Father Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do: What the Bible Says about Forgiveness
By Betty Miller
The Bible speaks about every person needing forgiveness and every person needing to forgive. Why? Because we are all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. None of us is perfect. We need God’s grace and we need to extend that same mercy to others. This subject is the very essence of true Christianity. Until we understand it, we will not really understand God Himself.
Likely, if you are reading this page, you want to receive God’s forgiveness, and you want to forgive. You want your slate to be clean. The problem is how? If we do not receive this grace from God, and extend it to others, the Scriptures make it clear that we will die in our sins. God has made forgiveness so important, that all our happiness and fulfillment depend on it – in this life and in the next.
He knew that all of us, without exception will be wronged. Furthermore, all of us will treat others wrongly. All of us will sin against God and others. These sins block and hinder our relationship with Him. Jesus spoke more of forgiveness than possibly any other topic. This is a lesson we must learn on deeper and deeper levels until the very core of our being is changed into Love.
There is no life apart from God’s love. Therefore, there is no life apart from forgiveness, for forgiveness is the seal, the mark, and the proof of Love. If we say we have love and cannot walk in forgiveness, we deceive ourselves, and our “love” is only a parody of the real thing.
We All Need Forgiveness
The psychologist, Freud, accurately determined that the main source of all humanity’s woes are feelings of guilt. He came to this profound truth, but didn’t know what to do with it. Today, we are encouraged by pop psychologists to “feel good about ourselves,” and to do away with the troubling guilt that we all have. The Bible teaches the opposite. It says we must face our sin and deal with it – and only then can we have the peace that the world craves so badly. It can be a frightening and painful thing to face our sin, yet we will never receive healing unless we do. Our guilt will continue to torment us and wreak havoc on our lives until we receive forgiveness for our sins. The key is not to ignore our guilt or try to gloss over it, but to face it and seek God for forgiveness, through the blood of Jesus.
When Jesus died on the cross, He took our punishment upon Himself. He took the guilt of our sins and bore them in our place. He received all the emotional pain of the abuse, betrayal, injustice, and scorn that we ourselves have given and received. In a prophetic portrait of the future Christ, Isaiah wrote, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Hebrews 9:22 says, “In fact, under the Law, almost everything is purified by means of blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is neither release from sin and its guilt nor the remission of the due and merited punishment for sins.” (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine)
The weight of sin is so great that only shed blood can atone for it. We treat it so lightly, yet all the world is reeling and stunted and dying under the consequences of it. In the days of the Old Covenant (before Jesus came), God made laws requiring specific animals to be sacrificed to atone for certain sins. The one who committed the sin, was to slay the animal himself. We look at the Old Testament and wonder why God would be so strict, so seemingly cruel, and so specific. In confusion, many of us have said “Well, that is how God was back then…” and we try to put it out of our heads. There is something we must understand about God though. He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. What He hated 2,000 years ago He hates today, and will hate 2,000 years from now. He hates what destroys His creation, and He will be merciless against all forms of sin and injustice until every last bit is purged from us. (Please note that He is merciless with the sin, but not the repentant sinner!!)
Sin has destroyed this planet far more than even the most perceptive of us can realize. Only by shedding blood can we understand the extreme consequences of the price of sin. The shedding of blood is a vivid illustration that all sin will end in death. God, in His mercy, has allowed us to see and receive a small portion of the consequences of our sin in this lifetime, so we can change while we still have the opportunity to do so. After we die it will be to late.
When we see that the price that we must each pay for our sins is lifeblood of something or someone–and that there is no way around it–the debt must be paid, only then we begin to have a true appreciation of what happened on the Cross.
If we do not understand the Cross, we can never receive absolution from the guilt that eats away at us. The Cross is essential for us to have new life. It is our only path to freedom.
Walking in the Joy of a Clean Conscience
Up to this point, you may be feeling less optimistic than you did when you started this article. If you are, it is a good sign. Believe it or not, you are closer to freedom than you have ever been! As we stated earlier, to be free from any problem, we must first recognize that we have one. Sometimes this is the hardest part. Recognizing and dealing with our sin is the only way to overcome the consequences of it. Are you ready for the good news now?
You can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you were to die tonight, you could stand before your Creator with a clean conscience. You don’t have to rely on hopeful wishes or vague optimism. You can be washed clean and fragrant and sparkling. You don’t have to hide from the guilty feelings that oppress you deep inside. You don’t have to mete out penance for yourself to ease your conscience. You don’t have to feel unworthy to come before the Lord in prayer, or accept the evil things Satan would try to do to you as your “punishment” from God. (Satan loves to masquerade as God Himself)!
