Forgiveness. What is it? I’m sure we can all define what forgiveness is not, but can we define what it actually is? We all have our own definitions of forgiveness, but the bigger question is are we believing what God says to be true about forgiveness? Forgiveness influences every part of our life and if we aren’t grounded in truth we will fall for anything every single time. So, what is the foundational truth about forgiveness?
Truth number one: forgiveness comes straight from the heart of God and is actually an overflow of His character.
You see, we have a God in Heaven who unconditionally loves us. And the word “unconditional” implies that forgiveness has happened along the way. There are no strings attached to the love of God because we could never earn it. He freely gives and all we have to do is freely receive. This unconditional love and forgiveness is the overflow of His character.
“Yahweh, Yahweh, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast lovingkindness and truth (faithfulness); keeping mercy and lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Exodus 34:6 AMP
This is the first verse in the Bible where God reveals His name, Yahweh, which translates to mean, “The LORD.” And right after He reveals His name He also reveals characteristics of who He is for the first time, which include (but are not limited to), compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and truth (faithfulness), and forgiving. Our foundation for God’s character needs to be set on the truths mentioned in Exodus 34:6 because those are the first things He reveals about Himself. He could have said anything, literally anything, and He chose for the very first thing to be compassionate and for the last thing to be forgiving.
Our heavenly Father is filled with infinite amounts of unconditional love and forgiveness and these things are just innately who He is. When you know the character of God you are able to trust the character of God. Imagine trying to know the darkest secrets of a complete stranger without ever speaking a word to them. How ridiculous is that? There is an invitation to know and be known by God and all we have to do is trust that He is true to His character. And in this invitation there are promises filled with compassion, love, and forgiveness just because we know Him!
Truth number two: unconditional love and forgiveness are inseparable.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 ESV
We have access to the most powerful tools in all of creation, unconditional love and forgiveness, and both of those relate back to the character of our heavenly Father. Not only did God promise forgiveness and unconditional love back in Exodus 34:6, He delivers it in John 3:16-17. And not only does He deliver it, He destroys condemnation in the process. Unconditional love and condemnation cannot coexist—condemnation loses every time. If a knight were fighting an enemy with a sword, unconditional love would be the knight, forgiveness would be the sword, and condemnation would be the enemy. Forgiveness dismantles condemnation because you can’t condemn what’s been forgiven. The same well that holds unconditional love and forgiveness cannot also hold condemnation and it’s important to know that if you are facing condemnation there is always a way out through unconditional love and forgiveness.
Do our feelings always align with this truth? Absolutely not. But the promise is Jesus came to save the world, not condemn it. And how deeply and powerfully does the Father love us?! He sent His only Son—He sent Jesus to die for us so that He could be in relationship with us! HOW RADICAL?! HOW FORGIVING?! HOW FREEING?! We don’t have to do a single thing except receive the unconditional love, forgiveness, and salvation that has already been freely paid for and given.
Truth number three: God’s heart of unconditional love and forgiveness is directed towards us, His children.
“I, only I, am He who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25 AMP
Other translations say “It is I who sweep away your transgressions.” The idea behind this imagery is when you sweep something away you forget about it. Once you’ve trashed what you’ve swept up, you’re done with it. You don’t even remember what you threw in the trash to begin with. This very same idea applies to us and how God forgives us. He doesn’t remember our sin and that’s a promise, Isaiah 43:25 reveals that.
I also think it’s important to highlight the phrase, “for My own sake,” in this verse. Why? Because this shows that forgiveness is an overflow of His character and not out of pity or obligation. We already established that forgiveness is innately part of God’s character; so when He forgives us it’s because He actually wants to. His character is to forgive and it will always come from a place of compassion, grace, and unconditional love because that’s just who He is. His character will never change, which means His forgiveness towards His children will never change.
Truth number four: forgiveness applies to you, not just everyone else.
In John 8 there’s a story about a woman who was caught in adultery. The Pharisees, or the religious people, brought this woman to Jesus because adultery was illegal according to the Law of Moses and the punishment for it was being stoned to death. Real crazy I know, but the whole point of the Pharisees bringing this woman to Jesus was to test Him. Because if He disobeyed the Law He would also be arrested and have charges brought against Him. So Jesus looks at the people and basically says you can stone her if you have never committed a sin, which obviously isn’t true at all. We all have our own sin that we have to deal with and the Pharisees knew that. So what did they do?
They walked away one by one and left Jesus and the woman alone. Now here is my favorite part of this whole story.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No, not one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:10-11 ESV
I can only imagine being caught in the lowest of lows during this time and then being brought to the feet of Jesus, expecting to be stoned to death. But instead, Jesus looked this woman in the eyes and said, “I do not condemn you,” or, I forgive you. How life changing that statement must have been for her. In the middle of her shame and condemnation, Jesus invited her into the more He had for her. He was inviting her into freedom and unconditional love. He was inviting her into a life full of abundance instead of a life full of condemnation and shame. And how did she know it was for her? Because Jesus told her! Jesus protected and defended His Daughter, His Beloved, and then He called her into fullness and abundance by forgiving her.
The promises made in Exodus 34:6, John 3:16-17, Isaiah 43:25, and John 8 are as true for us today as they were 2,000 years ago. We are not condemned, we are forgiven. We are the Beloved of God. We are the Sons and Daughters of a good Father. We are unconditionally loved and always forgiven no matter what we do. Once our sins are swept away they’re gone forever. This is the foundation for forgiveness. A foundation that is built on unconditional love and compassion and is the overflow of the heart of a good Father. A foundation that has nothing to do with who we are but everything to do with whose we are.
So here is my hope and prayer: is that you would unconditionally love and forgive yourself the way your heavenly Father does. I pray you would choose self-forgiveness and self-love every day, but especially when it’s hard. I pray you would look in the mirror and see yourself as the Beloved of God because that’s how He sees you. He doesn’t see you for anything besides who He made you to be and the power of His unconditional love and forgiveness far surpasses anything you have done or could ever do.
Dare to believe He’s as good as He says He is—He’s waiting with arms wide open.
Author | Elizabeth Sprinkle