Forgiveness: Amnesty or Penance? (Part 2 of 2)

(In “part 1” we ended with asking a second time what true forgiveness is. Now we will try to find the answer.)

To find the answer, let’s look at the Bible. In Matthew 18, Jesus talks about conflict resolution. What should we do when someone sins against us? The first view we discussed says that we should just forget about it. The second view says that we should make them pay and when he pays enough, forgive him. But what does Jesus say? In verse 15, He tells us to go talk to him/her about it, and at the end of the verse it gives us a goal. That goal is to “gain” that brother who has sinned against us.

So there are two things in verse 15 to notice:

  1. We are told to confront the problem, not sweep it under the rug
  2. The ultimate goal is to restore the relationship

With this in mind, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate His teaching about forgiveness. This is recorded in verses 23-35. He tells a parable about a king who has a servant who owes a large amount of money. It’s essentially equivalent to the debt of the USA; trillions of dollars. There was no possible way that this servant could ever pay off the debt. But the king forgives him anyway.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, “What does it mean for this king to forgive this servant’s debt?” The first and most obvious thing it means is that the king has to eat those “trillions of dollars”. This tells us that forgiveness is costly to the forgiver. The forgiver absorbs the cost of justice.

So the next question becomes “Why does the king forgive the debt?” Is it so the servant can go and rack up another trillion dollars of debt? Obviously not. So what’s the purpose of the forgiveness? The purpose of forgiveness is to restore the relationship by creating a new, debt free foundation upon which to build trust and earn a new reputation. Forgiveness doesn’t bring the relationship back to where it was before the offense. It does, however start the relationship over without the past being held against the offender.

So, in the parable we see two things about forgiveness:

  1. True forgiveness requires the forgiver to absorb the cost of justice
  2. True forgiveness seeks to change the wrong actions of the offender

Now, while the forgiver absorbs the cost of justice, he is to give the responsibility of meting out justice to God to take care of in His time and in His way. “I will take revenge; I will pay them back” Deuteronomy 32:35. The forgiver essentially says, “Instead of giving you the justice you deserve, I will pay the price myself to give you a chance to change and prove yourself trustworthy.” This may not happen immediately. This is a process that may take years to complete, but forgiveness makes it possible.

Now, let’s apply this to the cross and the character of God. Why did Jesus die on the cross?

There are two ends of the spectrum on this point. One end says that God is too loving and nice to punish anyone and therefore, Jesus died merely to show us that sin is bad. This view has a God who says, “Don’t worry about sinning against me, let’s just forget about it and be friends”

The other end says that God is angry and that Jesus’ death compensated for that and therefore since the compensation was made, God condescends to forgive us. This view has a God who says, “I’m gonna make you suffer and squirm for sinning against me, and when I feel that you have suffered enough, I may forgive you.”

But there is a third option. The cross is a picture of a God who sacrifices Himself to absorb the cost of justice for our sin so that you and I can change to become the kind of people He wants us to be without our sinful past being held against us. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that justice is not served, it means that the price of justice is paid by the forgiver rather than the offender. This view has a God who says, “Whoever wants to leave their life of sin, I will absorb the cost for you so that you can change and build a new reputation with Me without your past life being held against you or holding you back.”

So then, what is a good biblical definition of true forgiveness?

I would like to use one of my religion professor’s (Dr. Steve Bauer) definition of biblical forgiveness: “Forgiveness is God’s way of healthfully healing a relationship between a victim and offender so that they can have a meaningful and healthy relationship after the offense”.

(This post was an adaptation of a sermon preached by Dr. Steve Bauer entitled “The Price of Forgiveness”


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