Relationships are messy and can be wonderful. This is both self-evident and biblical truth. People are messy and created in the image of God. Christian counseling promotes biblical truths and seeks to help their application in the reality of broken relationships. It affirms that the Bible is the basis, foundation, and source of understanding human nature, the divine, and God’s ways of healing.
In the course of Christian counseling, the issue of forgiveness of those who have wronged and hurt us is inevitably raised. This article is written to address the topic of forgiveness in the Bible. What does the Scripture really say?
Four Truths about Forgiveness in the Bible
1. Forgiveness is Godly. God, by nature, describes himself as forgiving.
There are a few prominent words in the Bible translated in English as ‘to forgive’ or ‘forgiveness.’ They all describe God’s heart and practice toward human sin. Forgiveness is cancelling a moral debt owed. This is seen in the Hebrew words nasa and salah, which mean respectively, the taking away, forgiveness, or pardon of sin and the act of God of forgiving people of their sins.
Exodus 34:7a describes God as forgiving wickedness. Psalm 103:12 describes God removing our transgressions from us an infinite distance. Micah 7:18 declares that God enjoys showing mercy (withholding just punishment), figuratively removing sin from us into the depths of the sea.In Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word, aphesis is a combination of two words, apo meaning separation or putting some distance between, and hiemi which means to put in motion; to send. Aphesis, translated ‘to forgive,’ is a sending away, a letting go, a release, a pardon of wrongdoing; an action that causes separation of a person from his or her guilt.
The legal use of aphesis is important. It means to release from a legal bond, to acquit, to exempt (from guilt, obligation, punishment) as in Colossians 2:13-14. When He forgives, God lets go of the obligation we owe Him when we sin against His holiness. His forgiveness is to remit, or to release from the guilt or penalty of. The heart of God to forgive is pictured on the Cross of Christ and in the words of Jesus as he suffered there: “Father, forgive them …” (Luke 23:34).
2. God forgives human sin through Jesus.
God offers forgiveness to any who desires it in Christ Jesus. The God who forgives cancels the moral debt owed of anyone who cries out to Him for His forgiveness, which Jesus provides through his death (Acts 5:30-31; 10:43; 13:38).
3. Jesus’ disciples are called to follow Him, love like Him, forgive as He does.
Jesus’ disciples are called to do unto others as God as done to them. They are called to follow Him, and obey His commands. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you.”The command to forgive others their sin against us is based on God’s own choice to forgive our sins against Him. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus told a story of an unmerciful servant who was initially forgiven of his debts but did not extend forgiveness to one of his debtors as a warning to forgive from the heart, the evidence that one has experienced God’s grace and forgiveness.
A sincere and grateful heart will seek to forgive as much as it is needed. This is God’s heart and practice as demonstrated by Jesus and His followers. As Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
4. Forgiveness is key to the healing and restoring of broken relationships.
In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Paul’s exhortation to the church in Corinth reminds Jesus’ followers of God’s desire for restoration and unity among those who have hurt one another. To withhold forgiveness is to participate in the strategy of the devil to divide and destroy God’s spiritual community.
To the church in Colosse, Paul reiterates truth that rings throughout the New Testament: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).
Getting Help with Forgiveness
These are some seminal truths about forgiveness from the Scriptures. What is not always immediately evident from these truths but is borne out in the reality of messy relationships, is that forgiveness can be hard, and is often a process, for which we need guidance, support and help.
Christian counseling can help. Christian counseling affirms that because God has forgiven us our sins in Christ Jesus, we, by His Spirit’s power and with the encouragement of others, can forgive those who have sinned against us. In so doing, we can be free of the hatred, compulsion of retribution, and emotional burden that resentment and bitterness can create. Jesus is our ultimate Healer and His people can be His healing agents. If you are in need of support in the process of forgiving and healing, I encourage you to reach out to us.
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