What is forgiveness? What does it mean to be forgiven of our sins?
According to the Scripture, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22) because the wages of sin is death (Rom. 5:12, 6:23). As believers, we know that God provided a way for us to receive His forgiveness by the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross in our place (Eph. 1:7-8a, Acts 10:43, Col. 2:13-14).
But what does it really mean for us to be forgiven? According to the Scripture, when God forgives He forgets. In different places the Bible says: He “hurls all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19), He removes our transgressions from us “as far as the east is from the west” (that’s in a straight line, not around the globe–Psalm 103:8-12), and He “remembers them no more” (Jeremiah 31:34, Isaiah 43:25). When we are forgiven, the case is closed. The debt has been paid. The records are wiped clean.
That is what the Bible means when it says we are justified through Christ. We are in right standing before God, just as if we had never sinned (Romans 5:8-10). We are forgiven.
As believers, we are not only fully forgiven, but we must be full forgivers. Forgiving others is not an option. It is not something that is nice for us to do. It is something we must do. When Peter came to Jesus asking how many times he was required to forgive someone who continued to sin against him, he asked Him, “Up to seven times?” But Jesus answered, “Seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-35). No, He was not advocating keeping score, but continuing to forgive every time. In fact, the issue of forgiving others is so important that Jesus said in so many words,
If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. Matthew 6:14-15
Forgiveness is not easy. Often we cannot forgive without God’s enabling grace (2 Corinthians 12:9). But although we cannot forget as easily as God can, we cannot use that as an excuse not to forgive and let go of the wrongs against us. Luis Palau told of an example we would do well to imitate:
Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was reminded one day of a vicious deed that someone had done to her years before. But she acted as if she had never even heard of the incident. “Don’t you remember it?” her friend asked. “No,” came Barton’s reply, “I distinctly remember forgetting it.”
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:12-13