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We Help God Forgive

In Mark 2:1-12 we have the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. While healing this man, Jesus forgives his sins. The Greek word "aphiemi" is translated as forgive in the New Testament. "Aphiemi" means "to send away or release". Therefore, to forgive sin means to send the sin away, release the sin, cancel or erase the sin so the offender is no longer accountable for the sin.

What Iíll say in this article is not my own invention. It may be  new to some, but itís not new to Christian thinkers throughout the centuries. Thereís a couple problems with many peopleís understanding of forgiveness. We donít know the simple definition of the word, and we confuse forgiving the offender with loving the offender. Over the last few decades weíve been conditioned not to think, leaving us with bad hermeneutics and poor definitions of key Biblical words. Youíd be surprised how many people canít define such words such as justification, sanctification, repentance, forgiveness, and other words that represent key Biblical truths.

Micah 7:10 says that God sends sins to the depth of the sea, never to be seen again. Isa. 43:25 says God blots out sin from His records, never to be accounted for. Psa. 103:12 says that sins are sent away as far as the east is from the west. This is how God forgives sins. He sends them away, dismissing, canceling or erasing them so theyíre gone from His sight.

The Pharisees were infuriated with Jesus telling this paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven because they believed that only God could forgive sins. I believe the Pharisees were right for a change. Only God can send away, cancel or dismiss sin from "His records". The Pharisees failed to understand that Jesus was God in human flesh, thus having the authority to cancel sins from Godís books. Remember, God does have books that record sin, because theyíll be opened at the White Throne Judgment. (Rev. 20:12)

If only God or Jesus can cancel sin from Godís records, why then does Jesus ask us to forgive sin in John 20: 23 and elsewhere on His behalf? How can we as mere humans erase sin from Godís books? The answer is two-fold.

First of all, you should notice that Jesus told His followers to forgive sin. He never told the world to forgive sin because they didnít receive the authority to do so as we did. The context of John 20:23 is Jesus commissioning His followers to go into the world and represent Him, just as He represented His Father. Part of our job as Jesusí representatives is to pronounce sins as forgiven or erased on His behalf. God actually erasing the sin from His books, because theyíre His books. We simply announce the forgiveness.

Before we can pronounce Godís forgiveness to the offender, Scripture teaches that the offender must repent (meaning to change oneís thinking, thus influencing oneís actions). Jesus taught repentance in Mark 1:15 and elsewhere.

The first part of my answer is that we pronounce Godís forgiveness to the repentant person upon repentance. This second part is this. There are certain verses where Jesus tells us to forgive sins that are specifically directed towards us, even though any sin directed towards us would be recorded in Godís books. We find one of these passages in Matt. 18. In Matt 18:22 Jesus tells us to forgive sin directed our way even if we have to forgive 77 times. (NIV) Many misunderstand this verse, thinking that Jesus is telling us to forgive, or cancel a sin directed our way even if the person doesnít repent. We just keep forgiving no matter what, even if it takes 77 times, but I donít believe this is what Jesus meant. The context says otherwise.

In the beginning of this dialogue concerning forgiveness (Matt. 18:15) Jesus states that if a brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault. Why does Jesus tells us to point out the fault to the offender? Because when we point out the sin, you give the offender an opportunity to repent. Jesus isnít telling us to forgive no matter what. Heís telling us that the offender needs to repent before you can forgive or cancel his sin which would bring about the desired reconciliation. This is common sense. How can reconciliation occur when the offender continues to offend you and believes itís okay to do so.

Jesus continues to say that if the offender doesnít repent there are further steps you can take to help him come to repentance. If Jesus tells us there are further steps to take to help your offender repent, then it should be clear that forgiveness is conditional upon repentance. We still love the offender because love is unconditional, but remember, love is not forgiveness.

Then Jesus says in Matt. 18:18 that whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven. This means that if the offender repents, you forgive him. You loose or send his sin away, and reconciliation occurs. As you cancel his sin on earth, God immediately cancels the sin from His books in Heaven. If the offender doesnít repent, you canít cancel his sin, and that sin remains bound on earth as well as in Heaven.

Itís clear to me that we cannot cancel sins from Godís books. He does that. We only proclaim His cancellation of sin. But we can cancel sin directed towards us once the offender repents, and as we do, God removes the sin from His books. So you might say that we help God cancel sin. We do the erasing of sin on earth while He does it in Heaven. Jesus has given us a serious responsibility here. Itís important for us to understand what Heís asked us to do.

In conclusion, we should not confuse forgiveness, or canceling an offenderís sin with dealing with the negative emotions we have towards our offender. Ridding ourselves of these negative feelings is not forgiveness. Itís only dealing with our reaction to the offense so we can love the offender as Jesus taught. Even if the offender doesnít repent, weíre still commanded to love him, but loving the offender and canceling His sin are two different issues. Love is unconditional. Forgiveness is conditional upon repentance.

I leave you with this thought. If God requires repentance before He forgives, why would He ask us to do something He doesnít do by asking us to forgive without repentance?

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