Forgiveness: the foundation of our relationship with God and fellow-believers.


Breaking down the word, “forgive” would indicate: (1) “forward” – in the outward direction, (2) “giving” – offering from one’s self. Literally, it means to “let go” of something.
Forgiveness is defined as;
  1. To give up resentment of or claim to requital for; e.g. to forgive an insult.
  2. To grant relief from payment of; e.g. to forgive a debt.
  3. To cease to feel resentment against (an offender); e.g. to forgive one’s enemies.
Forgiveness is the basis of our relationship with God, and it is the means of sustaining fellowship with Him. Likewise, it is the basis of sustaining fellowship with our brethren. A study of this great subject is worthy of our time. We will look briefly at five main aspects of forgiveness:
  1. Eternal (or Judicial) Forgiveness
  2. Restorative Forgiveness
  3. Personal Forgiveness
  4. Governmental Forgiveness
  5. Administrative Forgiveness

Eternal Forgiveness

Eternal forgiveness is what we get when we receive Christ as our Savior.


“I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” I John 2:12
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:14
“God in Christ hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” Acts 13:3
We have been made fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. It is our standing before God, the redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. We can never, ever lose this. I John 1:7 the blood of Jesus Christ has fitted us for the Light. This is judicial or eternal forgiveness, and it has to do with God as a judge.
Note: Before the cross, eternal forgiveness was not known. Old Testament saints never had the settled conscious knowledge of sins forgiven in the eternal sense (Eph. 1:7). After the cross, this aspect of forgiveness was revealed. This is why the Lord emphasizes “power on earth” in Matt. 9:2-6; because governmental forgiveness has to do with this life only, not for eternity.

Restorative Forgiveness

Restorative forgiveness is to restore communion with the Father if we sin.

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” I John 1:8 – 2:1

Although we have been brought into the light, we still have the old nature. It isn’t looked upon as a normal thing that a believer would sin, that is why it says “if”. When we are brought into the family of God we have a new nature that doesn’t want to sin. We don’t need to be restored to favor with God, but to fellowship or communion with God. We are not told to ask for forgiveness, but only to confess it. To ask for forgiveness is to raise the question as to whether you are going to say yes or no. There is no question as to His love. He is faithful and just because the sin has already been paid for. But God wants us to think about how we have sinned against His love. He has already forgiven us in His heart, but wants us to say “sorry” in order to restore communion. We have a righteous advocate with the Father even before we confess the sin. “Advocate” is the same word as “Comforter”. The communion is broken with the Father when we sin because He does not want us to go on lightly with sin in our lives.
Some helpful typical teaching on this subject is the Red Heifer in Numbers 19. The ashes were sprinkled on the third day, and the man was clean on the seventh day. The third day sprinkling of the water/ashes is the (3 ≈ complete) confession of sin and recognition of what it cost the Lord Jesus to put the sin away, just as the ashes of the Red heifer are the memory of the sacrifice. The seventh day is the time when we see that grace has triumphed over our sin. On the seventh day there is (7 ≈ perfect) restoration of communion. But if the 3rd day sprinkling was neglected, then communion could not be restored. See also, Psalm 51:12.
A helpful New Testament illustration of the work of Advocacy is in Philemon. Onesimus had gotten saved, but Paul sent him back to Philemon to confess his sin and to be restored to communion. Paul said; “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it.” So the Lord Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and that makes Him able to be our advocate, just as Paul was able to be Onesimus’s advocate with Philemon. But notice that it is not an advocate with “God as Judge” but with “God the Father.” We will never have to do with God in the judicial character again – that is past for us – we now know him as our Father.

Personal Forgiveness and Governmental Forgiveness

Personal forgiveness is my responsibility to forgive one who trespasses against me. Governmental forgiveness is a forgiveness that we get in the government of God when we have a forgiving spirit toward others. These two aspects are best explained together, as they relate heavily upon each other.


You don’t extend vocal forgiveness to someone who has sinned against you until they have vocally repented; Luke 17:3. But we are to have forgiveness in our hearts immediately; Matthew 18:35.
When someone has done something to offend me:
  1. First, I must forgive them in my heart. See Matthew 18:35 where we are to forgive our brother from our hearts. We may not be able yet to express our forgiveness for them audibly, but the Christian ought to always have a forgiving spirit as forgiveness is the basis of our relationship with God

    “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

    “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any should have a complaint against any; even as the Christ has forgiven you, so also do ye.” Colossians 3:12-13

  2. The second thing is that God will governmentally forgive me for my own trespasses if I forgive my brother, or deliver me to the tormentors if I refuse. This is governmental forgiveness. We don’t escape the government of God just because we are saved; see Galatians 6:7 and 1 Peter 3:12. Each one of us has the capacity to destroy our own lives, and we will unless God intervenes in grace. This might seem like the strangest aspect of forgiveness, but it is well documented in many locations in the Word of God, including the Old Testament and the gospels. 

