Forgiveness is the economy of the heart. Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.
When I think of forgiveness, I tend to bristle. You see, my natural, sinful tendency is to be very cynical of people. I withhold authenticity from someone until I know they're safe. If that person later proves unsafe or unreliable in some way, I default back to withholding, especially if there is forgiveness that needs to be given. I've seen this pattern over & over in my own life.
And while there is wisdom in placing healthy boundaries to keep "toxic" people from abusing you & damaging your faith, I know that those people are the exception, not the rule. Forgiveness is always the command - even in the most dire of circumstances.
When forgiveness is withheld, you know what takes root? Bitterness, cynicism, division, hatred, doubt, distrust -- the list goes on & on. It poisons families, churches, workplaces, leadership teams.
So, I need to write this blog post because I need to be reminded of the incredible power of forgiveness - in my own life & in the life of those around me. I need to be reminded of the truth of God's Word. I need to be humbled at the mountain of debt that I owed but no longer because Jesus paid it all!
Are you ready? Let's dig into the Bible & see what it has to say about forgiveness.
Genesis 50:17 - ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.
Joseph's story is one of those Bible stories that I see in flannelgraph pictures. I have to remind myself that these events actually happened to real people. Anyways, Joseph's story is one of the most dramatic recorded in Scripture. It is also a beautiful image of the bigger redemption story of the Bible. Here, his brothers are doubting that Joseph will forgive them, so they send a message to him to plead for what they know they don't deserve. Joseph extends that forgiveness for their past wrongs & salvation from the famine. Through this story we can look ahead to Jesus' forgiveness & offer of salvation.
Exodus 10:17 - Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me.”
The Israelites settled in Egypt due to Joseph's leadership. But eventually they become slaves in this country & cry out to God for their freedom. God sends plagues to convince Pharaoh to let them leave. Here, Pharaoh is speaking to Moses & asking him to intercede on his behalf. Pharaoh's pleas are most likely insincere because once he gets his way, he reneges on his promises. He thinks he can manipulate God, but the reality is that God sees our hearts.
Exodus 32:32 - But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”
Israel is out of Egypt, so all of their troubles are over, right? Nope. They decide that God (who freed them, opened the Red Sea, provided water from a rock, rained bread from heaven, etc.) wasn't exactly what they wanted Him to be. So, they make this golden calf & worship it while Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments. He returns to see this abomination and must plead with God to forgive the sins of the people. Moses goes so far as to offer up his own life for the people. Another story that looks ahead to the sacrificial death of Christ that won our forgiveness.
1 Samuel 25:28 - Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live.
David has just been insulted by the foolish Nabal. (His name literally means "fool.") David sends messengers to ask for compensation, but Nabal replies rudely. Here, Nabal's wife, Abigail, pleads with David to forgive her husband's behavior. David isn't king yet, but he's been anointed. Abigail acknowledges in her plea & asks David to remember God's promises to him.
Nehemiah 9:17 - They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
Nehemiah has been tasked with rebuilding Jerusalem. At the dedication of the wall, Ezra gets up to read the Book of the Law to the people who have returned to help with the rebuilding. It causes the people to weep (8:9), so they take a break to celebrate the Feast of Booths. Here, the people are confessing their sin before God & going back through their nation's history to recall His love & care & forgiveness for them in the past. (They even mention that golden calf story.)
Psalm 99:8 - O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Another reference to the golden calf story, acknowledging the offense that sin is against our holy God. He forgives but He also is holy. His forgiveness of sin does not negate His holiness. This is one of those truths that is hard to wrap my brain around, but I am so glad that both of those things are true!
Psalm 130:3-4 - If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
This whole psalm (only 8 verses) is called a penitential psalm. The writer meditates on & rests in the truth of God's forgiveness of sin.
Jeremiah 33:8 - I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.
God is giving Jeremiah this message of peace & forgiveness for the Jewish people. His forgiveness will turn the people back to Him in fear & trembling but also joy & gladness (v.9).
Daniel 9:19 - O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
Daniel pleads with God to forgive the sins of the people - not for their ease or relief, but for God's glory.
Hosea 1:6 - She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.
What a name for a baby! Hosea's whole life was a picture of the redemptive love God has for Israel. The following verse does show that God saves some from the House of Judah to keep His covenant. But Israel was heading for very hard consequences of their persistent sins. (Side note: There's a Christian novel loosely based on Hosea's story. It's called Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It's a pretty good read, if you're interested!)
Matthew 6:12 - and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
One of the most familiar passages in all of Scripture - the Lord's Prayer. Jesus is giving us a pattern or prayer. And one of the key elements is confession of sin.
