Is Forgiveness Something God Does or Gives?

When you sin against someone, your relationship with that person comes under strain. There’s this Thing that comes between the two of you. To be reconciled you need to deal with the Thing.

Jesus said if you are bringing your gift to the altar and you remember your brother has some Thing against you, go and deal with that Thing (Mat 5:23). He also said if your brother sins against you seven times in a day and seven times says, “I repent,” forgive him. “Send that Thing away” (see Lk 17:4).

All this we know and understand.

But here’s the thing. God is not like you or me. He doesn’t wait for you to act before He does His thing with your Thing. That Thing that was between you and Him – your sin – He’s already dealt with it. He has already forgiven you. To forgive literally means to send away and on the cross the sins of the world were sent away.

The Thing is not the thing

So what in the wide world of sports was John thinking when he wrote: “If you confess your sins, God will forgive you” (1 John 1:9). Technically, this is just not true. God won’t forgive you because He has already forgiven you. God doesn’t judge the same sin twice and at the cross He judged all sin. Consequently, He is no longer counting men’s sins against them. Sinners think that God is angry with them on account of their sin – their Thing – but the gospel says, “See Jesus!” As far as God is concerned the Thing is not the thing anymore.

So why does John say that God will forgive us our sins as though it was something He hadn’t already done?

In a recent post on 1 John 1:9, we saw that John was quoting an Old Testament scripture to illuminate a New Testament concept. In that post we looked at the word “confess” but today I want to look at the word “forgive” because John’s choice of words is rather strange. John describes forgiveness as a verb (aphiemi in Greek) when all the other New Testament writers tend to describe it as a noun (aphesis). This puzzle prompted me to do some counting and here’s what I found: prior to the cross, God’s forgiveness is almost always described as a verb. After the cross it is almost always a noun.

Do you see the significance of this? Prior to the cross God related to the Israelites on the basis of the law-keeping covenant. “If you do A, B, and C, then I will forgive your sins and heal your land, etc.” This is called conditional forgiveness and it’s what Jesus preached prior to the cross: “If you forgive others, God will forgive you.” It’s an eye for an eye and a verb for a verb.

Cat_in_hat

New covenant nouns

But after the cross, everything changed. The law was fulfilled, grace was revealed and verbs became nouns. Forgiveness was no longer conditional on you doing A, B, and C. Forgiveness became a free gift paid for by the blood of the Lamb. Jesus Himself was the first to announce this:

He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness (aphesis – a noun) of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  (Luk 24:46-47)

Now just take a moment to go and check that passage in your own Bible. What does it say? Does it read “repentance for forgiveness” or “repentance and forgiveness”? The difference is huge. Repentance for forgiveness is what John the Baptist preached prior to the cross. It’s forgiveness conditional on you turning from sin. It’s a verb for a verb.

But this is not what Jesus preached after the cross. In Luke 24 Jesus says, “From now on, forgiveness is a noun. Forgiveness is not something God does, it’s something He’s done.”

This becomes clear when we read the verse in the King James: “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations.” Forgiveness that has taken place is called remission. When were all our sins remitted? On the cross (see Mt 26:28 and Heb 9:22). This is what Jesus said we should preach – nouns, not verbs; gifts, not works.

Forgiveness is not for sale

Forgiveness is not something to sell but something to give. Jesus said the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name and that’s exactly what Peter (see Acts 5:31), Paul (see Acts 13:38), and the other apostles did. They proclaimed the good news of forgiveness – forgiveness as a noun, forgiveness as a done-deal – and invited people to believe in it. They encouraged people to receive the gift paid for by Jesus.

But John didn’t. He said, If you confess, God will forgive. He went with the old style verb instead of a new covenant noun. Why? Was He not in the room when Jesus made His Luke 24 announcement? Did he not get the memo that a new and better covenant was in town and that God’s forgiveness has been lavished upon us according to the riches of His grace? No, John uses the old verb for the same reason Paul does in Romans 4:7-8 – they were both quoting Old Testament scripture. Indeed, they were both quoting the same Old Testament scripture – Psalm 32. And that’s as good a place as any for us to finish:

“Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned.” (Ps 32:1, GNB)

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31 Comments on Is Forgiveness Something God Does or Gives?

  1. God is madly in love with us. Crazy bonkers over the top in love! How would it feel if you’re madly in love with someone… and all that person can do is think of why you would be angry… or that you are angry about something. You just want them to stop!!! and let you love them. Well… that’s God. Give Him an inch… and He’ll invite you out on a date… then He’ll start talking marriage. He’s incorrigible!

  2. I’ve learn from neuroscience that our brain will associate actions, looks – the physical attributes to identify a person.
    it totally makes sense when the scripture says renew your mind.
    therefore we are called Righteous not because of righteous actions, but by name.

    another good one! keep em coming!

