Before looking at the last two questions, let’s remind ourselves that the forgiving process has two parts – it is both given (by the forgiver) and received (by the forgivee). When you think about it and your own experiences with forgiving and being forgiven, this is logical. My booklet Biblical Forgiveness: Are There Two Types? explains this in detail.
- Does Forgiveness Remove the Guilt and Shame We Feel for Having Sinned?
Yes, it should and that is part of the healing process that is so important in the Biblical Healing Model of the Gospel. Those feelings are only meant to send us to God who can heal us from the effects of sin. (Like physical pain moves us to seek a pain reliever.)
- Does Forgiveness Restore us to an Attitude of Trust in God?
Yes, it should as we realize that God’s laws are design or natural laws rather than imposed or arbitrary laws and are meant only for our good and our protection.
While sin is commonly thought of an action that violates rules given by God, sin, at its core, is a lack of trust in God which stems from not correctly understanding His character. More about this in the glossary’s definition of sin.
Myths about Forgiveness
- means restored trust
- comes after the offender says they are sorry
- equals salvation
- means what they did was okay
- leads to greater vulnerability
- means forgetting
- means the offender gets away with it
The ever-merciful God always freely grants unconditional forgiveness; it is only up to us to accept it. Unfortunately, the enemy has introduced a legal mindset that requires a penalty for every sin. God’s laws are there to protect and when we break those laws God’s effort is to heal the damage done.
Return to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary Index