Divine Forgiveness: The Trinitarian Shape of Liberating Grace

This is the last post in a long series of meditations on the theme of forgiveness. It seemed fitting to conclude with a look at the Trinitarian shape that divine forgiveness inevitably takes. It is inevitable due to the fact that when we speak of God extending forgiveness we are talking about Father, Son, and Spirit pardoning sin. When you look at forgiveness in the New Testament through this lens some rich insights emerge.

The Father


God the Father is the benevolent King who cancels our debts  (Matt 18:21-35). He is often designated as the subject of forgiveness (Eph 4:32, Col 2:14, 3:13, 1 Jn 1:9). He is the one in heaven to whom  we direct our prayers for pardon (Mk 11:25, Lk 11:4). The Father is specified as the one who refuses to hold our sin against us and instead buries it out of sight. (Rom 4:7-8, Heb 10:17). We learn that forgiveness flows from the riches of his grace and is accomplished for his name sake (Eph 1:7-8, 1 Jn 2:12).
 The Son


God the Son proves his divine identity through his authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-10, Matt 9:1-7, Lk 5:18-26, Acts 13:36-40). His mission served to both reveal and conceal the forgiveness of sin (Lk 1:77, Mk 4:12). Like his father, Jesus releases people from their awful debts  (Lk 7:41-49). The unique role of the Son is that he accomplishes forgiveness through his blood (Matt 26:27-29). Even while breathing his last breath upon the cross the Son is speaking forgiveness (Lk 23:34). The Father’s invitation to a new relationship marked by liberating grace is contingent upon, indeed created by the death and resurrection of his Son (Matt 26:27-29, Acts 5:30-32, 13:36-40).  The New Testament is adamant that forgiveness is a reality exclusively in Christ (Eph 1:7-8, 4:32, Col 1:13-14).
The Holy Spirit


The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence is tied directly to the forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38-39). The Spirit takes the new covenant blessing of forgiveness (Matt 26:27-29) and presses it into our conscience. The Spirit empowers the proclamation of the forgiveness of sin (Lk 4:18-19). The Spirit also directs the church and guides them into intelligent forgiveness (Jn 20:22-23). He is also the sole object the one sin that was considered beyond forgiveness (Matt 12:31-32, Lk 12:10), which was essentially to equate the Holy Spirit with an unclean demonic presence (Mk 3:28-30).
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit


The work of God always consists of unity and diversity. We can discern the unique traces of each of  the individual persons in the Trinity in the work of forgiveness and yet we can never separate them. The grace of pardon is the work of the one true God. There are two forgiveness texts that make explicit mention of the three persons of the Trinity.
John 20:22-23
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.'”
The mission of the Trinity was forgiveness  for the world. The Father sent the Son who accomplished this saving work by the Spirit. John tells us that this same pattern shapes the mission of the church. Sent by Jesus and empowered by the Spirit, the church is invested with the authority to declare forgiveness to the world and in the community of faith. The text is quite clear that the Spirit empowers the forgiveness that is modeled after the sacrificial love of the Father and Son. Forgiveness in the world is meant to mirror the divine forgiveness of the Godhead.
Ephesians 4:29-5:2
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” 
The cross provides the contours for properly thinking about forgiveness. The grace of pardoning someone else is to be an act of imitation. We are to view the work of God and mimic that as we relate to those who have wronged us. Just as the Triune God has forgiven us so we are to forgive.  Divine forgiveness includes the united and specific work of each of the persons of the Trinity: the sending work of the Father, the sacrificial work of the Son, and the serving work of the Spirit. 
From where we stand the call of forgiveness is a call to sacrifice and death. The work of pardon is always preceded by death. For us, we must die to our bitterness, wrath, and revenge. We must drown the old man and all his desires to withhold grace from the offender. This requires trust in the Father, power from the Spirit, and the pattern of Christ. It also requires the forgiveness of God that we are trying to be conduits of to others. In our attempts to forgive we need forgiveness.
We can be confident and assured that we are in good hands. God is no stranger to the work of forgiveness. He authored this work and practices it with amazing skill and passion. He will apply that forgiveness to us and enable us to do so with others. He is committed to do this for those that belong to him.
 
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