What Is Forgiveness According to the Bible?

The Bible teaches two types of forgiveness

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What is forgiveness? Is there a definition of forgiveness in the Bible? Does biblical forgiveness mean believers are considered clean by God? And what should our attitude be toward others who have hurt us?

Two types of forgiveness appear in the Bible: God's pardon of our sins, and our obligation to pardon others. This subject is so important that our eternal destiny depends on it.

Forgiveness Definition

  • Forgiveness, according to the Bible, is correctly understood as God's promise not to count our sins against us.
  • Biblical forgiveness requires repentance on our part (turning away from our old life of sin) and faith in Jesus Christ.
  • One condition for receiving forgiveness from God is our willingness to forgive other people.
  • Human forgiveness is a reflection of our experience and understanding of God's forgiveness.
  • Love (not obligatory rule-following) is the motivation behind God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others.

What Is Forgiveness by God?

Humankind has a sinful nature. Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and humans have been sinning against God ever since.

God loves us too much to let us destroy ourselves in Hell. He provided a way for us to be forgiven, and that way is through Jesus Christ. Jesus confirmed that in no uncertain terms when he said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6, NIV). God's plan of salvation was to send Jesus, his only Son, into the world as a sacrifice for our sins.

That sacrifice was necessary to satisfy God's justice. Moreover, that sacrifice had to be perfect and spotless. Because of our sinful nature, we cannot repair our broken relationship with God on our own. Only Jesus was qualified to do that for us.

At the Last Supper, on the night before his crucifixion, he took a cup of wine and told his apostles, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28, NIV).

The next day, Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment due us, and atoning for our sins. On the third day after that, he rose from the dead, conquering death for all who believe in him as Savior.

John the Baptist and Jesus commanded that we repent, or turn away from our sins to receive God's forgiveness. When we do, our sins are forgiven, and we are assured of eternal life in heaven.

What Is Forgiveness of Others?

As believers, our relationship with God is restored, but what about our relationship with our fellow human beings? The Bible states that when someone hurts us, we are under an obligation to God to forgive that person. Jesus is very clear on this point:

Matthew 6:14-15
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NIV)

Refusing to forgive is a sin. If we receive forgiveness from God, we must give it to others who hurt us. We cannot hold grudges or seek revenge. We are to trust God for justice and forgive the person who offended us. That does not mean we must forget the offense, however; usually, that's beyond our power. Forgiveness means releasing the other from blame, leaving the event in God's hands, and moving on.

We may resume a relationship with the person if we had one, or we may not if one did not exist before. Certainly, the victim of a crime has no obligation to become friends with the criminal. We leave it to the courts and to God to judge them.

Nothing compares to the freedom we feel when we learn to forgive others. When we choose not to forgive, we become slaves to bitterness. We are the ones most hurt by holding on to unforgiveness.

In his book, "Forgive and Forget", Lewis Smedes wrote these profound words about forgiveness:

"When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself."

Summing Up Forgiveness

What is forgiveness? The entire Bible points to Jesus Christ and his divine mission to save us from our sins.

The apostle Peter summed up forgiveness like this:

Acts 10:39-43
Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (NIV)

Paul summarized forgiveness like so:

Ephesians 1:7–8
He [God] is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. (NLT)
Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (NLT)

John the apostle said:

1 John 1:9
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (NLT)

Jesus taught us to pray:

Matthew 6:12
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (NIV)

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Zavada, Jack. "What Is Forgiveness According to the Bible?" Learn Religions, Sep. 2, 2021, learnreligions.com/what-is-forgiveness-700640. Zavada, Jack. (2021, September 2). What Is Forgiveness According to the Bible? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-forgiveness-700640 Zavada, Jack. "What Is Forgiveness According to the Bible?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-forgiveness-700640 (accessed March 27, 2023).