Calvary Road Baptist Church


Ephesians 4.32 

As we approach the concept of forgiveness, again this morning, I stand before you with no small amount of hesitation. The reason for my hesitation is the detail with which I feel I must address our subject matter. I can only hope that, so long as you step back and take in the whole of the sermon and are patient with me through some of the minutiae, you will remember that important things were established even if you do not commit to memory all of the details.

Last Sunday morning I stated that non-Christian religions, certainly including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism, have underdeveloped concepts of forgiveness when compared to the Christian faith. You may remember me pointing out that the concept of forgiveness that most people limp along with in their lives, including even those professing Christians who are not born again, is not forgiveness at all. Rather, it is something of a “let’s pretend it didn’t happen” approach.

Do you have any idea what happens when one person mumbles a pathetic, “Sorry,” and the other person responds with something like, “Aw, it’s okay”? The person sinned against still carries with him the corrosive wound of being sinned against, and the person who did the sinning continues to carry the caustic guilt of sinning. The sad reality is that most people live this way their whole lives without ever forgiving or being forgiven. This can sometimes be seen in the case of one sinned against, who alters his direction of life when sinned against and, despite pretending to forgive when asked, continues in the wrong direction after pretending to forgive. Genuine forgiveness typically frees one’s heart and conscience to resume one’s life as before.

Therefore, is it any wonder that after decades of sinning back and forth, without any real forgiveness sought or granted, and without any reconciliations to heal the breaches caused by sinning, that marriages come to an end, that friendships fizzle out, that ministries are abruptly abandoned, and that parents and children move away from each other and only get together once or twice a year? Do a word study of the words “scatter” and “scattered” in the Bible and you will discover that, except for the scattering of Christians by persecution who went everywhere preaching the Gospel, families that are scattered are not blessed, but cursed.[2] Turn in your Bible to Second Corinthians 5.17-21: 

17  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

18  And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

19  To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

20  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

21  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. 

Though I will not take the time to show you, let me just state that reconciliation takes place when forgiveness is sought, when forgiveness is granted, and a relationship is thereby restored. We understand that God is not reconciled to any man since God has committed no sin and does not need anyone’s forgiveness. Rather, a sinful individual needs to be reconciled to God. When God’s forgiveness is secured, the sinner is thereby reconciled to God. As well, when one person secures the forgiveness of another person a reconciliation between two people has taken place.

We noticed last week, and we will once again pay attention to the fact, that forgiveness is inadequate and incomplete when it consists of pretending the sin causing the breach did not occur. Real forgiveness, as we will see once again, can only occur when justice has been served, and appropriate punishment for the offense has been meted out. As the Lord GOD said in Ezekiel 18.4 and said again in Ezekiel 18.20, 

“The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” 

Am I suggesting the person who has been sinned against inflict punishment on the one who sinned against him as a basis for forgiving him? Not at all. However, someone must be punished whenever sin is committed. God’s justice demands it.

It is only when justice has been served that real forgiveness is possible because real forgiveness does not pretend the offense did not occur. Real forgiveness is based on the fact that the offense did occur. And that real punishment for that offense was meted out, with Jesus Christ being the only Substitute worthy to suffer the real punishment demanded by God for sin, which punishment He did suffer on the cross.

Again, last week I mentioned the pagan and Jewish concepts of forgiveness. This morning we will dig somewhat more deeply into the Biblical doctrine of forgiveness that Christianity embraces. I know your eyes may for a moment glaze over as we proceed, but this is needful to impress upon you that though forgiveness is not so much important in our culture, it is very important to God, as we shall see.



There are seven different words in the Bible translated into the English word “forgive” and related words. These seven words begin to show how sophisticated Christianity is in comparison to pagan religions concerning forgiveness: There are the Hebrew words kapharnasa’, and calach. Then, there are the four additional Greek words apoluoo, charizomai, afiemi, and paresis. These are the words which are used in Scripture to express the concept we understand as forgiveness in God’s Word.

Briefly consider the words with me, one at a time. There will not be a test at the end of the service.

“Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.” 

At other times this word is translated “atonement,” such as in Leviticus 1.4, with the idea of blood covering sins, as in other places “pitch” or “tar” covered cracks or seams: 

“And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” 

The blood of the sacrifice would then be taken and sprinkled about the altar to cover those sins from God’s sight. On the annual Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the high priest would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, thereby covering, or atoning, the nation’s past sins and hiding them from God’s sight for one year. In other passages, the same word refers to forgiveness. Deuteronomy 21.8 reads, 

“Be merciful, O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel’s charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.” 

