“But You are a God of forgiveness,” the Levites prayed on behalf of the repentant people of God (Nehemiah 9:17). What a marvelous declaration! The spiritual leaders continued to describe their covenant-keeping God: “Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” This is our God!
In the first part of this series on the fatherhood of God we thought about His great love toward us in Christ; the love that saved us and adopted us into His family. Today, let’s think about the forgiving nature of the heavenly Father.
The Description of God’s Forgiveness
When those who belong to God rebel against Him and His laws, He pursues them and brings them to repentance. Why? His desire is to forgive and restore them. The psalmist testifies of God’s restoring work on behalf of His people: “Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath” (Ps 78:38). The reason God can restore His rebellious children is because He atones for their sin in order to release them—forgive them—from their debt. He does this because “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103:8). When a person is truly redeemed by the forgiving grace of God he cannot help but declare “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18).
But how do we experience God’s forgiveness? We are forgiven by God when we repent and believe in Christ as our Sin-bearing Savior and Lord. When we repent, we turn; we turn from sin toward God. We turn away from our rebellion and toward submission to Christ as Lord. We repent of trusting in our own supposed righteousness and instead receive the righteousness of Christ as a gift from God (2 Cor 5:21). A New Testament testimony of this truth is the apostle Paul’s confession: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:8-9).
When we are forgiven by God we are released from the debt we owe to Him for the multitude ways in which we have sinned against Him. He no longer holds these sins against us, nor does He hold grudges. “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:7-8). Tim Jackson, in a publication from Radio Bible Class, explains, “Throughout the Bible, forgiveness carries the idea of `release,’ `sending away,’ or `letting go.’ The Greek word often translated `forgiveness’ was used to indicate release from an office, marriage, obligation, debt, or punishment. The idea of a debt or something owed is inherent to the concept of forgiveness. In biblical terms, therefore, forgiveness is the loving, voluntary cancellation of a debt.”
Our forgiveness is not based upon our goodness. It is based upon the blood of Christ that was shed for us on the cross. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7; see also Col 2:13-14 and Hebrews 9:22-28). God’s goal in forgiveness is reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19-20).
The Demonstration of God’s Forgiveness
What has our heavenly Father done with our sins? “You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin” (Psalm 85:2); “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12). It is the redeemed who testify, “Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back” (Isa 38:17). It is God who testifies, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isa 43:25).
We often hear the phrase, “forgive and forget.” When the Bible says that God remembers our sins no more, it does not mean He erases His memory, but that He no longer holds our sin against us. With the psalmist we pray, “Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low” (Ps 79:8). When we repent of our sin and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, our slate is wiped clean by God’s forgiveness. This results in an eternal relationship with the heavenly Father that cannot be taken away from us. However, when a believer sins, his fellowship with God is broken. Therefore, we are called to a lifestyle of repentance and confession and assured of the promise that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “Confess” means, “to say the same thing.” It means to agree with God that what I have thought, said, or done is sin. Psalm 51 is an illustration of confession and divine forgiveness.
Here’s two Bible study suggestions:
1. Read Psalm 51.
- List the essential ingredients in David’s confession (vv. 1-6).
- How is God’s forgiveness described? (vv. 7-9)
- What were the results of his confession? (vv. 10-12)
2. Read Matthew 18:21-35.
- In His teaching on forgiveness Jesus told a parable concerning the indebtedness of two slaves. What was the condition of the first slave? (vv. 23-27)
- What was the condition of the second slave? (vv. 28-30)
- What was the expected behavior of the first slave? (vv. 33)
- How does God describe the slave who refused to forgive? (vv. 32)
- How serious is the refusal to forgive? What does it reveal about the true condition of the heart?
- See also Matthew 6:14-15. What are the consequences we must face if we behave like the first slave?
Someone once said, “He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.” If we have truly experienced the forgiving grace of God in Christ then it will lead to a different manner of treating others who sin against us. Those who have not received God’s grace are unable to give grace to others. Meditate on the following Scriptures and ask yourself if you truly are a forgiven person:Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12-13.
Forgiven people forgive. Why? Because those who are truly forgiven are the only true children of God and every true child of God wants to be like his or her heavenly Father. He is the father who forgives.