Since wrongdoing spoils a relationship, forgiveness is necessary if the relationship is to be restored. Forgiveness does not mean pretending that some wrongdoing did not happen. It means recognizing the wrongdoing for what it is, and then in love forgiving it, forgetting it, and restoring the relationship with the forgiven person (Heb 10:17-18). The basis of forgiveness Men and women, being sinners, have more than spoiled their relationship with God; they have also fallen under God’s judgment. They are therefore in need of God’s forgiveness if they are to escape that judgment (Exod 32:32; Rom 3:23-24). God alone can grant this forgiveness (Mark 2:7,10; Acts 5:31), but sinners are in no position to demand it of him.

No person has a right to forgiveness. Forgiveness is possible only because of the grace of God – the mercy that he exercises towards people even though they do not deserve it (Num 14:19; Ps 78:38; Rom 5:20; Titus 3:4-7). God wants to forgive (Neh 9:17; Micah 7:18) but he requires repentance and faith in those who seek his forgiveness (Ps 32:5; 51:17; Luke 7:36-50; Acts 3:19; 10:43; 20:21; 1 John 1:9). There is no mechanical way of gaining forgiveness, such as by offering a sacrifice or reciting a formula. Sinners are dependent entirely upon God’s mercy (Ps 51:1-4; Col 2:13). This was so even in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. There was no thought of bribing God by offering him sacrifices. On the contrary the sacrificial system was something God graciously gave as a means by which repentant sinners might approach him and obtain forgiveness (Lev 17:11; cf. Ps 130:3). In the sacrifices, God provided a way whereby people could demonstrate their repentance, faith and obedience. Without such attitudes, they benefited nothing from their sacrifices (Ps 50:9,13-14; 51:16-17; Isa 1:11,16-20). The death of the animal in the place of the sinner also showed the sinner clearly that forgiveness of sin was possible only when the penalty of sin had justly been carried out. Forgiveness was costly.

Without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness (Heb 9:22; cf. Lev 4:2-7; 16:15-19; see SACRIFICE). Christ’s death is the basis on which God forgives all sins, past, present or future (Matt 26:28; Acts 13:38; Rom 3:24-26; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:11-14,26). And once God has forgiven sins, they are removed for ever (Ps 103:12; Isa 43:25; Col 2:13-14; Heb 8:12; 10:17-18). Forgiveness in practice Christ’s followers have the responsibility to preach the forgiveness of sins, and because of this they become the means by which people either believe the gospel and are forgiven, or reject it and remain in their sins (John 20:22-23; Acts 13:38). Jesus on one occasion referred to the deliberate rejection of him as the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, a sin for which there could be no forgiveness (Matt 12:31-32; for further discussion see BLASPHEMY). Once people have been forgiven by God, they have the responsibility to forgive any who sin against them. This is more than a sign of their gratitude to God. It is a requirement laid upon them if they want to experience God’s continued forgiveness of their own failures (Matt 6:12; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37; 7:47; 17:4; Eph 4:32). (Concerning the forgiven person’s subsequent wrongdoings and their relationship to salvation see JUSTIFICATION, sub-heading ‘Justification and forgiveness’.)

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