The purpose of forgiveness, part 1

What is the purpose of forgiveness?

Purpose = why you do something or why something exists. (Cambridge dictionary)

Purpose = an intention or aim; a reason for doing something or for allowing something to happen. (American dictionary)

Jesus said:

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

“For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.


And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing.”

-Matthew 6:12-15, Mark 11:25

Justification by faith involves asking forgiveness of God for our sins.  That is not what Jesus is talking about here.  Rather, he is talking about day to day prayers where we ask God to forgive us for our sins that have displeased Him and restore our relationships with Him.  Jesus says that we need to build into our daily prayer life asking forgiveness for our sins, just as we have forgiven others who have harmed us, offended us.  And this is a command.  The purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation, restored relationship; with our people and with God.  And Jesus says that in the same way we forgive others, we ask forgiveness of God and God forgives us.  God restores our relationship that was blocked by sin and we restore our relationship to others that was blocked by their sin.  In Mark 11:25, Jesus says that if we refuse to forgive someone that has wronged us, our Father will refuse to forgive us of our wrongdoing.  The fruit or the proof of forgiveness is restored relationship, reconciliation.  That means you have forgiven them, like it never happened.  You can not forgive someone without restored relationship.  What I am saying is that to forgive without reconciliation is not really forgiveness and in so doing you are depriving yourself of relationship with God because God says that He will forgive you as you forgive others.  This is impossible in your own strength and this is discipleship.  Disciples are not allowed to hold a grudge or bitterness against other people or desire their punishment.

What about when a brother sins against us or against the church?  There is disciplinary action that is prescribed and directed in the New Testament.  The discipline of rebuking someone must be done in gentleness and humbly, always with the desire to restore the person and heal them, and with the genuine appreciation of the cold fact that we ourselves could fall into sin if we are not careful.  When a person who you have disciplined shows any signs of repentance, they should be welcomed back into relationship with you; with the full knowledge that repentance is a process that may begin superficially, that is brought about by the Holy Spirit to enact a change in the person's heart that brought about their sin in the first place.

After the teaching on church discipline in Matthew 18, Jesus teaches on the need to forgive those who sin against us, no strings attached:

Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.

“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

“At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

“That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

“At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”

-Matthew 18:21-35

This passage does not contradict Jesus previous teaching on disciplinary action, but rather compliments it.  They go hand in hand.  We should and must rebuke our brother.  But we also must always forgive them.  And that forgiveness must be heartfelt with no grudge bearing.  We can and do forgive a fellow Christian while at the same time seeking their discipline, because it is the honorable thing to do for the church and for Christ and God's word commands us to do so.



Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem