Banner Ministries Birthpangs Website: What Is Biblical Forgiveness?

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"The Truth About Forgiveness" (2)

By Tricia Tillin (Booth)

Manson ArrestedA debt has to be paid, one way or the other - that's the system. Believe it or not, that's STILL the world's system - don't get mad, til I explain. Jesus didn't come to overthrow the Law. The Law is good and righteous and perfect. Jesus came to fulfill the Law in his own life and ministry, and then to offer the fruits of that fulfillment to anyone who wants them. The Law still stands - and for anybody who is not in Jesus, that Law still applies.

PART ONE: First the Problem
PART TWO: Now the Answer

Sin carries a price, always - the ultimate price of sin is DEATH. (Rom 6:23) God could not just overlook sin. He didn't just wink at what Adam and Eve did in Eden. But it's what we would LIKE for him to have done - shrugged his shoulders and said "oh well, never mind" and "well, I forgive you, I love you whatever you do". NO. What God says, he means.

It's a profound act of kindness to refuse to bear ill will when somebody sins against us, but it's not biblical forgiveness and it doesn't remove the outstanding debt. We would like for God to be as nice as we are, saying "He raped me, he murdered my children and set fire to my house, and now he's smirking at me across the courtroom, but I forgive him..."

NO! God does not act that way and he doesn't allow us to act that way. There are those who sincerely believe and teach that EVERYTHING is going to be forgiven eventually and that EVERYONE will be saved, including Lucifer himself...and you have probably heard the old objections to the gospel "how could a loving God send people to Hell?" but all this is based on a misunderstanding of God and the gospel.

Legality of Forgiveness - in God, In Man

The legal system of this world was established by its Maker many years ago.

Lev 24:17-22
'Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal. If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him -- fracture for fracture, eye for eye , tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death. You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the LORD your God'.

Every debt must be paid, up to and including a life for a life. That is God's Law. In this fallen world, without the intervention of God, nothing may be overlooked! We know that God sent us redemption in Jesus Christ, but what does that word really mean? "Redemption" is a word used in accountancy. It's about settling accounts, balancing the books.

We "redeem" a pledge by paying it back. We "redeem" a debt by honouring it, and making good our promise. Thus every sin committed against our fellow-human beings (and indeed God, but that is a different study), carries a price that we must pay. Every sin committed against us requires repayment and THAT is what eats into our souls as we dwell on it.

Adam and EveAdam and Eve can teach us something valuable about sin and its redemption. When they disobeyed God THEY in their own thinking tried to resolve the problem. Not only did they lie to God but they made a covering for themselves that was inadequate - a bloodless sacrifice:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. Gen 3:7

You might argue, what's the problem? They were ashamed and they made fig-leaf coverings to hide themselves. It SEEMED effective to the natural eye, but as far as God is concerned, it didn't go far enough. There was no sacrifice involved. So God took responsibility for their redemption and:

... for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them. Gen 3:21

A blood sacrifice had to be made; there had to be a death - the killing of an animal instead of people - and they had to be covered with the blood and clothed in the animal skins so as to identify with the sacrifice.

In that way, God was saying "for the time being you have paid with your lives and your blood for the crime for which the penalty was death. I will allow you to live, because I see the blood." From that time forward, there was to be NO redemption without the blood (Heb 9:22).

So, trying to resolve a problem you have with somebody who has wronged or hurt you by just "letting it go" or saying the words as a form of forgiveness is foolish because it's unrealistic. It may look effective to the natural eye, but in God's eyes the debt is still outstanding and somebody must pay it. Will you pay it? NO - you didn't sin. Will the sinner pay it? NO, he doesn't want to.

Don't pretend to pay your debts

A debt remains outstanding as long as recompense is not made, and pretending it's all over when it isn't, is as incorrect as pretending you have paid off your credit cards when you haven't.

Can you make black white just by overlooking it? Can you make the sea into the land just by saying so? If you have been wronged, then there IS an outstanding debt! (Does this make you feel easier - to stop trying to square the circle and make everything right just by mental effort? Isn't it wonderful to stop screwing yourself up to the point of "feeling forgiving" or trying to think "they didn't mean it" when they so obviously did.)

broken chainsWhen I realised this, when God showed me the true nature of sin and forgiveness, I felt such a release that I sobbed. I saw the truth - that I DID have an actual reason to be hurt, but that something genuine and practical could be done about it.

There was a remedy, if I could understand it properly. It was a freeing moment to know that I wasn't the guilty one for being so harsh and unforgiving; in fact, God not only recognises wrongdoing but requires payment just as we do, and we are not sinful to feel hard done by.

Sin-debts MUST be paid

So, one way or another, debts have to be paid. In a financial transaction, there are only two ways to clear a debt.

