Of all the things that God calls us to do, perhaps the hardest command to follow is “forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32b). God calls on us to forgive others just as He forgave us. But that is difficult for us. When someone has offended us, it’s hard to Biblically forgive them. It’s hard to treat them the way that God calls on us to treat them. When someone does something to us, we don’t like to forgive. When someone says something against us, we don’t want to forgive. We feel like he doesn’t deserve our forgiveness. He hasn’t paid for his offense enough. He hasn’t done anything to earn our forgiveness. So we want to withhold forgiveness. Or perhaps we are willing to give some type of “forgiveness,” saying we forgive him. But we still hold his sin against him. Every time we see him, we see his sin, and we treat him accordingly. But that is not Biblical forgiveness.
We are called to forgive as God forgave us. We are called to forgive in the same way that God forgives us. How does God forgive us? When a person accepts Christ as Savior, God immediately and fully forgives him. God doesn’t think about it for a while first. He doesn’t wait to see if a person is genuinely repentant or if he changes his ways. God doesn’t pour out more punishment first, waiting until a person is “worthy” of forgiveness. No, when someone comes to God in repentance, God fully and immediately forgives his sin. John 6:37 promises, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” God will never cast out the one who comes to Him seeking forgiveness. God will forgive.
But what does God’s forgiveness look like? For one thing, it is given because of God’s grace and mercy. The reality about forgiveness is that it is never earned. We don’t pay for God’s forgiveness; He gives it to us freely even though we don’t earn it. In fact, nothing we do can pay for forgiveness. We can never earn God’s forgiveness. But He gives it to us out of His grace, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.
But what does God do with our sin when we are forgiven? Does He still hold onto it, waiting to bring it up at the opportune moment to hold against us? No, when God forgives, He lets go of our sin. Consider some of the word pictures that the Bible uses for what God does with our sin when He forgives us.
Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” When God forgives us, He removes our sins in the complete opposite direction as we are.
Isaiah 38:17 says, “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.” Figuratively speaking, God has also cast our sins behind His back. He moves past them and doesn’t bring them up again to hold them against us.
Micah 7:19 says, “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.” God casts our sin into the depths of the sea, never to be brought up again.
Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” God remembers our sin no more. God is omniscient; He does know all things. But remembering in this context refers to bringing it to mind and treating someone accordingly. God doesn’t constantly bring our sins to mind. He doesn’t look at us through the lens of our sin, seeing only our sin when He sees us. If we’ve been forgiven and received Christ’s righteousness, when God looks at us, He sees Christ’s righteousness in place of our sin. That is how God forgives us. He forgives us freely. We don’t earn or deserve forgiveness, but we can be forever grateful that He freely gives it to us.
But the demand of God’s forgiveness is that we forgive others as He has forgiven us. That means we don’t withhold forgiveness. We don’t wait and see what they do the next time before we forgive. We don’t wait until we feel that they have suffered for their sin enough or that they have sufficiently paid for their sin. No, they don’t deserve forgiveness. No, they haven’t earned forgiveness. But neither did we. Instead of waiting for them to earn it, we forgive, and we forgive freely, just as God has forgiven us.
So if we forgive freely, then how do we treat the person? We remove their sin as far as the east is from the west. We cast it behind our backs and move on from it; we don’t continue to drag it up again or hold it against them. We cast it into the depths of the sea, and as Corrie ten Boom said, we don’t go back to that spot to go fishing again. We remember their sin no more. That’s hard for us. It’s hard to remember their sin no more. Of course, we may remember what actually happened. After all, God does know all things. But we don’t call it to mind. When we look at someone whom we have forgiven, we don’t see him through the lens of his sin. We don’t treat him according to his sin. That is a very difficult demand of us, but it is something that God has already done for us. The demand of God’s forgiveness can be difficult, but He calls on us to forgive others just as He has forgiven us.