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How to Apply 5 Things Jesus Said about Forgiveness Today

Borrowed Light
Updated Jun 26, 2024
How to Apply 5 Things Jesus Said about Forgiveness Today

 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” - Hebrews 13:8

If you want to know what Jesus would say about forgiveness today, look no further than what Jesus said about forgiveness some 2000 years ago. Yet, I believe there is significance to the word “today,” even in Hebrews 13:8. 

Hebrews 13:8 is in your Bible because we need the encouragement that Christ is unchanging. Such a concern implies that many other things do change. We might be tempted to think that perhaps some of Jesus’ calls to “turn the other cheek,” “love your neighbor,” or “forgive your enemies” were in a specific context. Perhaps we could say that Jesus doesn’t and didn’t know your unique circumstances when He said these things. “He doesn’t know,” we might argue, “the importance of the cultural war we are in.” Forgiveness, we may assume, is for a different era with different rules. Hebrews 13:8 keeps us from saying silly things like this. 

Jesus’ words about forgiveness still stand today. Although there is much that could be said about forgiveness, I will limit myself today to five headings. 

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holding hands forgive forgiveness prayer

1. "Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us." - Matthew 6:12

We all need forgiveness. It’s sad that I have to preface this statement, but here goes—I am not attempting to make any sort of political point here. Back in 2016, then-presidential hopeful Donald Trump was asked by an interviewer about God and forgiveness. He was asked if he ever asks God for forgiveness. He said, “I’m not sure that I have. I just try to do a better job from there…I think if I do something wrong, I will just try to make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”[1]

There was a time when we would have called this what it is: an attempt at self-atonement. Many people, just like former President Trump, believe that if they mess up, they simply do better next time. No need to ask for forgiveness. But this is not what the Bible teaches. Scripture teaches that we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). And the logic of 1 John 1:8-9 teaches that it is when we confess our sins that he is faithful and just to forgive—but if we deceptively believe that we don’t need forgiveness, we close ourselves off from such. 

Each person who has sinned, that is all of us, needs God’s forgiveness. So far, I’ve only quoted New Testament letters. Where did Jesus speak of our need for forgiveness? For one, it’s right in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:12. Secondly, we see it often when he healed others (as in Matthew 9:2). And lastly, we can see from Luke 24:46-47 that the suffering of Christ and his resurrection is connected to “the forgiveness of sins” that would be proclaimed in his name. Jesus says, even today, that we need forgiveness.  


Photo credit: ©GettyImages/PeopleImages

Slide 2 of 5
Men praying together; remembering God is in control; forgiveness

2. "Then Peter came to him and asked, 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?' 'No, not seven times,' Jesus replied, 'but seventy times seven!'" - Matthew 18:21-22

We are designed to extend forgiveness. I will attempt not to climb on my soapbox here—but let me get a toe up there for just a moment. I think many of our views of forgiveness are unhelpful and can even be harmful. It will feel like I’m splitting hairs on a semantic difference—but the implications of this are huge. I believe Scripture teaches that there is a posture of forgiveness as well as practical/applied forgiveness. By practical, I don’t mean theoretical but actual. 

Think of it this way. Is everybody in the world forgiven? Unless you are a universalist, you’ll likely say, “No, every person is not forgiven. In order for God to apply that forgiveness, the person needs to repent and believe the gospel.” And yet, I think such a person would also acknowledge that forgiveness is readily available to anyone who will call upon the name of the Lord. What you’re saying is that God has a posture of forgiveness and that forgiveness is applied upon repentance. 

Ephesians 4:32 says that our forgiveness of others is “just as” the forgiveness that God has for us. I take that to mean that we have a posture of forgiveness toward all and walk in actual forgiveness (we can apply that forgiveness) upon repentance. 

Our definition and understanding of forgiveness are important because I’m about to take you to Matthew 18. The story there about the unforgiving servant is pretty blunt. Jesus basically tells us that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven ourselves. That’s a tough word. It’s here that we like to find a way to wiggle and squirm out of Jesus’ words. But that’s not necessary if we have proper definitions of forgiveness. 

