What Bible verses do you think of when you think of forgiveness? Here are what I consider perhaps the top seven Bible verses on forgiveness. What is one of yours?
The World’s Definition of Forgiveness
The world’s definition of forgiveness is remarkably different from that which the Bible describes. If you were to ask someone off the street what forgiveness meant they might say it’s the act of forgiving someone of something, having a willingness to forgive someone from something that they’ve done or said to you or the voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in attitude or feelings in which an offense was inflicted upon them. It might even be a willingness to let go of negative emotions toward someone such as vengeance. It is not condoning the offense or act but the person who forgives may gain the ability to even wish the offender well. For the person who was offended it could be giving up the right to hurt those who have hurt you. We can say we can forgive and forget but can we really forget? It is possible to forgive, but is it humanly possible to forget? Not likely.
The Biblical Definition of Forgiveness
What the Bible defines as forgiveness is much broader and more comprehensive than what the world believes. In Matthew 6:14 Jesus shows us what forgiveness really is: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” The Greek word for forgive is “aphiēmi” which means “to send away,” to “depart,” or “to yield up” which means you send away from ever being in the presence of either party. That means that if my brother offends me and I forgive him, then I “send away” the offense from myself and from him so that it is never brought up again. If a person keeps bringing the same offense up then they have never really sent it away or they haven’t truly forgiven you. True biblical and godly forgiveness is this; “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8) and “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). The Greek word for “enemies” is literally “hated, hateful, hostile,” and “opposing” so forgiveness is dying for someone while they still “hated or were hostile” toward you. That is what God calls forgiveness. We all hated God before we were saved because Paul writes that “while we were still enemies” of God He “died for us.”
Bible Verses on Forgiveness
Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
These verses are not saying that if you don’t forgive a brother or sister then God won’t forgive you as much as it is saying that if you are not forgiving others you might not be saved. It is not a conditional statement that only says you must forgive in order to be forgiven as much as it is if you are not forgiving of others then you may not have been forgiven of your sins in the first place. You could read verse 16 like this to make sense of this; “if you have not forgiven others their trespasses, neither has your Father not forgiven your trespasses” because remember to forgive is to “release, to send away or to yield up.”
First 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 I have long ago memorized because I counsel many who are consumed and eaten up with guilt over their sins. I remind that that God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” but only “If we confess our sins.” People who ask time and again to be forgiven for a sin that they have done must not make God out to be a liar for He promises to forgive and cleanse us from “all” sins if we have confessed them and so often we needlessly confess these over and over again when once is enough! God casts our sins into the depths of the seas and then puts a “no fishing” sign up, yet we still disobey that sign when we keep reeling them back in over and over again.
Psalm 51:7, 9 “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
The greatest repentance and confession chapter that I know of in the Bible is Psalm 51. This Psalm is for those of us who have blown it big time (like me!). To be purged with hyssop is to be made clean and when God washes our sins away, they stay away (or are “sent away”). Then, after confession, we will be made “whiter than snow.” In this way God can “create in [us] a clean heart” and this will “renew a right spirit within [us].”
Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Once again the analogy of snow is used and even when our sins are seen as “scarlet” they can “be white as snow [even] though they are like red crimson, they shall become like wool” and if you have seen white wool, there is nothing whiter to the naked eye than that, however Isaiah says that we first have to “reason together” meaning that if you say you sin, you confess it. To confess means to agree with God about your sin. To sin means to miss the mark, not just slightly, but like an archer shooting an arrow that is hundreds of yards short of not only the bull’s-eye but even the target.
Psalm 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
This is interesting because God not only forgives us but He removes our sins from us. Remember the biblical definition of forgiveness I gave earlier? It was to “send away, to depart with,” or to “yield up” which means that God sends them away. How far? How far is it from east meeting west? North and south do meet at the equator but east and west never do.and so the point is that our sins are sent away to infinity to which they will never again meet up with God.
Second Corinthians 5:18-19 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
God has given us “the ministry of reconciliation” meaning that Paul was preaching the forgiveness of sins and that God was “not counting their trespasses (sins) against them” and God was “entrusting to [Paul and all the preachers] the message of reconciliation.” Since God has also entrusted us with this ministry of reconciliation, we ought to be giving it to others and that ministry is that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” Tell others about this. That is your and my ministry.
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
If we are “forgiving one another [just] as God in Christ forgave [us] then we will “be kind to one another.” The opposite is true. If we are not “forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave us” then we are not being kind to one another but hateful. A tenderhearted person forgives and that forgiveness is an act of kindness. You can’t have kindness for one another if you are not forgiving one another.
God has forgiven you if you have repented and trusted in Christ because it was for “our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). If you have believed on Him (John 3:16-17) then you eternal life right now but if you reject this only way to heaven (Acts 4:12) then the wrath of God is still on you (John 3:36b), you stand condemned (John 3:18) and God will pour out His wrath upon you on the day you are judged (Rev 20:11-15). Choose today where you eternal destiny will be.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon