What is forgiveness? Are believers considered clean by God? And what should our attitude be toward others who have hurt us?
Two types of forgiveness appear in the Bible: God's pardon of our sins, and our obligation to pardon others. This subject is so important that our eternal destiny depends upon it.
What is Forgiveness by God?
God loves us too much to let us destroy ourselves in Hell. He provided a way for us to be forgiven, and that way is through Jesus Christ. Jesus confirmed that in no uncertain terms when he said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6, NIV) God's plan of salvation was to send Jesus, his only Son, into the world as a sacrifice for our sins.
That sacrifice was necessary to satisfy God's justice. Moreover, that sacrifice had to be perfect and spotless. Because of our sinful nature, we cannot repair our broken relationship with God on our own. Only Jesus was qualified to do that for us. At the Last Supper, on the night before his crucifixion, he took a cup of wine and told his apostles, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28, NIV)
The next day, Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment due us, and atoning for our sins. On the third day after that, he rose from the dead, conquering death for all who believe in him as Savior. John the Baptist and Jesus commanded that we repent, or turn away from our sins to receive God's forgiveness. When we do, our sins are forgiven, and we are assured of eternal life in heaven.
What is Forgiveness of Others?
As believers, our relationship with God is restored, but what about our relationship with our fellow human beings? The Bible states that when someone hurts us, we are under an obligation to God to forgive that person. Jesus is very clear on this point:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NIV)
Refusing to forgive is a sin. If we receive forgiveness from God, we must give it to others who hurt us. We cannot hold grudges or seek revenge. We are to trust God for justice and forgive the person who offended us. That does not mean we must forget the offense, however; usually that's beyond our power. Forgiveness means releasing the other from blame, leaving the event in God's hands, and moving on.
We may resume a relationship with the person if we had one, or we may not if one did not exist before. Certainly the victim of a crime has no obligation to become friends with the criminal. We leave it to the courts and to God to judge them.
What is forgiveness? The entire Bible points to Jesus Christ and his divine mission to save us from our sins. The Apostle Peter summed it up like this:
We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosenby us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (NIV)