Does God Harbor Unforgiveness?

The return of the prodigal son

The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

What does God’s forgiveness look like?  We tend to think of God’s forgiveness much as we think of our own forgiveness…and it tends to lead toward misconceptions of God’s nature (I include myself in this, as I seem to require frequent reminding).

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines forgive as “stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw or mistake.”

This is a good definition of forgive, as we generally understand and use the term in everyday language.  But what happens when we try to apply the same definition to God’s forgiveness?

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins…

So, what about prior to our confession?  If forgiveness is to stop feeling angry or resentful, does that mean prior to our confession God’s position toward us is one of anger and resentment?

I’ve heard a lot of sermons on unconfessed sin that would lead one to believe God is angry and resentful toward us so long as we have any unconfessed sin in our lives.  Thinking of God’s forgiveness in these terms leads toward a perception of God as a harsh taskmaster looking for any excuse to punish us.  Yet the overwhelming evidence of scripture is that God’s position toward us is one of incredible love and grace.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:8-10)

The Apostle Paul describes God as looking for opportunity to demonstrate His love toward us, even when we are breaking His laws and allied with His enemy, not as looking for an excuse to punish us!  Yes, God’s wrath will judge the kingdom of darkness, but God’s position toward us is one of working to rescue us from the kingdom of darkness before it is destroyed, much as Lot and his family were rescued before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

So, if God is not harboring unforgiveness toward us, awaiting our confession of sin, then what does God’s forgiveness look like?

In every instance of the word forgiveness in the King James Version of the New Testament, the Greek word translated as forgiveness is aphesis.  The primary definition of aphesis as provided by Blue Letter Bible’s Greek lexicon is “release from bondage or imprisonment.”  This use of the word aphesis is seen twice in Luke 4:18-19, where Jesus read Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah:

THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.

Release and set free are both translations of the Greek word aphesis, the same word that is elsewhere translated as forgiveness, when used in reference to sin.  Bear in mind, Jesus declared that He is the fulfillment of this passage in Isaiah.  He came for the purpose of setting captives free.

What captives did Jesus come to free?  He came to free mankind from the kingdom of darkness!  He came to redeem us from Adam’s covenant with the kingdom of darkness and to deliver us from our addiction to sin.

Jesus came to give us aphesis (deliverance) from sin.  When the Bible speaks of God forgiving our sins, this is what it means, that He will deliver us from sin.  God is not harboring anger and resentment toward us until we confess our sins.  Rather, He is actively working on our behalf to draw us to close Himself, so we can be delivered from our addiction to sin.

Knowing this, when we become aware of sin in our lives, we should run to Him for help, rather than avoiding Him in guilt and fear.  He has made himself available to us as our healer rather than our punisher.

As the author of Hebrews said, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Do you, like me, sometimes avoid God’s presence when you should be running to Him for healing?

[This post linked to God Bumps , Beholding Glory , Graceful , Wellspring , Seedlings ]

18 thoughts on “Does God Harbor Unforgiveness?

  1. Wonderful post! I’m so thankful that God doesn’t harbor feelings of unforgiveness towards me! I’m glad He demonstrated His love towards me first. I love Him because He first loved me, warts and all!

    • “yes, he loves us in the depths of our hurts and failures”

      Isn’t that just amazing? Why is it sometimes so hard to remember?

      Thanks for your insight, Tara!

    • Yes, God is very gracious toward me…and I seem to give Him ample opportunity to continually demonstrate His grace. I don’t know why He loves us so, but am very thankful that He does!

      Thank you, Jennifer!

  2. Yes! Great Truth-filled wisdom applied here. For many years I would hang my head in shame and live with self-condemnation forgetting that “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus!” Hallelujah! When we realize this, it doesn’t give us license to keep on sinning, but humbles us to submit to what He requires of us!

    So appreciate the way you show God’s grace in this post without falling in the ditch of license. Truth, brother! All for His glory.

    • “For many years I would hang my head in shame and live with self-condemnation…”

      Same here, LauraLee! Many years of oscillating between unrecognized self-righteousness when I thought I was doing pretty good, to apalled shame and guilt when I saw how I had messed up.

      Not until I began to better understand God’s heart of grace towards us, and my complete reliance on Him, was I able to start letting go of the legalistic cycle of works-based religion to a continual reliance on His grace and mercy for my cleansing and regeneration.

      Thank you, for the insight of your experience! You’re a tremendous blessing!

    • Yes, that’s the next challenge, isn’t it, Pamela?

      Having gained a clearer vision of the glorious nature of God’s forgiveness toward us, how do we then apply that same forgiveness toward others?

      Reciting The Lord’s Prayer sometimes makes me cringe. I don’t want to be forgiven as I forgive. Rather, I want to learn to forgive as I’ve been forgiven!

      Thanks for your insight!

  3. How important to get biblical definitions for biblical words! Thank you for that. And for the affirmation it gives me of prayer I prayed yesterday for “enemies.” Unaware of this definition for “forgiveness,” I cried out for their deliverance from sin’s bondage, — and lately I’d been working specifically on… forgiveness!

    • What a wonderful application of ‘aphesis’ from a human viewpoint, to cry out for an ‘enemy’ to be delivered from sin’s bondage! In so doing, you are aligning yourself with the heart of God toward that person.

      Thank you, for that insight, Sylvia!

    • Yes, very true!

      And if the hurt runs deep, the relationship will likely remain suspended until the hurt is recognized and the forgiveness treasured. The relationship cannot continue to grow and thrive at an intimate level with deep unrecognized hurts.

      This is why God treasures our confession of sin. He doesn’t need our confession in order to forgive. Rather, WE need our confession, in order to accept His forgiveness and restore relationship with Him.

      Very good points, BCM! Thanks for sharing!

    • Same here, KD!

      When I choose to sin against God, I hurt Him, I hurt the relationship, and I hurt myself.

      When I run from Him, in guilt over the unconfessed sin, I cause our relationship to remain distant.

      When I confess my sin and cling to Him, I am healed and the relationship is restored.

      For me, it has helped a lot to realize that, at no point is He angry or bitter toward me. I don’t stay away as long, and am quicker to come to Him for help, when I realize He is always always offering grace, mercy, and healing.

      Thank you, for the transparency, KD!

  4. And how He does set us free. I love this word-study, Joe. And, yes, we moon-lovers feel that grace each time we look at the night sky, don’t we? Your words are filling me with gratitude tonight.

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