God already punished Jesus in your place. If you were to receive your true punishment, you’d already be long dead! God’s grace has kept you alive this long for a reason. Part of it is bringing you to this very place so you can hear Him calling out to you. It’s not too late! No matter what you’ve done, it isn’t too late for you to repent and to change you ways! If you are willing and ready to change your life, God is more than ready to help you, forgive you and restore you.
When Jesus cried out “It is finished!” on the cross, and took His last breath, the curtain in the temple was ripped from top to bottom. This curtain was extremely thick, and separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. This inner sanctuary was where the presence of the Living God dwelled. No unclean thing could enter into this sacred place. A priest only went in once a year and if he had any sin in his life, he would die as he came to minister before the Lord. Yet, when Jesus finished the work on the cross, that curtain that kept us away from God’s presence was ripped open, symbolizing a new relationship that we can now have with the Living God.
Jesus’ atoning death on the cross made it possible for us to receive complete access to the presence of God. We can be forgiven of all our sins and no longer need to cower in the distance, afraid to face God. This problem has been dealt with once and for all, but we need to apply it for it to have any significance in our lives. This will not work if we agree only in theory. It must become a practical action in our lives.
Steps to Receive God’s Forgiveness
Forgiveness is not automatic. Through the blood of Jesus, every person alive has the opportunity to receive forgiveness, but it does not happen involuntarily. The Bible makes it clear that there are some conditions we must meet to obtain God’s forgiveness. Let’s look at the following verses to find out what we must do to obtain forgiveness.
- 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Hosea 14:2-3: “Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips…We will never again say ‘our gods’ to what our own hands have made’” (NIV). From the above verses, the first thing we see is that we must confess our sins. We must recognize where we have erred, and hurt God by our actions. When confessing your sins to God, be as specific as you can. General confessions do very little to convict of sin, or to convince God of your seriousness, or to bring healing in those areas.
- Isaiah 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Ezekiel 18:21: “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” Our next step in receiving forgiveness, is to turn from our wicked ways and change them. We may struggle with a certain sin, but if our intent is truly to change our ways and overcome that sin, God will give us the grace to do it. Many want to receive forgiveness from God without changing their ways. God knows the difference between those who are sincere and those who are using Him to temporarily ease their conscience. He is not mocked or deceived. If one comes to him in sorrow, humility and sincerity, His grace is abundant. However, He has little patience for those who would abuse His mercy. Search your heart and ask God to give you the grace for true repentance, and the power of the Holy Spirit to make the changes you need to do. His greatest joy is to help those who repent in sincerity. This should include asking forgiveness of those you have wronged and making restitution to them. True repentance will always be accompanied by corresponding actions.
- Along these lines, the Bible also makes it clear that we are to “make right” any situations where we have failed in our responsibilities to others. Matthew 5:23-25 says “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.” Romans 13:7: “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (NIV). If we are sincere in our repentance we must be willing to pay the penalty for our crimes against others. This could include restoration of any goods, monies, or services that were taken wrongfully, (or never given at all, if we owed them). The Lord says to “agree with our adversary.” If we are in dispute with someone, that means we must admit to what we have done and quit trying to defend ourselves. If we are in the wrong (even partially) it is better to take responsibility for it, than to argue for our rights. Many of us have failed to give honor and respect to those who are due it. That includes elders of any kind. They may be our parents, those in ministry, government leaders, our employers, those who are merely older than us in general, etc. Even if we don’t agree with all their decisions, we are to honor and respect them for the office and position they hold. We are to refer to them with respect, both to their face and behind their back. Furthermore, God also commands us to treat everyone with common courtesy and respect regardless of who they are, because they are created in His image. Again, we do not have to concur with everything they do, but we owe them basic respect, out of respect for God. In fact, how much we really respect God will be evident in how we treat others. If you have failed to show proper respect and/or honor for someone, it is your responsibility to apologize (if applicable), and to change your ways. No one can do this for you. If you do not change your ways, you will face the inevitable slide into prideful self-deception and self-righteousness, both of which are an abomination to God.
- Matthew 6:14-15: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Mark 11:25-26: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him and let it drop – leave it, let it go – in order that your Father Who is in heaven may also forgive you your (own) failings and shortcomings and let them drop. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your failings and shortcomings.”(Amplified) These verses are perhaps some of the least applied Scriptures in the Kingdom of God. Somehow, many of us are deceived into thinking that we do not have to take them literally. However, Jesus emphasized this principal over and over again in His parables and teachings. If we receive God’s forgiveness, it is our duty to forgive those who have wronged us. The two are inseparable. Jesus said plainly that God will not forgive us, if we do not forgive others. Many Christians are full of condemnation and guilt because they still feel the weight of their sins, even though they’ve asked God to forgive them. Could it be that they have not been able to receive God’s forgiveness because they still have bitterness in their own hearts toward others? Sometimes, we may carry bitterness and hurt so long, that we no longer even recognize it as a problem. It becomes a part of our very nature. We may not scheme for revenge, but our souls are clouded with a quiet, persistent bitterness.