Matthew 9:6 - But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
Jesus is in Capernaum, the town where he settled after being rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. He encounters a man in need of healing - both physically & spiritually. His first concern is the man's heart, telling the man that his sins are forgiven. Immediately the religious leaders decry this as blasphemy. The first half of this verse is the end of his remarks to these men. Once that's cleared up, he takes care of this man's physical need. It's a clear declaration of Jesus' deity. A reminder that God Himself came to earth to execute the greatest rescue operation ever. (parallel passage in Mark 2)
Matthew 18:21 - Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Oh, Peter! He thinks he's being very wise asking Jesus this question. Jesus sees this at the teachable moment that it is & tells a parable to teach the concept of forgiveness. The unforgiving servant is another humbling reminder of the debt we owe, the forgiveness we've been given, & the reason that we should be forgiving of others.
Matthew 26:28 - for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
The institution of the Lord's Supper on the night of Jesus' arrest. (My random thought: What do you think the Disciples were thinking when Jesus was saying all of this?) Every time we partake in Communion with the Church body, we are to remember the price of our forgiveness. Jesus, thank you!
Luke 23:34 - And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
One of the phrases Jesus spoke on the Cross. In this we see the compassion, the love that Jesus had for these sinful people surrounding Him, even as they openly mocked & brutally killed Him.
Luke 24:47 - and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Post-resurrection instruction from Jesus to the Disciples. He explains that the events of those past few days were what all of Scripture has been pointing to. He was indeed the Messiah, the one who was sent to die & rise again for the forgiveness of sins.
Acts 2:38 - And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It's Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has arrived. Peter preaches a sermon. Afterwards, the people ask, "What are we supposed to do with this information?" This verse is the beginning of Peter's answer.
Acts 5:31 - God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Some of the Apostles have been arrested & brought before the High Priest. He reminds them that they've been ordered not to preach about Jesus. This verse is part of Peter's response to this charge. "We must obey God rather than men." (v.29) The forgiveness message is so important that these men risked everything to share it with others!
Acts 10:43 - To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Faith alone in Christ alone. Again, this is Peter speaking. This time, he's speaking to the Gentiles. This is the first time they were hearing the Gospel!
Acts 26:18 - to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
This is part of the Apostle Paul's testimony before Agrippa. He's speaking of his Damascus Road conversion & commission from Jesus.
2 Corinthians 2:7 - so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
OK, so we've been reminded of the forgiveness God showed throughout Israel's history, we've seen how the OT points to Jesus, we've seen Jesus forgiving His tormentors on the Cross, we've seen that forgiveness of our sins was made possible by Jesus' death. Now, we're going to see some verses that carry that Gospel story into our everyday lives. For instance, the Corinthian church is dealing with some major hurt. The offender has repented of his sin & Paul urges the church to forgive the man so that he can be restored to fellowship with the body. He goes on later to say that continuing in unforgiveness is a sure way to leave room for the enemy to get a foothold.
Ephesians 1:7 - In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
May we never forget that our forgiveness was bought with Jesus' blood.
Ephesians 4:32 - Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
May God's forgiveness compel us to live a life marked by forgiveness.
Colossians 3:13 - 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.
This echoes the thoughts of Ephesians 4:32. We have the ultimate example of forgiveness in Jesus. We should be striving to be like Him in all things, including forgiveness.
Hebrews 9:22 - Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Here, we see the connection between the blood sacrifices required of Israel under the Law & the blood that Jesus poured out on our behalf on the Cross. (Remember how Jesus told the Disciples that the Law pointed to Him? Here's one example!)
Hebrews 10:18 - Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Because Jesus accomplished redemption on the Cross, there is no more need for all of those sacrifices that the Law required. It's done! It's finished! Jesus paid the penalty in full & now He sits at the right hand of God & waits until it's time to return.
1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This is a verse that combats that guilt that can creep into our hearts over past sin. If those offenses have been confess to God, this verse assures us that they are forgiven. And, as we've seen throughout these verses, God has a very long history of forgiving His people. Memorize this one if you struggle with guilt & shame!
As always, I encourage you to do your own study of each of these passages. This blog post is simply a reference & not intended to be exhaustive. But I hope it's a great jumping off point for you as you do your own study!
Forgiveness can be a very complicated subject to grapple with. It often has many layers. I would never want to make you feel shame & guilt as you work toward forgiveness in your own heart. Believe me when I say that this is a constant battle in my own heart.
That's why I need the Gospel. That's why I need to saturate my heart & mind in God's Word. That's why prayer & community are so important.
If you would like further reading on this subject, I highly recommend Forgiving What You Can't Forget by Lysa TerKeurst. I'm currently reading it, so I'm learning right alongside you!
Are you looking for other posts in this series?
Bible Verses about Trusting God
Bible Verses about God's Steadfast Love
Cheering you on!
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