by Dr. Harvey Plett
The Apostolic or Apostles’ Creed is a profound summary of the essence of the Christian faith. It is brief, concise but does not elaborate the meaning of the various statements.
This statement, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” is, in the estimate of the writer, the essential essence of the Christian faith. Without forgiveness, there is no gospel, no redemption, but only condemnation. Without forgiveness we would not be able to have a relationship with God.
The only way to bring humankind back into relationship with God is forgiveness. Similarly, in order for me to have a relationship with a fellow human who has hurt me I need to forgive that hurt whether that person repents or not though our relationship will not be restored unless the wrongdoer acknowledges his wrong and seeks forgiveness (Mk. 11:25).
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is taking the wrongs done to you, absorbing the consequences, letting them go and not holding them against the perpetrator whether the person repents or not and thus removing my side of the barrier that hinders our relationship.
Jesus came to redeem us. The only way He could do that was by forgiving us. And to forgive us He had to take the consequences of our sins against Him, absorb them, and then let us go free. His death on the cross was His way of forgiving us. He had to experience the separation from God. On the cross He cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Those were the consequences of our sin against God and the cost of forgiveness.
In Ephesians 1:7 we read, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” And in Colossians 1:13-14 we read, “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Much more could be said but here we have a concise definition of redemption: “the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus’ death on the cross was a voluntary death. He did it because that is the only way forgiveness was possible. All of us were dead in our trespasses and sins. So by His death Jesus wiped out death and brought forgiveness.
Let’s apply it to our life. If you forgive someone who has ruined your reputation, what happens? You accept the ruined reputation and let the one who has done it go free; you do not hold it against him nor do you seek justice. That briefly is what forgiveness is. It is substitutional; the one sinned against absorbs the hurt and pain of the evil done and does not hold it against the guilty party. This is what Jesus did.
The Bible says the soul that sins will die. He has brought forgiveness, but it doesn’t become yours until you accept it. To accept it means you acknowledge you have done wrong, are sorry for it and ask for forgiveness. And then Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. We are then free and in relationship with our Saviour.
What About Repentance?
That is very essential, but not for the forgiver. If the guilty one wishes to experience forgiveness than she or he will have to confess and repent of the wrong done and seek forgiveness. The hurt party forgives whether the guilty party repents or not.
But if the one who is guilty wants to experience forgiveness in his or her life, that person must repent. So the person repents, apologizes and asks forgiveness. The forgiver does what a friend of mine did to a repentant person. He said, “I have forgiven you a long time ago.” But you go on to say, “Yes I forgive you gladly. I forgave you already but I am happy you are seeking the forgiveness for yourself.”
At that point the final step in forgiveness can happen—reconciliation. The forgiver has already forgiven, but full reconciliation can only happen if the guilty party repents and seeks forgiveness.
What about Restoration?
For example, what happens to what was stolen? The forgiver forgives and does not demand repayment. If the guilty party offers restitution, the forgiver receives it not so much for himself but to help the guilty party find peace and freedom.
Forgiveness and Spiritual Healing
The hurt party forgives, for this is necessary to be healed. If one does not forgive, one will struggle with bitterness, anger, and avoid the wrongdoer. So forgiveness in this sense is therapeutic. It brings healing to your soul and will help one to love the wrongdoer.
The wrongdoer must repent and seek forgiveness to become free and move toward healed relationships. We will not forget some of the serious hurts we forgive, but when the memory comes we decide to not indulge in those memories but set them aside because we have forgiven them.
In forgiveness the wrongdoer and the forgiver each has or her his part. Each can only do his or her part. The forgiver forgives whether that is accepted or not. The sinner repents to experience that forgiveness. Forgiveness is complete when this happens. This is what is modeled by Christ forgiving the repentant sinner. Christ has died for all. Forgiveness is available for all but only those who respond to the offer of forgiveness experience that forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a Decision
You have to decide to forgive just as Jesus decided to forgive our sins and then took the consequences—death. But forgiveness becomes ours only as we acknowledge the wrong we have done, repent, and ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is my decision to absorb evil done to me and not hold it against the doer. This gives me peace in my soul. For the wrongdoer to experience that forgiveness, the wrongdoer must repent, confess and acknowledge the wrong and ask for forgiveness.
This forgiveness now makes it possible for reconciliation between the two. It may take time to move forward for the forgiver as well as it may take time for reconciliation to come to completion. But forgiveness makes that possible as one commits oneself to walk in forgiveness.
This is the will of God. Rejoice in the forgiveness of Jesus and, with the resurrection power that is yours because you have Jesus (Rom. 6; 2 Pet. 1:3), walk in continual forgiveness towards those who do you wrong.
We are to follow Jesus’ example. He forgave our sins through His death before we repented and we experience that forgiveness only if we repent and accept it. You and I are too always forgive the person who does wrong to us whether the other person repents or not. That is loving the other. The one who did the wrong needs to repent if he or she wants to experience forgiveness. When that happens, reconciliation and a renewed relationship become possible and should emerge.
Dr. Harvey Plett has served as president of Steinbach Bible College and as EMC moderator; he is a long-serving minister at Prairie Rose EMC. He continues to do some teaching, preaching,
counseling and writing. He and his wife Pearl live in Mitchell, Man., and celebrated 58 years of blessed marriage on August 22, 2016.