Some of us have been betrayed in devastating ways, and have suffered profoundly at the hand of abusive people. Others have been horribly mistreated by those of other races, nations, and religions. If you are suffering with deep unhealed wounds, know the Lord has also been hurt with your pain. He loves you and wants to heal you. It is because of His great love for you that He is calling you to forgive. It is your only release from the emotional prison that you are now in.
You do not have to live in a continual state of submission to evil emotions. You can be free of them, through the power of the cross. “Behold, I make all things new” says the Lord. You can be made new on the inside, and no longer staggering under a load of bitterness, hatred, pain, and depression. God wants to set you free right now!
Forgiveness in Practice
If you have been wounded, God will take even this frustration and pain of rejection in your life and work it for something good so you can be a vessel of healing to His people – if you let Him.
“…But what if they don’t even see how bad they’ve hurt me?” Whether they see it or not is between them and the Lord. Your responsibility is simply to forgive them.
“…I’m afraid if I forgive, I’ll only get hurt again.” If you call on the Lord for wisdom He will help you in your situation. If you are in an abusive relationship/partnership/friendship you need to pray about whether you should stay in it. You can still forgive them, but it doesn’t mean that you have to live with, or be closely associated with them. There is a difference.
“…If I forgive them, they’ll only go on hurting others.” If the person who hurt you has done it in an illegal way such as sexual abuse, theft, murder, etc., you have a responsibility to do all you can to stop others from being hurt in the same way. However, you can still forgive them, in the sense that you do not actively hate them, and can pray for God’s mercy on them.
When God forgives us, He no longer holds our sins against us. Therefore, we don’t have the right to hold others’ sins against them–not if we belong to Jesus. If we belonged to the world, we could indulge in bitterness, but the blood-bought child of a merciful King has no such right.
Whether we “feel” forgiveness in our hearts or not, we are under obligation to obey God. As we obey Him, He will supply the feelings. Obedience must come first, then the right feelings will follow. We can’t wait for a special nudge from On High to get us to do what His Word already tells us plainly to do. The longer we wait, the worse off we will be. Oswald Chambers, in his famous devotional, “My Utmost For His Highest,” preaches strongly about this concept:
“Revise where you have become stodgy spiritually and you will find it goes back to a point where you knew there was something you should do, but you did not do it because there seemed no immediate call to, and now you have no perception, no discernment; at a time of crisis you are spiritually distracted instead of spiritually self-possessed.”
The best way to be rid of bearing a grudge against someone (or a race, nation, gender, or church, etc.), is to confess it to the Lord and seek His help. Then, begin to pray for that person as if you were praying for yourself.
“Lord, bless so and so. Cause their way to be pleasing to You in all that they do. Lead them closer to you! Cleanse them of all sin and give them the grace and strength to repent of any wickedness in their heart. Cause them to thirst for intimacy with You, and let them be fulfilled in Your presence. Let them honor You and put You first in all their ways. Send Your Holy Spirit to minister to them, to strengthen them, and to lead them. Let them fulfill the call of God on their life. Bless their family/job/ministry/etc. Cause them to be fruitful and to be established in your love. Minister to them in the area of their deepest needs. Help me to be truly concerned for them. Let me have your heart for this person. Show me how to pray for them and love them as you want me to….”
Then, bind away any spirit of deception that has come over them, or anything else the Lord may show you in prayer. This is what “loving our enemies” is all about. It is looking past the sin they have committed against us, and honestly wanting the best for them and for God to be merciful to them.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:44-48
As you are faithful to pray for those who have wronged you in this way, you will see a change come about in them–and in you!!! Instead of hate, you will begin to have God’s compassion for them. There is nothing that pleases the Lord more than to see His children bearing each other’s burdens, loving each other from the heart, and living in humility toward each other.
“Standing on the Promises of God”
Many have written us with a fear that perhaps they have “gone too far.” They have continually struggled with a besetting sin that seems to master them again and again. They wonder if they have lost their salvation, if God has given up on them, of if they were ever truly saved at all.
Please know this: If you are crying out to Him for forgiveness, it is only because He has given you the grace to do so–and He WILL answer your heart’s cry. If you were past the point of no return, you wouldn’t even care about the concept of forgiveness. It is only because you belong to the Lord that you are still seeking Him.
