The Ground of Forgiveness

Why forgive? Why does God forgive? Why should we forgive? The “why” question drives us down to the ground level of forgiveness. What are the biblical grounds for forgiveness? Here are two New Testament texts that provide a helpful entry point into this discussion.

For His Sake
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” (1 Jn 2:12). God forgives us for his own sake. This is not a new thought. It is as old as the book of Ezekiel. At the peak of Israel’s rebellion God unveiled his gracious plan and promise. But look closely at his motivation.

“But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. ‘Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.  And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you'” (Ez 36:21-26).

The entire new covenant was motivated by God’s concern for his holy name and his desire to vindicate it. He even goes as far to say, “It is not for your sake.” Forgiveness, cleansing, a new heart, and the Holy Spirit are all gifts of this new promise (Ez 36:25-27). These are all given us for his name sake. God’s concern for his name is foundational to our forgiveness. This is rock solid ground. Our forgiveness is secure and certain because his commitment to his holy person is immutable. If God’s name undergirds our good then we are well situated.

For Your Sake
“Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs”  (2 Cor 2:5-11).

This passage is in the context of church discipline. One of the members of the Corinthian congregation has been removed from the fold for immorality. Paul is calling on the church to observe his repentant posture and  welcome him back into the community. He tells them to follow his example and forgive the man. He then states that he forgave him for their sake so that they would not be deceived by the evil one. Forgiveness  here is for the benefit of  all human parties. It is for the sake of the forgiven one and the forgiving one.  This perspective nicely balances the one above. It is my view that divine forgiveness is concerned about all three parties. Forgiveness is for the sake of God, the sake of the offender, and the sake of the offended.

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