WHAT IS TRUE FORGIVENESS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
One documentary featured a Jewish lady who survived the Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp of the early 1940s. All these decades later, she claims to have forgiven the Nazi doctor, Mengele, who directed the medical experiments performed on her, her late twin sister, and other Jewish twins. Many Jews, including other survivors, were upset with her. They could not understand how she could forgive such atrocities. As expected, some reacted by expressing great disapproval of her.
At one point, she discussed her “forgiveness of Nazis” at a center for Jewish studies. She received a barrage of angry complaints from Jewish “scholars.” One man exclaimed, “We do not owe anyone forgiveness!” (Evidently, he had not studied what Moses wrote in the Jewish Torah in Leviticus 19:18?) Another person argued we should not forgive those who have wronged us until they have changed their ways. Yet another said we cannot simply “forget the past.”
When asked to defend herself, the dear Jewish lady could only describe her “forgiveness” as a way for “inside healing.” Her motivation, although heartfelt, would not last. It was all just idle speculation; not one person in the documentary, including her, had any idea of true forgiveness. They guessed and discussed, but it was just vain imaginations. Most were bitter, angry people who refused to let go of the past. They envied her for getting on with her life.
Friends, it is no mystery that our world, full of crimes and injustices, abounds with hurt and hurting people. Whether the Holocaust, a World War, an unfair family matter (child custody battle, divorce, abuse, et cetera), or the like, forgiveness is the only answer to move forward in life. Unfortunately, the average person—even common church member—has no clue whatsoever about forgiveness. They simply do not know. Many misconceptions about forgiveness only further confuse.
We just have to look at Ephesians 4:32 and see what true forgiveness entails! “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
It is evident from their eponymous epistle that the Ephesian believers were mature Christians. Ephesians is certainly a more advanced version of the grace teaching found in the book of Romans. Believers in Ephesus were surely no Corinthians (extremely carnal and worldly), but they still had their own problems. Friends, that should tell us something. Contrary to those who hold to the nonsensical idea of “entire sanctification,” spiritual maturity does not mean sinlessness! Some of the common sins in Ephesus are exposed in the context of Ephesians 4:32. The Holy Spirit through Paul wrote to correct such un-Christian behavior.
Let us begin reading in verse 31 and continue into verse 32: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Now we proceed to dissect these two verses into their individual thoughts. Nine particular terms or phrases can be extracted: “Let all (1) bitterness, and (2) wrath, and (3) anger, and (4) clamour, and (5) evil speaking, be put away from you, with all (6) malice; And be ye (7) kind one to another, (8) tenderhearted, (9) forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
The first six items are spoken of in a negative light. Therefore, they need to be “put away” (removed) from the Christian’s life. Such actions are contrary to our identity in Christ. They do not belong in our lives because they are not the fruit of the Spirit of God. Then, there are three positive actions in this passage. These three belong in the Christian’s life; the final clause is the key to experiencing them in your Christian life. Now, we proceed to define all nine items. Having a working knowledge of them will help us better understand Ephesians 4:32 and thereby forgiveness.
Verses 31 and 32 contain nine items worth discussing: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
- Bitterness—“intense antagonism or hostility.” The Bible says this characterizes lost mankind (Romans 3:14).
- Wrath—“strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.” Idolaters in Ephesus were very angry—“full of wrath”—when their religion was threatened (Acts 19:28).
- Anger—“a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire.”
- Clamour—“raise an outcry.” This was the “great cry” when Israel’s religious leaders argued (Acts 23:9); Jesus’ “strong crying” when He prayed to Father God in Gethsemane (Hebrews 5:7); the “loud cry” of an angel concerning judgment (Revelation 14:18). In the context of Ephesians, it means shouting over others—a crowd whose conversation is indistinct chatter.
- Evil speaking—“harmful or immoral words.” Transliterated, the Greek word is blasphemia. This means “to speak evil,” and the context of Ephesians 4:31 implies “gossip” and/or “slander.”
- Malice—“desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness.” Paul discouraged the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:8; 1 Corinthians 14:20) and the Colossians (Colossians 3:8) from behaving this way. Maliciousness also characterizes lost people (Titus 3:3). Peter instructed the kingdom saints of Israel’s program to avoid malice too (1 Peter 2:1).
- Kind one to another—“gentle; sympathetic.” In stark contrast to how the world hates us (1 John 3:12,13).
- Tenderhearted—“pitiful; well-compassionate” (cf. 1 Peter 3:8). The idea is opposite a hard heart, one that feels no sympathy and is unaffected when others suffer.
- Forgiveness—“send away.” This definition is the answer to all the confusion as to what forgiveness is and what forgiveness is not. It is such an intricate topic that we now proceed to discussing it in-depth!
In the Greek New Testament, “forgiveness” is aphesis, derived from aphiemi. Aphiemi is translated elsewhere in our King James Bible as “leave,” “forgive,” “suffer” (that is, “permit”), “forsake,” “let alone,” “remit,” “send away,” “omit,” and others. Notice this sampling of its usage by our 1611 King James translators.