Jesus said in John 6:37, “All whom My Father has given (entrusted) to Me, will come to Me and I will most certainly not cast out–I will never, no never reject one of them who comes to Me” (Amplified).
If you are feeling weak, understand this about your beautiful Savior: “He does not crush the weak, or quench the smallest hope…” (Matthew 12:20, Living Bible).
God loves you and He is on your side to help you overcome sin. He is not against you. He is for you. Please refer to the above (and following) scriptures as often as you feel the need–as often as the devil would whisper lies of condemnation in your ear (Satan literally means “Accuser” and that is what he does best). Jesus stood against the devil with scripture and we should do the same thing! These promises are true and precious, for “God is not a man that He should lie” (Numbers 23:19). Even if you don’t “feel” forgiven, that is beside the point. God’s word is truer than our emotions.
All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That is why Jesus died for us in the first place! This is the most basic tenant of Christianity, yet it seems it is the primary lesson we all must learn again and again. God doesn’t love us because we are worthy. He loves us because He IS Love.
Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised.) Hebrews 10:18-23
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him. In this way love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:16-18 (NIV)
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. Psalm 103:8-13
The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Psalm 34:18
I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me for I have redeemed you. Isaiah 44:22 (NIV)
He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:19
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Psalm 103:2-3
For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. Romans 10:11
Jesus said that the one who is forgiven much will love much. We all need to be forgiven of much, but very few of us recognize it. If you recognize your sins and mourn deeply because of them, you are closer to true love than all the multitudes who are doing “just fine.”
However, just as there is a time to mourn for our sins, there is also a time to rejoice that we are truly forgiven and clothed in the very righteousness of Christ Himself. Once we have been forgiven, God wants us to walk free of the burden of guilt. That is why He assures us over and over in His word that He literally forgets our sins. I used to think preachers only made that up, until I saw it in the Bible. As if forgiveness were not enough, God also gives us the royal robes of holiness to wear. In Him, we are made righteous in Christ. If that is not something to rejoice about, nothing is! Praise God!!!
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21
It Is Utterly Impossible For Love To Be Defeated
In all of God’s creation, one thing can absolutely never be defeated, and that is Love. Though it has been trivialized, mocked, perverted, ignored, and trampled on, True Love will eventually change the whole order and fabric of creation. It is impossible for this not to happen. God is Love, and God will never be defeated. Love cannot fail, but it will vanquish every foe that is set against it, of which unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and pride are a part. These things will cease absolutely one day. But we can hasten that day and speed it’s coming, by applying the parameters of love to our lives now. If we do this, we wage spiritual war with the most powerful (and essentially only) weapon of spiritual warfare that there is.
We all love to talk about love in the abstract, but the depth of our commitment to it is revealed in our willingness and ability to forgive. It is the true measure of what sort of warrior we really are, in the kingdom of God. No matter what accusations the Enemy may make, forgiveness drowns them in the blood of Jesus, and turns the bullets of his words into butterflies. That is why forgiveness and walking in love cannot be mere options for the Christian. Either we do it, or we don’t. If we don’t, we deceive ourselves that we are Christ’s followers. If we want to follow Jesus then we must walk where He walked. We must forgive as He forgives and love as He loves. The simplicity of this gospel is the only thing that can and will transform us–and the world!
We’ve all heard these words, but let’s read them again from the Amplified Bible:
Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy; it is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited–arrogant and inflated with pride; it is not rude (unmannerly), and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking ; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it–pays no attention to a suffered wrong. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best about every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances and it endures everything (without weakening). Love never fails–never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
If you need to pray for forgiveness, here is a sample prayer to help you:
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for Your grace and mercy to me. Forgive me for my hardness of heart which I have displayed to others as well as You. Cleanse me of all self-absorption, self-pity, anger, hatred, bitterness, vengefulness, hopelessness and resentment. Help me to walk in Your love and to know Your love in my own heart. Though I don’t have it within me, I know that You have it within You and that you share your power with the weak. I confess my weakness and I look to You to make me strong in love, patience, longsuffering and humility. I look to all the testing of my faith as something good, for You know it will make me stronger in it. You are rich in mercy and will not chide and scold forever. I’m calling on You for forgiveness and the strength to believe Your Word and to follow it. Now, Lord, please send me the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen me so I can follow through with all You’ve put in my heart. Help me not to stumble back into my old ways, but walk in the newness of life that You have promised those who are born again. Let my life be the very fragrance of grace to all I meet. Let me show others the kind of love that You have shown me. Thank you for your faithfulness Lord. I cling to your mercy and love You with all my heart.
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Betty Miller has written several books on other topics as well. To view titles or purchase those books visit our bookstore.