Forgiveness and Unforgiveness

   Since my conversion I have been noticing that unforgiveness is a basic human problem. When somebody has not been healed or freed, the underlying cause has almost always been their unforgiveness. Forgiveness has usually meant recovery. Christians often imagine that the subject of forgiveness has been dealt with only in the new covenant. Let’s look into the Scripture what the truth is. Let’s pay attention to the human part of forgiveness and unforgiveness as well as that of God.

Numbers 14, 17-20: And now, I beseech You, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, Jehovah is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but not acquitting to leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation. Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have borne this people, from Egypt even until now. And Jehovah said: I have pardoned, according to your word;

   We could find in the biblical analysis of “sin” that the sin always relates to God (whenever we sin, we sin against God); that means, that whenever we sin, no matter how, we need His forgiveness.  That is why we need to know God’s view on the issue of forgiving. The verse quoted above is a direct answer from God. I believe these verses from the Old Testament have much to say to us about the principle of forgiveness and unforgiveness. God says about Himself that He is longsuffering and of great mercy, that he forgives iniquity (sin) and transgression. He adds immediately, however, that he will by no means clear the guilty, even that the next three or four generations will bear the consequences. At the first sight it looks like a contradiction, but it is not so.

   In these verses, we can see Moses reminding God of His own statements about clemency and willingness to forgive sins and transgressions. Then Moses pleads to God to forgive the sins of his people. And in fact, God tells Moses: because you ask me to, I forgive them. This teaches us one of the important principles of forgiveness: If we want God to forgive us our sins, we must ask for it. But what about the second half of the verse: he “will by no means clear [the guilty], visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation”? I believe the explanation is as follows: If we do not confess our sin to God, not asking Him for forgiveness, we remain “guilty”, bearing all the consequences described in the abovementioned verse. However, if we confess our sin, asking Him for forgiveness, He forgives us so that we are not guilty anymore (and the second part of the verse about visiting the iniquity on the posterity up to the fourth generation does not apply to us).

   Thus, it may occur to us that we are allowed to sin as we like. Indeed, we only need to say to God: “I have sinned, please forgive me!” and everything is OK. Or is it not so? Let’s look at what rules applied in the time of the old covenant (Old Testament).

Numbers 15, 27-36: And if a soul sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat of the first year as a sin offering. Thus the priest shall make atonement for the soul who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before Jehovah, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is a native among the children of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. But the soul who does anything loftily, whether he is a native or a sojourner, that one blasphemes Jehovah, and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the Word of Jehovah, and has broken His commandment, that soul shall be cut down to be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him. Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. And they put him under guard, because it had not been declared what should be done to him. And Jehovah said to Moses, The man shall be executed to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp. Therefore, as Jehovah commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.

   As we can see, there were separate rules for forgiveness or unforgiveness in the case of an unintentional sin and in the case of an intentional one. If the sin was unintentional, the person was left poorer by a goat, nevertheless, cleansed (forgiven); an intentional sin resulted in the expulsion from the camp (and stoning, as in the abovementioned case).

Deuteronomy 29, 18-20: so that there not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from Jehovah our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there not be among you a root bearing venom or bitterness; and so it not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he has blessed himself in his heart, thinking, I shall have peace, even though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart; and thus to snatch away the watered with the thirsty. Jehovah will not consent to forgive him; for then the anger of Jehovah and His jealousy shall smoke against that man, and every curse that is written in this book shall lie down upon him, and Jehovah shall blot out his name from under the heavens.

   If we sin intentionally, without confessing our sin to God and asking Him for forgiveness, we are bound to bear the consequences.

2 Kings 23, 36 - 24, 4: Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Zebudah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. And he did evil in the eyes of Jehovah, according to all that his fathers had done. In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And Jehovah sent against him raiding bands of Chaldeans, bands of Syrians, bands of Moabites, and bands of the sons of Ammon; He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the Word of Jehovah which He had spoken by the hand of His servants the prophets. Surely at the mouth of Jehovah this came upon Judah, to remove them from before His face because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which Jehovah was not willing to forgive..

   Here we can see another exception from God’s forgiveness. If we sin purposefully to hurt anybody, we will be judged for that.

Psalms 86, 4-5: Make glad the soul of Your servant, for unto You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abounding in mercy unto all those who call upon You.

   Again we can see here that God offers His forgiveness – if we call on Him and ask Him for that.

Psalms 130, 3-4: If You, YAH, should keep remembering iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.

Exodus 21, 24-25: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Leviticus 19, 18: You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Jehovah.

