In a recent theology class my students and I sought to define forgiveness. A fundamental aspect of the Gospel is God’s forgiveness of sin. However, we found it surprisingly difficult to actually define that term. The parable of the unforgiving servant (found in Matthew 18:21-35) is an important Biblical passage that we considered in this discussion.
We developed this definition: Forgiveness is God’s decision to apply Christ’s once-for-all work of atonement to our account in payment for the debt our sins have created.
Our assurance of forgiveness is based on God’s character. God is by nature a perfect promise-keeper, so we can have complete confidence that he will deliver on his promises.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, ESV)
As Christians, we respond to God’s forgiveness with love for our fellow man, recognizing that God will treat us the way we treat others. Jesus taught us that principle in the Lord’s Prayer and the following verses.
“…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…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.” (Matthew 6:12, 14–15, ESV)
May the Lord be praised for his wonderful promise of forgiveness.