    – amen

  3. “As far as the East is from the West”…is a long, long way”…great post…

  4. Hi Paul, Great discovery! you know how to do your thing!
    I’m glad you brought out about the O.C. Scriptures because in the same verse of Rom 4:7. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 
    Under the N.C. Our sins are not ‘covered’, they are as you say, ‘sent away’. There are a number of choruses we sing today that use the word ‘covered’ rather than ‘cleansed’ or ‘sent away’.
    I also find it amazing that even when it is pointed out that 1Jn 1:9 is the only Scripture that speaks about confessing sin, and that John was addressing Gnostics in the Church – and you give them the overwhelming evidence of what Jesus did for us at the cross – they still cling onto 1Jn 1:9 with ferocity and great anger!
    Thanks.

  5. William Seabrooke // June 21, 2012 at 4:38 am // Reply

    Great stuff Paul. Keep it coming!

  6. There is also another most import fact that we have been forgiven is that Jesus is resurrected.
    If we haven’t been forgiven then Jesus would still be in the grave because he became our sinful nature and paid the penalty of death for it.
    One man brought death because of his disobedience,One brings Life because of his Obedience.

    Also he sat down and we also have sat down with him.This is to confirm that there is no more a require for a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.

    When the High preist each year did his duty to offer the sacrifice they would confess there sin’s and the animal would be punishment for with death for the people’s disobedience this would happen year after year.

    Jesus Death and Resurrection has change all that.

  7. Dennis DeMagistris // June 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm // Reply

    Hi Paul, thanks again for another great insight on our forgiveness because of The Cross of our Wonderful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! My 89 year old dad & I are learning so many good bible truths from all of your posts about Gods Salvation. You are sure helping us know our freedom in Christ so that we can really enjoy our Heavenly Father in a Real & True way. I believe God really enjoys when we have our minds renewed in His Truth of Total Forgiveness. What Great Joy He give us as a Free Gift!! Love Learning of our Gods Love & Grace!!

  8. pastor paul, can i be the nerdy disciple for a minute? lol
    in luke 24:46-47: “repentance AND forgiveness of sins”…
    i am wondering why the greek word that IS used (eis) is translated “and” instead of “in” or “into” ? (“kai” is not used like it is in acts 5:31)
    because it still makes the strong case (maybe even stronger?) that repentance/change of mind (which, i might point out, is also a noun – not a verb) comes from being in forgiveness/pardon.
    its a “thing” inside of a “thing” = we’re in forgiveness first, and repentance is found being IN that forgiveness… a gift in a gift
    because this actually agrees w/ paul’s statement: “the goodness/kindness of God leads you to repentance” (rom 2:4)

  9. Paul,
    Ive always been taught that 1John 1:9 is a statement made to unbelievers but more contextually in this case it was directed to a group of gnostic followers who were perverting the true Gospel.Can you please comment. Thanks again for the wonderful site. In Christ. -Randal-

  10. samson sundeep // February 12, 2013 at 9:34 pm // Reply

    paul absolutely wholesome stuff .thank u.

  11. Brian Midmore // September 17, 2013 at 8:05 am // Reply

    On a point of fact I have counted how many times after the cross that forgiveness and forgive are used in connexion with God. I counted 5 forgivenesses Acts 5.31; 13.38; 26.18, Eph 1.7, and Col 1.14 and in its various forms i.e forgive forgiven and forgave 8 forgives. Forgive (1) 1 John 1.19, forgiven (6) Acts 8.22, Rom 4.7, Eph 4.32, Col 2.13, Jas 5.15, 1, Jn 2.12 forgave (1) Col.13. This does not seem to tally with what is written above.

    • I’m not sure that I would accept or reject grace by tallying scriptures. Probably better to filter everything you read through Jesus and his finished work. Regarding the many scriptures on forgiveness, this picture should help.

  12. Love you, Paul.
    This idea, however, that God has already forgiven everyone is incorrect. Most obvious is 1 John 1:9, which you explained away.
    Less obvious is that everything we receive, we receive because we are ‘in Him’; if we are forgiven, then we are ‘in Him’. The alternative is that we were in Him for forgiveness, but not for life, for which there is no biblical support.
    Furthermore, we are not so much just forgiven, as we die in Him. Our sin was condemned and we died (in Him); we were not left in the flesh and had the ‘thing’ removed. Our sin was not simply removed the way we remove a splinter; we died and were resurrected. It is very different.

    • Lance, there is much riding on the meaning of the word forgive. When I say God has forgiven us, I am being literal. To forgive literally means to carry away sin and on the cross Jesus did that already. He will never do it again. It’s true that many hold on to their sins, hence 1 John 1:9, but God does not. Love keeps no record of wrongs.

      I totally agree that the reality of forgiveness is only experienced by those in Christ. You may be interested in my post Why do people need to receive forgiveness if the whole world is already forgiven? I am sure you have found my many posts on 1 John 1:9. (If not, you can find them using the search box.)