Psalm 78.38 reads, 

“But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not.” 

Numbers 30.5:

“But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.” 

Numbers 30.8:

“But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the LORD shall forgive her.” 

Numbers 30.12: 

“But if her husband hath utterly made them void on the day he heard them; then whatsoever proceeded out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning the bond of her soul, shall not stand: her husband hath made them void; and the LORD shall forgive her.” 

First Kings 8.30:

“And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place: and when thou hearest, forgive.” 

First Kings 8.34:

“Then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy people Israel, and bring them again unto the land which thou gavest unto their fathers.” 

First Kings 8.36:

“Then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, and of thy people Israel, that thou teach them the good way wherein they should walk, and give rain upon thy land, which thou hast given to thy people for an inheritance.” 

First Kings 8.39:

“Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;)” 

First Kings 8.50:

“And forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee, and give them compassion before them who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them.” 

The word is also used in other verses. Did you notice as I read that this word is used only of God’s forgiveness?

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” 

The preposition apo means from and away from.[3] The word luoo means I loose or I destroy.[4] The word formed by these two words, apoluoo, is twice used by our Lord in Luke because of the analogy of sin as a debt of obligation and denotes the release from sin.[5]

“Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.” 

In Athens he said it this way: 

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” 

So, while sometimes you will hear it said that in Old Testament times God forgave sins based upon what Christ would do, and since Christ’s crucifixion God forgives sins based upon what Christ has done, that characterization is only roughly true. Since there was before Christ’s crucifixion no basis for what we as Christians understand forgiveness to be, in a sense you might consider God to have tabled the matter of fully forgiving repentant sinners until Christ’s crucifixion provided the basis for complete forgiveness through His shed blood. And would this not fit in nicely with our understanding that Old Testament saints after dying resided in Abraham’s bosom until Christ led captivity captive and took them to heaven once He had paid for their sins?

Second Corinthians 2.7:

“So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” 

Second Corinthians 12.13:

“For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.” 

Colossians 2.13:

“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” 

Colossians 3.13:

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 

This is a full and rich topic in God’s Word. It deserves more consideration, but we haven’t the time. The words “remission” (afesis, found in Matthew 26.28, Mark 1.4, Luke 1.77, 24.47, Acts 2.38, 10.43, Hebrews 9.22, and 10.18), “blot out” (found in Psalm 51.1, 9, Isaiah 43.25, Jeremiah 18.23, and “blotted out” (Acts 3.19 translating the word exeliefoo), are synonyms of this important word “forgiveness.” To more fully understand the concept of forgiveness, such words as save, justify, reconcile, and atonement should also be studied. 


In light of the Apostle Paul’s comments in the book of Acts, and his careful wording in Romans 3.25, as well as what we find in the letter to the Hebrews, it becomes clear to the student of God’s Word that the sacrifices prescribed by God in the Law of Moses were not adequate atonements. If this were not the case, the comment on the Law in Hebrews 10.1-4 would not have been written. Turn there are follow along as I read: 

1  For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

2  For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.

3  But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.

4  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. 

Did you catch what the writer to the Hebrews said? He points out that the atonement accomplished by the sacrifice of animals under the Law of Moses did not take away sins. To temporarily cover sins is one thing. To take away sins is quite another thing, a better thing. The Lord Jesus Christ accomplished the better thing.

In marked contrast to the insufficiency of the Old Testament Law’s provision for forgiveness that needed to be repeated again and again, we have the Lord Jesus Christ’s accomplishment. His atoning work, better referred to as the at-one-ment, is based upon His single, permanently adequate, sacrifice for sin. As well, Christ’s saving work became retroactive in the sense that it unified in Christ the Divine arrangement for saving mankind in all ages, according to Hebrews 11.40: 

“God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” 

In other words, the Old Testament saints were not made perfect by the sacrifices they offered under the Law but were made perfect by Christ’s one-time sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.

In light of what we have seen thus far, let me read several Old Testament passages and then briefly comment on them: 

Psalm 103.12:

“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” 

Micah 7.18-19:

18  Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.

19  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. 

