How do you describe forgiveness? What other words would come to mind if you had to explain it to someone? What synonyms do we rely on in our language to articulate the concept? In the New Testament the language and concept of forgiveness overlap with liberation, release, and freedom. Look at a couple of texts that point us in this direction.
Acts 13:38-39—“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” Notice here that forgiveness of sins and being set free are closely related in this text. Condemnation, liberation, and forgiveness are intertwined here (see also Lk 6:37, Rom 4:5-8). Forgiveness is the means by which God frees us from the condemnation of the law.
Acts 26:17-18—“I am sending you…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Liberation from the dark power of the evil one is close, if not synonymous with the forgiveness of sin in this passage.
Luke 4:18-19—“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The word translated “liberty” in this text is the same word that is usually translated forgiveness. The background of this text is the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament. It was mandated that when the year of Jubilee came around all debts were to be forgiven and cancelled. Liberation and forgiveness are intertwined in that Old Testament practice. I believe the concepts overlap in this text.
Forgiveness is about release. By grace through Christ we can be liberated from condemnation, sin, and the power of the evil one. As Paul once said, “for freedom Christ set us free” (Gal 5:1). The forgiven man is the free man. Grasping this, experiencing it, and believing it moves us toward extending it. Free people free people. This is one of the cardinal principles of forgiveness in Scripture. As we grasp the debt we have been released from we will release others from the petty debts they owe us.
There is another angle to forgiveness and freedom that is important to note. Forgiveness on the horizontal level brings liberation to the offender and the offended. In the case of the offender, the wrong they have done is no longer held against them. In the case of the offended, the wrong that’s been done to them is no longer held by them. There is a dual release in forgiveness. It frees all parties involved.