      • Paul,🙂

        your site advances the idea that there are 3 different messages for 3 different types of people:
        1. IF they deny that they ever sinned and are closed to grace, then I tell them to confess their sin and be forgiven
        2. IF they are legalistic and self-righteous and are closed to grace, then I tell them to repent and pray and (maybe) they will be forgiven.
        3. IF they are open to grace, then I tell them that they are already forgiven

        what you’ve effectively done is taken the minority example (3) and called that ‘the reality’, and ignored the majority (1 and 2) and called those ‘special cases’. [this is not to say that i agree with your interpretation of (3).] does that really make sense to you?

        still, you have become so convinced of it, that i don’t think you can actually consider the alternative.

        in any event, most of the people on this earth, i would classify as either (1) or (2). by your own classification system, that means that your message should very seldomly look like (3).

        regards

      • I guess my writing reflects the world I inhabit just as Christ’s words reflected the world he inhabited.

        In my world, very few people are going around acting like they are Mr. or Mrs. Perfect. My world consists of broken, messed-up people who are trying to keep their heads above water, struggling to be good parents or students, etc. What I love about these people is they are honest. They know they make mistakes. They don’t need the law to tell them they are not perfect – their consciences have already told them that. Honest folk like this are RIPE for grace. When I tell them about the unconditional love of their heavenly Father their faces light up. The good news brings them great joy.

      • that’s interesting, because the implied (and sometimes direct) theological message i hear in the USA is that God (1) accepts everyone who is 50.00001% good, (2) ‘looks past’ the 49.99999% bad (forgiveness is not really necessary), and (3) deciding what is ‘good’ is up to you anyway (relativism is alive and well).

        that is really not what you hear over there? none of this ‘50% good is good enough’ or ‘i, personally, get to decide what is good and what is evil/ get to judge myself’ stuff?

        these people definitely have the idea that ‘i do not need to be forgiven’…

  13. Hiya people! In In regards to Mathew 5:23 (If you remember your brother has something against you,leave your gift and first be reconciled to your brother…). I really need help with this, to do with the whole finished work message. Lately, basically every time I come into the presence of God, I just feel so guilty and don’t even feel worthy to declare Gods promises over myself. I keep thinking that somewhere I’ve not reconciled with someone (I mean sure like maybe 5 years ago or something). And its just robbed me of my boldness before God. Please help. Can I come and enjoy Gods presence by faith or do I somehow somewhere need to sort out some relationships with people first?

    • Sorry for the length of this… But my question really is, do I need to sort anything out in my life before I come and enjoy Gods presence? Or even before I come and give an offering (Matthew 5:23)…?
      Thanks for this site Paul.

    • The Bible exhorts us to come boldly to the throne of grace in our hour of need (Heb 4:16). You are not coming at all because of a feeling of guilt and unworth. Do you see? You are rejecting God’s good and precious promises because of a bad feeling! This is defeat. This is walking by sight. Faith isn’t a good feeling. Faith is a decision to trust God despite your bad feelings. Faith says, “Even though I don’t feel worthy, I will come boldly to my Father’s throne of grace because Jesus is worthy and he has made a way. Even though I feel like a miserable sinner with all sorts of issues, I will trust that God loves me because Jesus died and rose again.” You need to tell yourself, “I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 5:21) and do it again and again until the seed of that word takes root in your heart and grows. It is the gospel. Believe it!

      • OK thank you so much!! I’ll come boldly today! I used to you know, but I guess I kinda doubted in some way… I’m Righteous!!! If I think about it, the only times since being a Christian that I’ve ever actually ‘felt’ good and healthy were the times that I believed in faith that yes I am righteous!!

      • If we did something wrong to someone thirty years ago do we need to find them and ask for forgiveness before we can worship in church or make an offering? Does this prevent us from going to heaven?

  14. treasurewood // December 14, 2014 at 4:45 am // Reply

    Just stumbled upon your blog by googling “do we need to confess our sins?”… love your stuff! Have been a Christian for over 30 years and just come across this way of thinking recently. Would love to know what you think about why Jesus told us to pray every day in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our sins”. Why would we have to keep asking if it has already been done? Is it because Jesus taught this prayer to the Jews before he actually died and rose again? And now it would be different? And also, I guess we don’t need to keep singing songs like “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit in me” over and over when it’s already been done and we don’t need to keep on asking and asking for God to renew our spirit again and again every time we sin? It makes sense that David would have, because he was born before Christ and had to offer sacrifices over and over every time he sinned… Thanks!!🙂

  15. Thank you so much Paul!

  16. Laurence Edgar // June 2, 2016 at 6:32 pm // Reply

    Hi Paul. I’m new to your books and your posts, I have read some of but not a lot of your posts. Recently I read an article comparing repentance and confession. In the book of Revelation John confronts the churches time and again with the need to repent. Repent or else, says John can you explain this in light of confessing our sins and repenting of our sins.

    • Hi Laurence, welcome to E2R. I have written extensively on the Revelation churches. You can find all the articles in the Archives > Scripture Index. Thanks.

  17. Thank you Paul for underlining the part “repentance and forgiveness”. In my Dutch Bible it says “repentance for forgiveness”. So I looked it up in the original Greek text where it says “and”. Thank you for this eye opener!

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