  I believed that the rules given by God in the period of the old covenant did not leave the people with the obligation of forgiveness – see the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” rule). However, when I look at Leviticus 19, 18, I can see the obligation of forgiveness there (not taking vengeance and not bearing a grudge against somebody means to forgive him!) and the requirement that was later repeated by Jesus, i.e. to love your neighbours as yourself!

Isaiah 1, 16-18: Wash yourselves, purify yourselves. Put away the evil of your doings from My eyes; stop doing evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, set straight the oppressor, judge for the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now and let us reason together, says Jehovah: Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

   I have always liked these verses very much. Can you see? God offered His forgiveness even in the term of the old covenant!


    Let’s look at the time of the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, at his teaching and his requirements relating to forgiveness and unforgiveness! Jesus said he had not come to abolish the requirements of the Old Testament, rather to fulfil them:

Matthew 5, 17-18: Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled.

   People often imagine that the God of the “Old Testament” is extremely strict and demanding, while Jesus is merciful, full of love, compassion and understanding, somebody very different from the image of the Old Testament God. However, this is a delusion. Jesus not only fully complied with and obeyed the requirements of his heavenly Father, but he even made some of the requirements stricter:

Matthew 5, 20-48: For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven. You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, Empty head! shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, You fool! shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if your right eye snares you into sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, and not your whole body be cast into Gehenna. And if your right hand snares you into sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, and not your whole body be cast into Gehenna. Furthermore it has been said, Whoever puts away his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce. But I say to you that whoever puts away his wife for any reason except sexual perversion causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by Heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. But let your word be Yes, yes; No, no. For whatever is more than these is from evil. You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, Do not resist evil. But whoever hits you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and from him who wants to borrow from you, do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who abuse you and persecute you, that you may become sons of your Father in Heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not also the tax collectors so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

   Let’s look a bit closer at these verses. To get reconciled with one’s brother usually means to forgive him (this is what we are talking about). To love our enemies, to bless those who hate us? To pray for those who mistreat us and persecute us? This can be done only if we forgive them fully. In a word, forgiveness is a must. Jesus’ words does not leave us in suspense as to why we should behave in such a “funny” way – just to be similar to our heavenly Father – God. In Jesus’ words, that we may be sons (and daughters, of course) of our heavenly Father.

Matthew 6, 12-15: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.“

   This is a passage of Jesus’ exemplary prayer, which shows clearly the biblical principle of forgiveness. If we want God to forgive our sins, first we must forgive those who hurt us in any way. Jára Cimrman would be pleased by the following ‘absolute rhyme’: “There is no forgiveness without forgiveness!”

   Jesus explained this principle to his disciples, using the following parable:

Matthew 18, 23-35: Therefore the kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, also his wife and children and everything he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything. Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me what you owe! So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything. And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you? And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay every bit that was due to him. Thus My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.

  Also another place has a comprehensible explanation of this principle by Jesus:

Luke 6, 37: Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

   Another serious thing to take heed of is the sin against the Holy Spirit:

Matthew 12, 31-32: Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

   What is the sin against the Holy Spirit is explained in the 3rd chapter of the Gospel according to Mark:

Mark 3, 22-30: And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, He has Beelzebub, and, by the ruler of the demons He casts out demons. So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house is not able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house. Truly, I say to you, All sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may blaspheme; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has remission, but is subject to eternal damnation; because they said, He has an unclean spirit.

  John the Baptist came forward with a “novelty” of how to obtain forgiveness and be cleansed from one’s sins. People were supposed to repent and let themselves be immersed in water to wash away their sins:

Luke 3, 3: And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching an immersion of repentance for the remission of sins,

   Forgiveness can be considered an act of mercy because if we forgive somebody’s wrongdoing against us, we set him free from judgment.

James 2, 13: For judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Indeed, mercy rejoices over judgment.

   For us who live under the new covenant there is a new basis for remission of sins – the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Son:

Acts 13, 38-39: Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this One (Jesus) is preached to you the remission of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the Law of Moses.

Acts 26, 15-18: So I said, Who are You, Sir? And He said, I am Jesus, whom you persecute. But arise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things in which I will appear to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the authority of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.

   The power to bring about forgiveness and cleanse us from our sins resides in the shed blood of Jesus:

Hebrews 9, 22: And according to the Law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.

1 John 1, 7-9: But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from every sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

   All of us need God’s forgiveness, because the sin separates us from God:

Romans 3, 23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Isaiah 59, 2: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, that He will not hear.

Romans 4, 6-8just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God accounts righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not account sin.


Libor Diviš - author of this article and this website

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