Here in Matthew 18, we have someone asking for forgiveness. They are begging to have their debt removed. This is at least some indication of repentance here. If you withhold forgiveness from such a one, it’s an indication that you need to go back to point #1 (and maybe slide on down to point #5). You cannot realize your need for forgiveness by drinking in the glory of having received it and then turning to someone else, asking for it, and denying it. 

But what usually happens here is that we bring out a verse like Matthew 18 and use it as a cudgel against someone who has been abused by another. We tell them things like you have to forgive. And what we mean by that is usually something like, “Absorb the cost of it, don’t talk about it anymore, and pretend like it doesn’t exist. Now, go hug your abuser!”

Now, when someone has been abused, they most certainly do need to work through having that posture of forgiveness. If they don’t have that, it will keep them in their own prison. Things like this will morph into bitterness. So yes, every person needs to give forgiveness. But what that looks like is often pending upon the other party involved. 

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/RyanJLane

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hand outstretched help up forgive forgiveness man sitting on ground

3. "The Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him." - Matthew 18:23

Forgiveness is costly. If you look back at that story in Matthew 18, you’ll notice that this servant had a massive debt. The way Jesus tells the story, we’re supposed to laugh. It's kind of like you laugh at those cat videos where the chubby cat keeps trying to jump onto the table and fails, or the sheep gets pulled out of the ditch only to jump right back in. We’re meant to give a little embarrassed chuckle at how this goober got himself into such a debt and then has to admit he cannot pay it back. 

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.  In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt." - Matthew 18:23-27

But there’s something about forgiven debt—even if you don’t pay it, somebody has to. If I buy a car from someone for $20,000, make a few payments, and then have to confess I cannot pay the rest—they’ll likely take my car. But if, as in Matthew 18, my banker decides to be super gracious and say, “Keep the car,” that remaining debt has to be absorbed somewhere. In this case, the bank has decided to absorb the cost. Forgiveness is the same way. 

When we forgive, we take the debt that someone else did to us and absorb it ourselves. When we say, “I forgive you,” we are saying that this person no longer has to pay. The debt is “paid in full,” and we will absorb the cost even if it is in our own bodies. This can be a very costly act. We can experience these things in the depths of our souls and even our physical being. Forgiveness—even embracing the posture of forgiveness—will always be costly. 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/AntonioGuillem

Slide 4 of 5
couple touching foreheads forgiveness

4. "If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." - Matthew 6: 14-15

It will cost more to withhold forgiveness. Jesus also shows us what happens if we don’t forgive. Yes, we can talk about how unforgiveness keeps you locked in a prison of your own making. We can say that forgiveness is vital for your own well-being. Bitterness will eat you alive. Refusing to forgive, not embracing a posture of forgiveness, will turn you into someone that you don’t want to be. It’s a good way to hold onto trauma and let it you up from the inside out. Absorbing the sin of another is costly, but it’s less costly than letting it fester and never taking it to the gospel. Holding onto our sin and the sin against us will always cost more than repentance and forgiveness. 

But Jesus isn’t saying, “Be sure to forgive so that it helps you psychosocially.” He’s saying that if we do not forgive, we ourselves will not be forgiven. There is nothing more costly than this. 

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/MangoStarStudio
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adult son hugging dad fathers day forgiveness

5. “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven." - Mark 3:28

This reality makes the last point so unfathomable in the context of Matthew 18. God has forgiven us of every sin—removed it as far as the East is from the West. Yes, for that forgiveness to be applied and fully lived in, there needs to be repentance (union with Christ). If you are in union with Christ, you are forgiven. 

Consider how often Jesus spoke forgiveness to people. He even pleaded with those who crucified him that they would be forgiven. He spoke forgiveness to the adulterous woman in John 8 (even if it’s not to be included in Scripture, it’s clearly not foreign to how Jesus lived), the sinful woman in Luke 7, the paralytic man in Matthew 9, the thief on the cross in Luke 23—we could keep going on. Jesus spoke forgiveness because God is a forgiving God. 

Jesus has taken our record of debt and nailed it to the cross. Our sin has been removed as far as the east is from the west. And as John 1:9 says, when we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to remove unrighteousness. 

You need it, and you have it. It’s costly, but God gives it. 

Will you walk in this forgiveness? Both receiving it for yourself and freely giving it to the others, as God in Christ has forgiven you? 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/seb_ra

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.

Originally published Wednesday, 12 June 2024.