Calvary Road Baptist Church


Ephesians 4.32



Consider this concept of forgiveness, this morning. Last Sunday morning I stated that non-Christian religions, certainly including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and the even the religion of secular humanism, have undeveloped 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, including even those professing Christians who are not really born again, is really not forgiveness at all, but a type of “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 wound of being sinned against, and the person who did the sinning continues to carry the guilt. The sad reality is that most people actually live this way their whole lives.

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, and that parents and children move away from each other and only get together once or twice a year?

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, granted, and a relationship is thereby restored. Understand that God is not reconciled to any man, since God has committed no sin and does not need forgiveness. Rather, a sinful man 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 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 actually 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. 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 upon the fact that the offense really 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.

Last week we considered the pagan and Jewish concepts of forgiveness. This morning we will dig somewhat more deeply into the Biblical doctrine of forgiveness.




There are seven different words in the Bible translated into the English word forgive: There are the Hebrew words rp, kaphar, ac;n;, nasa’, and jl”s;, calach. Then, there are the Greek words ajpolu>ein, apoluein, cari>zesqai, charizesthai, a]fesiv, aphesis, and pa>resiv, paresis. These are the words that are used in scripture to express the idea of forgiveness in God’s Word. Consider the words with me, one at a time.

rp, kaphar, is a Hebrew word that has a range of meanings. Sometimes the context in which the word is used obviously refers to the idea of covering. Turn to Genesis 6.14, where the word is translated pitch and carries the idea of covering cracks and seams in the hull of the Noah’s Ark: “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 the 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: “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: “But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not.”

jl”s;, calach, is found in Numbers 30.5, 8, 12; First Kings 8.30, 34, 36, 39, 50, and other verses. Let me quickly read those verses to you:


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.”


Did you notice that this word is used only of God’s forgiveness?

A third Hebrew word, ac;n;, nasa’ is used in both senses, God’s forgiveness and man’s. Take time to read Exodus 32.32, Numbers 14.19, Joshua 24.19, Psalm 25.18; 32.1, 5; 99.8, and Isaiah 2.8-9, where the word is used in the sense of God’s forgiveness. Also read Genesis 50.17, Exodus 10.17, and First Samuel 25.28, where the word is used in the sense of man’s forgiveness, with those men being Joseph, Moses, and David, who likely had a grasp of the concept of forgiveness that was superior to others of their day.

Ajpolu>ein, apoluein, is a Greek compound word that is found in Luke 6.37: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” The preposition ajpo means from and away from.[2] The word lu >w means I loose or I destroy.[3] The word 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.[4]

In Romans 3.25, Paul uses the word pa>resiv, paresis, instead of the usual a]fesiv, aphesis. Pa>resiv means “putting aside,” and “disregarding,” while a]fesiv has to do with “putting away” completely and unreservedly (Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, section xxxiii). It is apparent that prior to our Lord Jesus Christ’s crucifixion God had treated sins as though He had forgiven them. The fact, however, is that no basis for real forgiveness existed prior to the crucifixion of Christ because forgiveness is more than just pretending sins have not been committed. For God to deal with sins by simply forgiving them, without His justice being satisfied by the righteous punishment for offenses, is impossible without compromising His nature. Righteousness demands that crimes be punished. So, what did God do with the sins of repentant sinners before Christ’s crucifixion? The Apostle Paul avoids saying outright that God forgave sins prior to the cross. This passing over of sins, as characterized by the word pa>resiv, paresis, shows that God disregarded sin in past times until Christ’s propitiation resulted in real forgiveness, or a]fesiv, aphesis. Acts 14.16 and 17.30 shed light on this. In Lystra, the Apostle Paul explained it with these words: “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 then no basis for what we understand forgiveness to be, in a sense you might consider God to have actually tabled the matter of fully forgiving repentant sinners until Christ’s crucifixion provided the basis for complete forgiveness through His shed blood.

Cari>zesqai, charizesthai, is a Greek word that is not found outside of the writings of Luke and Paul. The word has a wide range of meanings with the Apostle Paul, and in the sense “to forgive sins” is a shade of meaning peculiar to the Apostle Paul, expressing, as no other of these words does, Paul’s conception of the graciousness of God’s pardon, meaning that pardon is a gift God grants to those who are unworthy. Four verses in which Paul uses the word:


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. That being the case, remission, found in Matthew 26.28, Mark 1.4, Luke 1.77, 24.47, Acts 2.38, 10.43, Hebrews 9.22, and 10.18, and blotting out, found in Psalm 51.1, 9, Isaiah 43.25, Jeremiah 18.23, and Acts 3.19, 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 your leisure time.




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:


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.


In marked contrast to the insufficiency of the Law’s provision for forgiveness that needed to be repeated again and again, the atonement of Christ based upon His single sacrifice for sin is permanently adequate. 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, 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 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 we have just read, shows us that Old Testament saints are forgiven, though their forgiveness is brought about in a manner most people are unfamiliar with. If you ponder this matter of 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 forgiving 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 were forgiven by God were fully punished.

This is how numerous passages can make reference to God having removed sins as far as the east is from the west, and having cast all sins 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 because it clearly shows that forgiveness is always based upon something. Your ability and willingness to forgive someone else is utterly dependent upon the forgiveness you have received from God. What we saw today in our somewhat too long consideration of the various words, and in our consideration of forgiveness in the Old Testament, is that not even God forgives by pretending the offense that needs forgiving did not happen. In other words, you cannot just forgive because you 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 sins being committed. If a sin has not been committed there is no need of forgiveness. So, then, how are 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 full and 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 understood until Paul wrote his letter to the Romans.

The best God could do was 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. Yet 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. 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 an unsaved friend or spouse, is not a Christian, he or she will not 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 is able to forgive “even as God for Christ’s sake” has forgiven him.

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

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

[3] Ibid., page 6.

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

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