Isaiah 38.17:

“Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” 

Jeremiah 31.34: 

“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” 

Careful consideration of this matter of forgiveness, in light of what Paul says in Romans 3.25, together with the passages I have just read, shows us that Old Testament saints are now forgiven, though their forgiveness has been brought about in a manner most people are unfamiliar with. If you consider forgiveness from a purely Old Testament perspective, you might think repentant sinners were forgiven without adequate recognition of the heinous character of their sins; that perhaps God, Himself, was pretending the sins needing forgiveness were never committed. However, when the entire Bible is brought to bear on the issue of forgiveness, it becomes clear that God’s forgiveness of sinners was predicated on the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, where the sins that are forgiven by God were fully punished. This is how numerous passages can refer to God, having removed sins as far as the East is from the West, and having cast all sins behind His back, can be understood along with other passages anticipating God’s forgiveness and looking forward to Him remembering their sin no more. 

Keep our text, Ephesians 4.32, in mind: 

“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” 

The reason you need to keep this passage in mind is that it clearly shows that forgiveness is always based on something. Your ability and willingness to forgive someone else is utterly dependent upon the forgiveness you have received from God.

But what we saw today in our somewhat lengthy consideration of various words, and in our consideration of forgiveness in the Old Testament, is that not even God forgives by pretending the offense that needs forgiveness did not happen. In other words, you cannot just forgive because you have decided to forgive. Perhaps you think you can, but time and experience will show that you cannot just up and forgive after the fashion of most people. It just does not work.

Have you ever thought this matter of forgiveness through? You cannot just forgive your husband when he sins. You cannot just forgive your wife when she sins. This is because forgiveness is intimately related to real sins being committed. If a sin has not been committed, there is no need for forgiveness. So, then, how are real sins to be dealt with? Can you just pretend they went away? Can you just let time pass until sins are forgotten? Of course, some people try to deal with sins in that way, but it never works because sins never just go away. Sins must always be properly dealt with. Sins must always be punished.

That is why God’s forgiveness in the Old Testament was never complete. Sins could only be covered, atoned, by the provisions of the Law. Thus, God’s forgiveness of Old Testament saints involved a protracted provision that was not fully understood until Paul wrote his letter to the Romans. God planned to treat sins as though He had forgiven them, all the while patiently waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for sins already committed so that He might fully and freely forgive. This is because forgiveness has to do with the disposition of some sin. God’s Law cries for sin to be punished, and it must be punished, or else there is no real basis existing for forgiveness.

Therefore, my friend, if God cannot fully and freely forgive sins apart from a sufficient sacrifice for sins being paid, how in the world can you forgive sins? “Who can forgive sins but God only?” Mark 2.7 reads. As well, how can you hope to be truly forgiven by someone who is not a Christian, say a future husband or wife who is not converted? It will not happen.

Based on the authority of God’s Word, and fully verified by my own experience as a Christian and as a pastor over these many years, I can promise you that friendships, that marriages and that families desperately need forgiveness for sins that are committed by friends, spouses, and family members. But I can also tell you what such forgiveness will not be forthcoming from those who are not born again. If you are married to a non-Christian, you will not be forgiven. If you are not a Christian, you will not forgive. Only God, based upon the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, and Christians, based upon the forgiveness they have from God in Christ, are willing and able to forgive those who sin against them. Thus, if you are not a Christian, you will not truly forgive. You cannot truly forgive. As well, if that person who you have sinned against, be it a friend or spouse, is not a Christian, he or she will not truly forgive you.

Why not? Why is forgiveness so difficult for the unsaved person? Forgiveness is not difficult for an unsaved person. It is impossible. If God could not completely and fully forgive apart from Christ’s sacrifice for sins, then no one can forgive apart from the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice, especially a man or woman who rejects Christ and refuses the Gospel.

The good news, however, is that the Christian both enjoys God’s forgiveness already, and can forgive “even as God for Christ’s sake” has forgiven him. What a great blessing. It is a blessing you can enjoy if you trust Christ as your personal Savior.


[1] This series of sermons draws heavily on information found in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article “Forgiveness”

[2] Genesis 11.8; 49.7; Leviticus 26.33; Deuteronomy 4.27; 28.64; 30.3; 32.26; Nehemiah 1.8; Esther 3.8; Psalm 44.11; Nahum 3.18; Matthew 9.36; 26.31; Mark 14.27; Acts 8.1, 4; James 1.1; 1 Peter 1.1

[3] Ray Summers, Essentials of New Testament Greek, (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1950), page 31.

[4] Ibid., page 6.

[5] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 155.

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