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
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
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
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
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?