Forgiveness of sin is a major theme in the Bible. The story of the Old Testament begins with Adam and Eve sinning and destroying the perfection God originally created. Sin passed from Adam and Eve to their descendants and the remainder of the biblical story focused on the way in which God would redeem mankind and creation from the ravages of sin and disobedience.
Early biblical promises of redemption and forgiveness were first heard in the Garden of Eden in passages such as Genesis 3:15. The Bible not only began to focus on redemption and deliverance but also upon a redeemer and deliverer – a person who would be used by the Holy One to reverse the effects of the sins committed by the first man and woman.
This hope was further outlined in Messianic prophecies throughout the Bible: Genesis 12:1-3, 49:10, Deuteronomy 18:15 ff., Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7, and in the magnificent servant song in chapter 53.
Ultimately this leads to the appearance on earth of this Promised One who would pay the penalty for sin by giving His own perfect life in death, conquering the curse and rising from the grave to offer redemption for individuals and eventually for all of creation marred and tainted by sin.
Is it no wonder then that the Messiah Jesus often spoke of sin, forgiveness, redemption and how we can enjoy a “remembrance of the garden” and foretaste of future glory today? Issues related to sin, forgiveness, and redemption were some of His favorite topics as He had come as a friend of sinners to seek and save the lost. Jesus promised an abundant life to those who followed Him (John 10:10) and this abundance would include a deeper and more profound relationship with the Creator and potentially transform relationships between individuals; heal marriages, families, friendships and all broken relationships approached according to His will.
In the well-known “Lord’s Prayer” Yeshua revealed the secret of renewed relationships to His followers as He encourages His disciples to learn the joy of forgiving others.
In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen (Matthew 6:9-13).
The great theme we bear in mind as we press toward the conclusion of the Ten Days of Awe, Yom Kippur, is forgiveness–God forgiving us and our forgiving others.
What can we learn about being forgiven and forgiving others from Yeshua’s prayer? Can we be forgiven of our sins without forgiving others?
The simple answer is Yes and No!
A Definition of Forgiveness
The Bible uses many different words to describe forgiveness. It might be best to think of various words in the Bible as terms that are in the forgiveness family. There are a variety of terms translated as “forgiveness” or seemingly used as a synonym in Scripture. Propitiation, redemption and a number of illustrations, Old Testament examples, and parables (the prodigal son, etc.) used to get the point across.
The Greek word used for “forgiveness” in this prayer is aphienai:
aphienai: “to send off,” can have such varied nuances as “to release,” “to hurl,” “to let be,” “to pardon.” Aphesis, which is less common, is used for “release” (from office, obligation, debt, penalty), pariemi means “to send by” with such nuances as “to leave behind,” “leave off,” “let be,” “give up,” “remit.”
Essentially, the word pictures forgiveness as the release from an obligation. The word used to represent the idea of sins in this prayer is “debts,” or opheilo.
Jesus often speaks about people being debtors to God (Mt. 6:12; 18:23 ff.; Lk. 7:41; 17:10), but only in Mt. 6:12 is sin specifically equated with debt. Jesus uses the illustration of debt to explain the breach in relationship to God. The debt is portrayed as so great that no amount of good deeds can offset our guilt. We are totally dependent on His divine mercy for the repayment of our “sin debt”. The amount is so vast that it is simply too large and impossible for any human to pay.
The Messiah teaches us as well that God’s gracious forgiveness imposes a corresponding obligation upon the forgiven to also forgive. In other words, we can only forgive as we have been forgiven! Once we understand God’s grace and view the sins of those who hurt us in light of God’s mercy towards us, then we can we do no more for others than what He has done for us.
Our ability to forgive others is in fact evidence that we have been forgiven. The opposite is true! If we are incapable of forgiving others then we have either misunderstood His grace or not allowed the redemption we have through the Messiah to seep into our souls and transform even the most difficult of our relationships.
The secret to forgiveness is when we are able to view others as Jesus views us and not hold their sins against them but to be willing to forgive as He has forgiven us. Sometimes this is a challenge because we have not sufficiently acknowledged the depth and horror of our own sins towards God and others. We are tempted to view the sins of others as far worse than our own.
Understandably forgiveness is harder to extend towards those who have hurt us or our loved ones more deeply. Let’s face it, forgiveness is difficult and this is why Yeshua addresses the matter in this foundational prayer, which helps direct us towards some of the most basic steps in developing of our relationship with God.
The only way to really forgive others is to ask God to give us His power and do our best, through prayer, counsel and the encouragement of others and to work towards saying, “Lord, as you have forgiven me, I forgive______. Just add the name of the person who has hurt you or your loved ones the most and then leave them in God’s hands.
As Rabbi Saul of Tarsus writes,
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in the Messiah, God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
The above Bible verse speaks to my heart. The Apostle reminds us that we need to view ourselves as God does– both incredibly sinful, but dramatically and eternally forgiven. In turn, knowing what God has done for us–we need to now do for others. We forgive, as we have been forgiven.
Would you take a moment and think about those you need to forgive during this season of repentance. I am sure you know who they are and understand that until you forgive you are vulnerable to bitterness and guilt. Perhaps today is the day when you will be able to release the anger and un-forgiveness that so easily damages our soul. You might begin by thanking God by for forgiving you and then extend that same forgiveness to those who have hurt you.
I know this is not easy and I hope that you will take some time to pray, reflect and ask God to give you the strength to do what seems to be humanly impossible–to forgive those who have sinned against you or those you love. If you do…you will be set free!