It is used when the disciples “forsook” Jesus at His arrest (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50). Or, when they “forsook” their nets to follow Him years earlier (Mark 1:18). Also, when “sending away” a multitude (Mark 4:36). It was employed to describe Israel’s religious leaders “laying aside” the commandment of God to keep their religious traditions (Mark 7:8). Also, it is used to explain the husband “putting away” his wife during divorce proceedings (1 Corinthians 7:11,12). Or, to highlight the apostate Ephesian group of Jewish kingdom saints who had “left” their first love, Jesus Christ (Revelation 2:4).
Misconceptions abound when people think of or hear the word “forgiveness.” One common error is to think that forgiveness means pretending like no one did them wrong. Thus, they refuse to forgive others. Friends, contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is not “sweeping wrongs under the rug.” If we are to truly forgive, we must do it the way God did. We must think of forgiveness as God does.
Dear friends, we see true forgiveness by looking closely at Ephesians 4:32. The word “forgiveness” carries the idea of “leaving behind,” “sending away,” “laying aside.” But, exactly where are we to “leave” those wrongs done to and against us? To where should we “send” them “away?” Where should we “lay” them “aside?” Again, we see true forgiveness by carefully considering Ephesians 4:32. God did not merely instruct us to forgive others; He told us exactly how to do it. We are not left to wonder, to guess, to do our best and hope we forgave. All we have to do is look to Jesus Christ—“even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Forgiveness becomes ever so clear!
Sins—wrongdoings—can and do come between others and us. Someone doing us wrong becomes a hindrance to fellowship. Likewise, as children of Adam, our sins have come between God and us. Long, long ago, before we were even born—yea, before anything was created—God looked down through time to see us, the human race. He saw all the troubles we would cause His creation. What a mess it would be! Still, He valued free will so much. He risked His purpose and plan to allow us opportunity to follow or reject Him. Above all, He would make provisions to cover those mistakes of ours. Despite everything sinful man would do to mess up His creation, He would still bring about His will.
Friends, the cross of Christ was not an afterthought or an accident. It was in the mind of the triune Godhead all along (Acts 2:23). Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simply let man and Satan in their free will carry it out in blindness (Acts 3:17). Sinful man and Satan had no idea God would use the death of His Son for good (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)! On that awful cross, the blood of Jesus Christ, needed to wash away our sins, was shed so abundantly. “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).
While mankind was going on in his sinful ways, God sent His Son. Romans 5:6-8 explains: “ For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rather than pretending like mankind had no sins, God saw those sins and He punished His Son for those sins. With the sin-debt paid in full, forgiveness was (and is) now possible… for us and others!
Father God took our offenses against Him, all of man’s sins, and He placed them on Jesus Christ. As the Passover lamb’s blood was shed and applied to Jewish doorways, so the Death Angel would pass over them while judging Egypt, the blood of our Passover lamb was shed at Calvary to protect us from God’s wrath in hellfire. “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7b). “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18). He “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26b). In Scripture, “forgiveness” means, “send away,” “forsake,” “let alone,” “lay aside.”
Romans chapter 4: “ What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?  For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.  For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.  Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,  Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”
And, Ephesians 1:7: “In whom [Christ Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Also, Colossians 1:14: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” Finally, Colossians 2:13: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him [Christ Jesus], having forgiven you all trespasses” (cf. Ephesians 4:32).
God’s forgiveness of us provides us with a pattern of how we are to forgive others. Friends, lest bitterness result, we must send it away by faith to Calvary’s cross where God’s Son died to put it away!
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). What is true forgiveness?
At a Bible conference, I overheard a man talking with one of my pastor friends. Steeped in denominationalism, he was chiefly confused about whether God had forgiven him. He struggled with the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” (“Our Father” Prayer). Specifically, Matthew chapter 6: “ 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.” The poor man needed to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The “Our Father” Prayer was spoken to Israel (Matthew 15:24)—not us Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-7)!
God’s spokesman to us, the Apostle Paul, on this side of the Cross, tells us God has forgiven us all our sins. We do not have to beg or wonder! In Christ, forgiveness is total, free, and forever. He forgave us because of what Jesus Christ did at Calvary, not because of our religious performance (Ephesians 4:32). We are already forgiven in Christ. As God forgave us, we forgive others. Lost people will have their sins taken care of at two places—the cross of Christ if they trust Christ before physical death, or eternal hellfire if they do not trust Christ before physical death.
One of Satan’s schemes to destroy the local assembly is when Christians do not forgive each other as God for Christ’s sake has (past tense) forgiven them. Second Corinthians chapter 2 warns about bitterness: “ To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;  Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”
Forgiveness is not pretending like nothing happened. You have been wronged, and God punished Jesus Christ for that sin. Forgiveness is sending the shame, guilt, and pain to Jesus Christ’s cross (where God dealt with our sins). We need not keep dredging up the past, beloved. We learn from our mistakes, and are thankful Jesus Christ has already provided our forgiveness forever! 🙂