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The Meaning Of Biblical Forgiveness  


What you are about to read took me five years to think through.  It's not the common consensus among many Christians and I'm certainly not the first to adopt this point of view.  This short article will not answer all of your questions and concerns after you finish reading, but it may stimulate you to reconsider your position on what the Bible means when it uses the word "forgive."  


To understand Biblical forgiveness we must know how the Bible views forgiveness.  Our 21st century dictionary definition of the word "forgive" as relinquishing negative emotions after being offended has little relevance to this discussion.      


The Greek word "aphiemi" is translated as "forgive" in our English New Testament.  Aphiemi means to send away, to cancel, to delete, or something similar.  In the first century Greco Roman world in which the New Testament was written aphiemi was often used as an accounting term, as in, cancelling or deleting a monetary debt from an accounting ledger.  The New Testament does not depart from this cultural usage.  In Biblical terms, aphiemi means the cancelation of the debt of sin, both by God and by us. 


Fundamental to Biblical forgiveness is the fact that God only cancels or deletes sin from His records once a person repents of his sins.  According to Jesus, unless we repent we will perish (Luke 13:3), but when we do repent and trust our lives with Jesus, He deletes our sins from His records.  Once our sins are cancelled, stricken from the heavenly record, God views us as having never sinned in the first place.  In theological terms the Apostle Paul called this justification.  Biblical forgiveness is thus predicated on the fact that one repents.  In other words, forgiveness is conditional upon repentance.  If you misunderstand this, you will misunderstand Biblical salvation.   


Biblical forgiveness is the cancelation of a debt of sin upon the act of repentance.  As important as relinquishing bitterness and negative feelings are, that process is not Biblical forgiveness.  It's actually part of the process of love, and that includes loving your offender as Jesus commands us to do (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27 and 35).


All of this means that if there is no repentance there is no forgiveness and the debt of sin remains in God's records.  This is why we see a list of sins written in the heavenly record book associated with those being condemned to eternal damnation in the White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20. 


I suggest that if God does not delete sins from His records apart from repentance, why would He expect us to delete a sin if our offender does not repent?  Why would He expect us to do something He Himself does not do?  On the other hand, if someone sins against us and he repents we are obligated by Scriptural love to cancel his debt of sin from our mental record.  You verbally declare him forgiven.  What you don't do is shrug his repentance off by saying "don't worry.  It's okay."  You pronounce him forgiven.  His offense is cancelled and you view him as having never sinned in the first place.  As God has deleted your sins upon your repentance, in like manner you cancel the sins of others upon their repentance.    


The Bible commands us to love everyone, and that includes those who sin against us.  Love is unconditional.  We love no matter what.  Forgiveness, however, differs from love in that it is conditional upon the offender repenting. 


The whole debate over this issue boils down to how we define the word "forgive."  If we define forgive as relinquishing bitterness as our western culture does, we have a problem with God.  It would mean that when God forgave you, He relinquished all bitterness, resentment, and any other negative feelings He held against you.  I sincerely doubt that you believe God has ever had any bitterness or nasty feelings to relinquish.  This alone should cause us to reconsider how we define Biblical forgiveness.   


For the record, I'm not minimizing the importance of relinquishing bitterness and negative emotions.  That process is absoltutely important in maintaining good spiritual and emotional health.  I'm simply saying that Biblical forgiveness is not the relinquishing of such negativity.  It's the cancelation of the debt of sin from our mental record upon the repentance of an offender.  Negative feelings may make it difficult to cancel the debt of sin but feelings have little relevance to the matter.  You cancel the debt of sin upon your offender repenting whether you feel like it or not.  This is the meaning of Biblical forgiveness, or so I believe.       


I don't expect everyone to agree with me on this issue, but that's okay.  I suggest you consider what I say in the process of doing your own research on this issue.   

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