  • Directly - repayment by the debtor OR
  • Indirectly - somebody else purchases the outstanding debt and pays it on their behalf.

In spiritual terms that means:

  • Repentance - the person who sinned repents and thus clears the debt
  • Redemption - the creditor "writes off" the debt by passing it to a higher authority (Only God can redeem sin).

Either way, the debt is paid. It's not outstanding. In life a financial transaction relating to a debt is settled in the same way - somebody, somewhere down the line, MUST pay even if the debtor goes bankrupt. Either the debtor, a good friend, or the banks settle the debt. If it's "written off" that only means it's absorbed into the accounts of the company.

However, in spiritual terms if none of this takes place - no repentance, no surrender to God - then it remains outstanding. And IF it's outstanding, neither paid by the person repenting nor brought under the blood of redemption, then it's a LIE to say it's forgiven. It might be "forgotten" (though I doubt it) it might be overlooked by some kind of mental effort, it might be laid aside, but it's not truly redeemed in the biblical sense until the debt is wiped out.

THIS is what causes ongoing resentment, grudge-bearing, vendettas, vengefulness, bitterness and disputes. It also is the basis of traumas and bad behaviour that continue to affect people long after the sin is a distant memory.

The biblical way of forgiveness. Letting the debt go to God

Remember how God could not legally overlook the sin of mankind. There had to be a repayment of the debt. For centuries, God prepared mankind to see how this would come about, and for the time being there was a system of blood sacrifices instead of the death of the sinners. Up until Jesus Christ the complete Sacrifice came, it was the blood of bulls, rams, birds and lambs that was sprinkled on believers to cleanse them.

When Jesus came, he offered himself as THE one and only perfect, once for all, eternal payment for ALL the debts of mankind both up to that point and for all eternity. In Jesus, all debt was wiped out forever. (This could legally be done because Jesus was a perfect keeper of the Law, and nobody else could be found who fulfilled this qualification - the Sacrifice had to be spotless.)

In that moment, at his death, Jesus transferred all the debts onto his own account, and paid them in himself. the theme of accountancy and accountability is mentioned several times in the bible. For instance, when Jesus died, he took with him all the "handwriting that was against us" - the charges that made us debtors to God and fellow men.

Death and Its Sentence Abolished

A Sermon by C. H. SPURGEON, At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.1883.

quoteAnd you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." Colossians 2:13, 14.Notice the great deed of Christ in THE REMOVAL OF THE HANDWRITING THAT WAS AGAINST US. Consider, dear friends, what this handwriting was. When a man has some charge or insinuation against him merely whispered about and floating in the air, he hardly knows what it is; and, perhaps, if he is a sensible man, he does not care much what it is, but he lets it fly about till it flies away. But when he has an accusation made a midst him in black and white, when there is a handwriting against him, a charge written down and laid before the court, an indictment upon which ho is to be tried, that is a more serious matter. Handwriting, especially in legal matters, is generally more accurate than mere speech; and there is, against every ungodly man, something written with the anger of God, which he cannot deny, for it is absolutely true. Handwriting also abides; the old Latin proverb says, "Litera scripta manet," that which is written remains. Be very careful as to what you put into black and white, because it may be brought against you many years after you have written it, when you may think very differently concerning it. There is, against every unconverted man, a handwriting which will remain, and which will be brought up against him at the great day of judgment. It is not a mere, baseless rumor floating about, but something tangible which will last, and which cannot be removed except by the almighty power of God.

We are told that Jesus took the "handwriting that was against us" and nailed it to the cross. What does this mean? It means that ALL of us are criminals, and we have an indictment written out against us that we cannot remove. The law is the law. It cannot just be overlooked - let's remind ourselves again that there is a legal system here. "Forgiveness" that just winks at sin is a fantasy, achieves nothing and is illegal. Did Jesus come merely to forgive sins, or to remove them by the Cross? Sin, wrongdoing, lawlessness, disobedience, all must be accounted for and paid in full. The Law isn't going to overlook it, yet WE cannot repay.

Criminals in the day of Jesus would have their charges written out and nailed to their cross. Remember how Pilate caused it to be writtenking of the jews sign on the cross of Jesus "King of the Jews" (John 19:18-19). This was his crime!

But every other list of charges - yours and mine - Jesus carried with him to that cross and was crucified to satisfy the authorities and settle the score on EVERY account.

That is how Jesus REDEEMED us from sin, bought off the debt and paid it in full. Jesus adopted all our unpaid bills and outstanding debts, settled them himself and wiped them off our accounts! Our accounts are clear, that is, if we identify with and accept this sacrifice. (Remember how Adam and Eve WORE the skins, they closely associated with the death of the animal.)

Relating this to our own need to forgive

So - what can be learned from this, as far as our OWN forgiveness problems are concerned? We can see that a legal transaction has to take place. We can't simply deny a debt, but we can pass it on! We can make it over to God!

What is the difference between this and the family member in court saying "I forgive him"? Well, you can only say that you won't require the debt to be repaid because you have passed the invoice to the Heavenly Bank and God has taken on the debt.

The burden of the debt has now passed from you to God. Praise the Lord! You are free of it, it's nothing more to do with YOU.

For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay ," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Heb 10:30-31

Now one of two things can happen. Either the person who erred accepts the blood atonement of Jesus Christ and receives forgiveness for all his sins, OR he chooses not to do that and has to deal with God's perfect justice. Either way, it's no longer your problem. The person who has hurt YOU, now has GOD to account to. It's in HIS hands. It's a transaction - and that is biblical forgiveness. Either you demand payment or God does, but whatever else happens all debts have to be paid.

What happens in your heart is the release of getting that debt off the books and not having to wait for repayment any more. You are no longer in the debtor's court, anxiously waiting for the day to dawn when all will be put right and you can regain your peace. You've passed it to a higher court where God's perfect justice prevails.

What happens next?

Doesn't this system put the debtor (the sinner) in the position of having to make recompense to GOD instead of you? Well, yes! But who would you rather deal with - a hurt, upset, angry, vindictive, vengeful person bearing a long-term grudge, or a merciful, loving God who offers to cover your debts and forgive you (because, remember, HE can do that, YOU cannot. Only God can redeem the sinner.)

And if the worst comes to the worst and that person is found guilty before God, steadfastly refuses to repent, is truly without remorse, and will not accept God then eventually God's justice will come into play:

1 Peter 4:3-6 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

So what is the biblical process of forgiveness? It's laying down your burden at the Cross! All these burdens, debts unpaid, all these grudge "eggs" you have been burden at crossincubating, they are weighing you down and stopping your forward progress. As long as you stand there watching and waiting, you are not moving on with your life.

Let's face it, these debts (most of them) will remain unpaid for the rest of your life.

That person isn't going to change, repent, pay back what they owe you. Society and perhaps even churches demand that you "forgive" i.e. try mentally to overlook the fact. But God asks you to pass them over, make out the account to HIM, so that HE becomes the Creditor.

You can do this if you trust God. This doesn't require you, necessarily, to FEEL anything. (How blessed is that?) You may still feel aggrieved, wronged, jealous, hurt - but the act of faith in passing over the debt to God will release YOU, and it will release the other person too.

Invisible ties broken

Yes, the person who wronged you will no longer be held by invisible ties to you! That fact is just as important as your own release. When two people are joined by an outstanding sin, neither of them are free no matter how much time passes. The invisible cord that binds you back to the incidents in your past and all the wrongs done to you, will pull you back into the same behaviour patterns, the same knee-jerk anger or depression, the same old dreams of revenge, the same troubled life as the first day it happened. But it will also hold the other person in endless guilt and sadness, perhaps unable to see the truth of the gospel, unable to be saved.

The only effective way to break free from that cord is to make over the debt to God. Finally you are released to get on with your life, and that other person is released to face God for the consequences.

God is the avenger, not you and me. Our thoughts can pass from the resentful "there is no justice, because we had to let it go and pretend we weren't sinned against and he or she got off scott free!" to "we will not hold it to their account, because we choose to send them to the perfect justice of God, who calls all men to account."

You can even go further - pass the debt over to God and also request him to be merciful, or even to "drop the charges" altogether. But notice how, legally, it's not YOU who can do this but only God!

When Stephen was martyred, he did this very thing. Acts 7:60 "Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice,"Lord, do not charge them with this sin.". Nevertheless, God is the final arbiter in any dispute. As long as we know we have done the right thing, we can safely leave it to God.

Peace restored

Surely resting the matter in the hands of God is the perfect answer, and brings immense relief? For one reason, God can be trusted to be fair - he will neither be too lenient nor too harsh. He will not overlook sin, but at the same time he will be merciful. He will provide a way for that person to escape judgement, just as WE have escaped judgement. In the blood of the Saviour.

In giving your outstanding debts to God, you don't need to lie about them. You need neither deny their existence nor their effects on your life. In fact, just the opposite! You can now openly admit that you have been wronged and sinned against, and be released from the pain of it by choosing to underscore the debt and hand the debtor over to a merciful God.

Nor do you need to feel kindly and affectionate towards those people. In doing God's will you have already done the kindest thing possible for them! Your responsibility ends with your handing over the debt to God.

Embrace biblical forgiveness and practise it every day. In that way you'll never have an incubator full of dinosaur eggs!


© 2013 Tricia Tillin-Booth. All rights reserved. Birthpangs Website: http://www.birthpangs.org/  This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information.   One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.