The central role of forgiveness in the Christian faith


Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Since the time that Adam’s disobedience introduced sin and death into the world, forgiveness became a necessity for people made in God’s image to be reconciled back to right relationship with him. This introduced the need for a redeemer and Jesus, the Son of God taking on human flesh, was the answer to that need.

The necessity to forgive one another is intimately tied to the Christian’s understanding of how he or she has been forgiven by God. Ultimately eternal life with God, the ultimate hope of the Christian, is only possible because of God’s choice to forgive sin and make a way for sinful people to be made right with God and able to live eternally in his presence.

There is a close connection between sin and forgiveness. Forgiveness is only necessary because people commit acts of sin against God and against each other. In the perfect environment of the garden, Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect harmony unaffected by sin and thus they also had perfect communion with a holy God. Yet one sin broke that communion and necessitated a savior to bring forgiveness of sin and restoration.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church of the amazing distinction between Adam’s one sin which brought sin and death to many and the one sacrificial act of Jesus that brings forgiveness of sin and the free gift of God’s grace to all who will receive it (Romans 5:12-21). Jesus left heaven, taking on human flesh, being born under the law, and underwent crucifixion for all mankind only because there was a need for forgiveness and he was the only way to accomplish that forgiveness. If God had chosen to allow men and women to suffer the just consequences for their sin then there would have been no need for Jesus to come and forgiveness would not have been available for sin.\

The Christian concept of forgiveness

Jesus communicated his mission of removing the weight of guilt and sin through forgiveness using a parable (Matthew 18:23-35). Jesus often used parables as vivid, real-life descriptions of spiritual truth.  In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus described a king who was calling to account his servants who owed him money. This debt is synonymous with the debt of sin owed by each man and woman on the planet.

The debt of sin owed is so large that it cannot be paid by the one who accrued it and by all rights the king should punish the debtor until the debt can be paid.

The Christian concept of hell is a place where the sinner is punished eternally because the debt of sin is too great to ever be paid. This condition, so clearly described by the servant who owed his master a great debt and is unable to pay, is central to the Christian understanding of forgiveness. The debtor can do nothing to satisfy the debt. It is only due to the mercy of the one who is owed, the king in the parable, or God with regard to humanity lost in sin, that the debt can be forgiven and the individual released from the burden of sin. The forgiven person is free to live the life that God created for him or her because the weight of sin and guilt has been removed.

The Christian concept of forgiveness is not limited to God’s forgiveness of men and women

The parable continues because the Christian concept of forgiveness is not limited to God’s forgiveness of men and women, but continues in the need for the Christian man or woman who has been sinned against by others. Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant was a response by Jesus to Peter’s question about the limits on forgiveness. While Peter had a concept of very limited forgiveness, Jesus pointed Peter and the other disciples to a vision of how God forgives those who come to him in complete dependence. On an earlier occasion, when Jesus was instructing his disciples on how to pray, he connected God’s forgiveness of his people with their forgiveness of others (Matthew 6:12).

Clearly, Jesus sought to communicate that God cares very deeply how his people treat others and that forgiveness of others is to be a core trait of the Christian. No Christian who has been forgiven by God, an enormous debt such as that owed the king, should ever refuse forgiveness to one who has wronged him in a small matter and thus owes him a small amount such as that owed in the parable by the fellow servant. The servant’s refusal to show mercy such as that shown by God in a much greater degree is a sign that the servant does not understand the heart of the king. The Christian’s refusal to show forgiveness to others is similarly a sign that he or she does not understand the heart of God who has shown such great mercy on all those needy people who have come to him in complete dependence and faith.

Christianity is a belief system that has the idea of forgiveness at its very center

The Christian is able to forgive because he or she understands that God has shown enormous mercy in providing through Jesus a way to be forgiven and to be reconciled to the right relationship with God. As a result, the Christian trusts that God, the final, righteous judge of all people, will see to it that justice is done in every situation. The Christian reflects this belief through being willing to forgive those who have sinned against him or her without feeling the necessity for vengeance and hatred. This willingness to forgive is to be a witness to the unbelieving world of who God is and of his desire to forgive all who will come to him in desperate, needy faith.

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