"He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:26
"In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Forgiveness as at the heart of the gospel, the message concerning Jesus Christ. Since forgiveness is so vital in our relationship to God and to one another, I thought it would be good to look at this topic again.
What is forgiveness? On what basis does God forgive us, and we forgive others? How do we know we are forgiven?
WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?
Inability To Think
In a recent chapel service bulletin from Chaplain Wendell C. Hawley, comes a classic illustration of forgiveness. When the Moravian missionaries first went to the Eskimos, they could not find a word in their language for forgiveness, so they had to compound one. This turned out to be: Issumagijoujungnainermik. It is a formidable-looking assembly of letters, but an expression that has a beautiful connotation for those who understand it. It means: “Not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.”
—Minister’s Research Service
Forgetfulness is often thought of as a problem. Yet when it comes to forgiveness, forgetfulness is a primary ingredient. As it says in Heb 8:12 “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” We know we have forgiven when the sin against us no longer affects our relationship. If we are stewing we have not forgiven. If when we think about that person we do so in light of the sin, we have not forgiven. But on what basis can we expect to forgive? How we can say, it’s OK, I won’t think about it anymore, when it is not OK? After all, isn’t there any justice?
ON WHAT BASIS DOES GOD FORGIVE US?
Recently in the war in Rwanda between the Tutsis and the Hutus, one side simply slaughtered the other. Demonic rage was let loose in the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people where hacked up and left dead with no one to bury them. Hatred thrived on all sides. Yet afterward the leaders of the country who still lived called for national forgiveness. Since nearly everyone was involved, justice would be impossible to serve. So let’s just forgive.
The problem is that this kind of forgiveness is that it is only on the surface. Some Tutsi or Hutu would only have to have a bad attitude day and fear would spring up in other people’s hearts. Are they going to kill again, or get revenge? Are my children safe?
Indeed, there must be some villages or neighborhoods where some child has to look each day upon the killer of their mother or father and deal with the thought, “That person got away with murder - the murder of my family.” Forgiveness without justice is sentimentalism, and justice without forgiveness is cruel. Forgiveness and justice must work together, as demonstrated by God on the cross. Then we can have real love which then forms the basis for justice and forgiveness. It is only the cross of Christ that provides any basis for true forgiveness. Justice is served by the death of Jesus, who offered himself to die as the head of humanity. When Jesus died, we all died.
If you are having a difficult time forgiving because it seems that they are just getting away with it, remember the cross. When Jesus died for us, we all died in his death. The person who is to be forgiven has already been given what they deserve with Jesus on the cross. If that person by faith avails himself of that death, he will live. If not, then he will die that death. Justice is mine, I will repay, says the LORD. Romans 12:19
HOW DO WE KNOW WE ARE FORGIVEN?
Many pictures of the atonement show that although the forgiveness is given to all, it must be received. The communion has to be individually received. The Passover must be individually partaken of. All those who were outside the house where the blood was applied were given over to the destroyer. On the day of atonement all the nation's sins were individually named over the goat. So all are provided for, but we must partake. John wrote “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2
How then do we partake of this forgiveness? In 1 John 1:9 John writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confession of sin is crucial, both for us to be forgiven and for us to forgive others. This confession must be made from a heart touched with the gravity of sin. As the parable of the Pharisee and the publican tells us that, “God be merciful to me a sinner” is sufficient for justification. Declaring bankruptcy is often the only way to go. Like the thief on the cross who said, “We are getting what we deserve while this man (Jesus) is innocent.” This is how we are forgiven. To receive it we must believe the scripture. And when we believe, we act on it by confessing our sins, and the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are truly the children of God.
1 John 3:18-20 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.