A Series on the Difference Between
Grace and Forgiveness
The concept of forgiveness took some time to develop. The Mosaic Covenant teaches the nation of Israel what sin
is (Rom 7:7) and develops the idea that the process of forgiveness
begins with a payment for sin, an act of atonement to appease God's wrath and liberate one from the penalty of sin.
When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he
shall offer the live goat. Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over
it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall
lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness.
The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the
wilderness. (Lev 16:20-22)
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make
atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.'
In some instances, it appears that some sins cannot be atoned for; however, the expulsion of some may be a
recognition that they are not "God's own possession" and a member of His "kingdom of priests and holy nation"
But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that
person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven
from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall
be cut off from Israel. (Ex 12:15)
But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the
Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did not present the offering of the Lord at
its appointed time. That man will bear his sin. (Num 9:13)
Within the context of the Mosaic Covenant, forgiveness takes on the sense that one must cleanse themselves of
the impurity or stain of sin.
"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Reprove the ruthless,
Plead for the widow."
"Come now, and let us reason together,"
Says the Lord,
your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
will be like wool." (Isa 1:16-18)
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken
from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your
iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven." (Isa 6:6-7)
Because of the nation of Israel's inability to remain loyal to their Mosaic Covenant and cleanse themselves,
God made the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-33) and provided His own
Son as the means of atonement.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus
the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our
weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with
confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Recognizing that God's Son died in atonement for the sins of mankind, in sympathy and
identification with human beings, Believers can confidently approach the throne of God, because He was the One
who sent the Savior. In full display, the compassion of God can be seen and felt.
Against the background of God's wrath, Jesus asks for forgiveness of those who persecuted and tortured Him.
When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals,
one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know
what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.
It appears that the plea for forgiveness is not within the context of restoring a relationship
but with the full knowledge of what judgement lay ahead.
While one can understand how divine forgiveness is obtainable, how does all of this affect our understanding
of forgiveness between human beings?
1. Faith in Jesus Christ establishes a new creation and sets forth the goal of helping others
receive forgiveness and reconcile with God.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away;
behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and
gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not
counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
(2 Cor 5:17-19)
Like His Father, Jesus has the power and authority to forgive.
But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—
then He said to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up your bed and go home."
(Matt 9:6; Mark 2:10;
2. With faith, God bestows the Holy Spirit who, as the author of the Bible, provides the
means for Believers to know and remember God's words (John 14:26;
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised
Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
The spirit of God is within you.
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through
your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that
I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted
in my body, whether by life or by death. (Phil 1:19)
The spirit of Jesus Christ is within you and is reflected to the world by your life.
3. When Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray with the Lord's Prayer and ask for forgiveness
(Matt 6:9-13), He emphasizes the magnitude of God's forgiveness;
it is not something one takes for granted. If you comprehend the depth of your personal sins and unworthiness,
then you would understand the magnitude of God's forgiveness and love and forgive others.
For 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. (Matt 6:14-15)
In another instance, in response to Peter's question of forgiveness, Jesus' parable of the
unforgiving servant illustrates this further. The servant who was forgiven of so much, fails to comprehend the
magnitude of the king's forgiveness and does not extend the compassion to forgive another who owes him so little.
Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I
forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to
seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle
accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to
him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and
children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself
before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt
compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow
slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.'
So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay
you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his
fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had
happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because
you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on
you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your
heart." (Matt 18:21-35)
In a second instance with His disciples, Jesus provides another example to illustrate the
attitude of forgiveness towards another person. The disciples find that repeatedly forgiving another is very
difficult to do and cry out for "more faith." Using an example of the obedient slave, Jesus makes two points: a)
genuine faith "like a mustard seed", the belief in the reality of God and placing their trust in His word, is
placing your full trust in God, and b) a bond servant of Jesus Christ
(1 Cor 7:22; Eph 6:6)
is obedient and can do anything that God wants (1 John 5:13-15).
He said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him
through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown
into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother
sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and
returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase
our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be
uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep,
will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'?" But will he not
say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink;
and afterward you may eat and drink'? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded,
does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have
done only that which we ought to have done.'" (Luke 17:1-10)
Jesus is stating that forgiveness, regardless of the severity and number of one's offenses,
is a command which should be obeyed. Jesus sets the example with His torturous murder and the plea to His Father,
"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing"
Jesus sets the example as the suffering servant
(Isa 53:5-12) for Believers to follow:
Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for
many. (Mark 10:43-45)
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he
will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again,
He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I
am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave
you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than
his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.