    “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15

    In the case of Matthew 18:21-35, a man owed 10,000 talents. At a denarius a day, and at 1 talent = 6,000 denarii, this man owed 60,000,000 days’ or 164,000 years’ worth of labor. In 1,600 lifetimes he could never pay this back. He was frankly forgiven by his lord, but refused to forgive his fellow servant a debt of 100 denarii (would take three months work to repay). We are the 10,000-talent debtor, in that our sin against God is far more than the offenses our brother has committed against us. We need to forgive our brother in light of what we have been forgiven ourselves. The governmental judgement for all our offenses has been forgiven by God on account of His grace; but He has the prerogative to revoke that forgiveness. Note: He can never revoke eternal forgiveness. If we refuse to  forgive our brother, the tormentors will afflict us forever; i.e. until he Lord takes us home. See also Luke 6:37 and Mark 11:25. This last reference brings in the importance of forgiving from our hearts when praying. If we don’t have a forgiving heart our prayers will be hindered.

    God sometimes waits until thing are cleared up to His satisfaction before giving forgiveness in His government. In certain cases, we may never be forgiven this side of heaven, such as when we refuse to forgive our brother. If we harbor an unforgiving spirit, bitterness, resentment; these are destructive forces pictured by “the tormenters”. God will wait as long as it takes. He will be glorified, even if it means never lifting His mighty hand until were are called home to glory. Sometimes a single action has long range consequences. But we can still enjoy the sunshine of His presence while passing through the consequences if we confess our sin. Remember, the government of God works for us when we sow to the Spirit, as well against us when we sow to the flesh.

  3. Next, I should hear the brother that has offended me express his repentance audibly. I may not hear this from him right away. This could be due to the fact that he either is not truly repentant, or he may not know that he has offended me. If sufficient delay occurs, scripture puts the ball in my court. I must follow Matthew 18:15-17 until either my brother hears me and repents, or refuses. In the case of ultimate refusal, the process is over, and I must treat him as an unsaved person.

    “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”

  4. Once I hear an audible expression of repentance, I am obliged (and privileged) to give an audible expression of forgiveness. I have already forgiven him in my heart, so I ought to be looking forward to this point. I cannot say “I don’t think your repentance is real. See Luke 17:3-4 where the only requirement before I am obliged to express forgiveness is words as simple as “I repent”. 

    “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”

    We may never get a confession out of the person that is satisfactory to us. All we must wait to hear is an expression of repentance, even if it as simple as “I repent”. But we should not extend verbal forgiveness if there is no verbal expression of repentance, because it would not be in the interest of restoring that one to the Lord.

A question may come up: am I to follow Matthew 18:15-17 every time someone offends me? Wouldn’t I be tied up in the various processes of Matthew 18:15-17 for the rest of my life? This is a good question. We must now bring up longsuffering and forbearing.

“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3

Not every offense needs to be pursued. The subject of Matthew 18 is grace, and the way by which we “gain our brother.” Only in the cases where the offense left unaddressed will be to the spiritual harm of our brother should we pursue the process of Matthew 18:15-17. For all minor offenses, we can simply forgive and forbear with our brother, and not count up the minor offenses as Peter was inclined to do (Matthew 18:21-22). To forgive until 70 x 7 = 490 times is to have no limit to our grace.

Administrative Forgiveness

Administrative forgiveness is to restore a person to fellowship in the assembly.
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:18-20
“Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” John 20:23
“Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” 2 Corinthians 2:6-11
This authority is given to Peter (Matthew 16) and to the local assembly (Matthew 18). The assembly in Corinth was called upon to do this in Paul’s second epistle. The man who was put away after the first epistle was found to be broken down and repentant.
Forgiveness! ’twas a joyful sound
To guilty sinners doomed to die:
We’d publish it the world around,
And gladly shout it through the sky.
‘Twas the rich gift of love divine;
‘Tis full, effacing every crime;
Unbounded shall its glory shine,
And know no change by changing time.
For this stupendous gift of heaven,
What grateful honours shall we shew!
Where much transgression is forgiven,
May love with fervent ardour glow.
By love inspired, may all our days
With every heavenly grace be crown’d;
May truth and goodness, joy and praise,
In all abide, in all abound.

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