March 4, 2018 The Five Ways of Forgiveness


There are a couple of works in science fiction that reference  a “Law of Fives.” This law is not true. (That’s why it is fiction!) It is only interesting. It goes like this: “All things happen in fives, or are divisible by, or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly related to 5.”[1]  Ominously, one will also read: “The Law of Fives is never wrong.” Although this so-called law is nothing more than a little fun, it is a little remarkable how often five arises. There are the “Five Solas” of the Reformation all firmly based on the Bible. We recently considered the five conditions that grant us assurance of our salvation. Today’s message is entitled the Five Ways of Forgiveness. You might think that I am purposely looking for five things whenever I preach. Well, I’m not. If anything, I’m looking for three or less. Five things are harder to remember than three. And, I want you to remember what you hear. It’s just that there really are five expressions of forgiveness and they are, each one, important.


What is the greatest possession? What would you like to have above all else? Each year HGTV (Home and Garden Television) gives away three houses. One is the “Urban Oasis Giveaway.” Another is the “Smart Home.” And the granddaddy is the “HGTV Dream Home.” It’s free to enter and I have been entering all three for the last ten years or so. Of course, so have millions of other people. So, I don’t expect to win as much as I would like to win.


Car dealerships sometimes give away cars just for sending in your name and address so they can send you advertisements and possibly get you to come down and look at a new car. It would be nice to win a free car.


Cars and houses are material things. The best things in life are immaterial. Things like love and compassion and mercy and joy. Quite possibly the best possession on earth is peace of mind. One can be in love and not have peace of mind, especially if the one you love does not love you in return. One can have compassion and still be troubled. One can receive mercy, or give it, and wonder if they will get it again when they need it. Happiness or joy can be fleeting. But if one has peace of mind then they have a truly blessed gift.


Peace of mind is directly related to forgiveness. Forgiveness brings peace of mind and the absence of forgiveness leads to a troubled conscience. Forgiveness is our great need. It not only brings peace of mind to the possessor but it also brings peace between people. We need both of these things, do we not?


[1.] The first way of forgiveness is from heaven to earth. Our greatest need is forgiveness from God. Not all have this, yet all need it. All have broken God’s commandments and, according to God’s self-revelation, this has made him angry.


According to the Bible there is a record of all our wrongdoings, all our sins, and this record will be brought up at the great and final day of judgment. There will be a penalty that must be paid because God is both holy and just. Until that day our own consciences make us aware of our sins and failures. Guilt is not a good feeling but it is the right sensation for those who are actually guilty. Therefore, we need forgiveness both to be saved from the penalty of divine justice that is coming and to be relieved of our sense of guilt that most people try to forget or hide. But it is always there in our subconscious if nowhere else.


All that is the bad news. The good news is that God offers forgiveness to those who will cast down their rebellion and trust in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God can do this because Jesus paid the penalty that was ours to pay.


The apostle Paul beautifully describes this transaction in Colossians:


            And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14        by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. [2]


Our trespasses – that means our violations of God’s law – resulted in our spiritual death. Our spirits were dead and we were estranged from God. We trusted in Christ and God made us alive. He breathed life into us. He forgave us all our trespasses. He didn’t just forgive some of our sins. He forgave them all!


He did this by cancelling our record of debt. He nailed all our sins to the cross. This expression, “nailing it to the cross” (the “it” being our record of sins), is a poetic way of saying that Jesus’ suffering satisfied the justice of God. It was a legal demand that was satisfied. Notice in verse 14 that our record of sins is called a legal demand. Our sins cannot be forgiven until the law of justice is satisfied and only Jesus could do that because He is the only One without sin. No one else can do it. Not Buddha. Not Mohammad. Not Mary. Not anyone else because they cannot even pay for their own trespasses, let alone someone else’s.


Because all our sins have been cancelled – forgiven – we can call this forensic forgiveness or forensic justification. “Forensic” means “having to do with a court of law.”


The condition to receive this forensic forgiveness is repentance.




            and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47           and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. [3]


Repentance is the casting down of our rebellion against the Lord, a turning away from our sin, and it is united with a belief in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf and his resurrection from the dead. When repentance and faith join hands forgiveness is the result.


There is even more good news! It is not just our past sins that are forgiven. It is all our sins. Even the ones that we would commit after coming to faith in Christ. This is made clear by the author of Hebrews:


14         For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. [4]


It could not be any clearer. By Christ’s sacrifice he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. You understand what sanctification is, right?  It means that there are sins that one still must forsake as they try to follow the Lord. We are being sanctified (present tense) but we are already perfect forensically.


The disciple of Christ must always be reminded of this blessed fact. And so, I have reminded you. Remember it! Do not forget it! It will lead to your peace of mind.


The first way of forgiveness then is forensic forgiveness from heaven.


But what about the Lord’s prayer? The part that reads, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Immediately after our Lord teaches his disciples how to pray he says this:


14         For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15      but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. [5]


Recall that our Lord is here teaching his disciples (Matthew 5:1). He is speaking to those already in a covenant relationship with him. There is another kind of forgiveness that we need from the Father after we receive forensic forgiveness.


[2.] The second way of forgiveness is also from heaven to earth but it does not have to do with a legal transaction. It has to do with relationship in a family. God is our Father if we have come to Him through His Son. We are his children.  When we disobeyed our earthly parents it created a problem between them and us. When we disobey our Father in heaven there is a rift in our relationship with Him. Things are not right and we know it.


The apostle John addresses this in a most precious verse that I hope we have all memorized.[6]


            If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [7]


This verse has been a source of great comfort to millions of Christians. John tells us that if we simply confess our sins to the Father he forgives us. Not only does he forgive us of the sins we confess but he cleanses us from all unrighteousness – even the sins we have forgotten.


We may call this family forgiveness. There are two conditions for receiving this forgiveness and we have just read both of them.  We need to confess our sins and we need to forgive others. If we fail to do these simple things then everything is not right between us and God. When we are faithful in these matters then the heavens are opened and the light of God’s favor and forgiveness shine upon us and in us!


This brings us to the next way of forgiveness.


[3.] The third way of forgiveness is from our heart to the heart of one who has offended us. I could say, “from our heart to the heart of one who has sinned against us.” However, often what we think are sins are nothing more than an offense because of some impropriety that is not a sin at all. It is just an offense and maybe we are overly sensitive. Whether we have been sinned against or just offended we must forgive others.


Did you know that we can learn from animals? They can teach us things. The Bible is full of animals that we are directed to so that we may learn from them. Jesus is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah because lions are both powerful and brave. He is also called the Lamb of God because lambs go meekly to the slaughter. They were a sin offering under the former covenant in Israel. Jesus is our sin offering who went meekly to his own slaughter.


In Proverbs chapter six we read:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;

consider her ways, and be wise. [8]


The verses immediately after verse 6 then proceed to describe how diligently an ant works and that we should be like them in this respect.


We can learn from a dog. Dogs are actually one of God’s most wonderful creations. We own three cats. Not by choice, mostly by pity.  Except for the third one which is the kitten of the other two and who was too cute, so I got finagled into keeping it. I don’t mind cats but dogs are better. They are more loyal and more affectionate. I have a theory. The reason some people don’t like cats is because they are more like us than dogs. Dogs are more virtuous than cats. Cats are independent and selfish. Well, that’s the way we are. The virtues of loyalty and love are rare, especially loyalty. But dogs have them. There is the reason that dogs have come to be known as “man’s best friend.”


A man once got so angry at his dog that he picked up a rock and threw it as hard as he could at his pet. The stone was big enough and thrown fast enough that when it hit the dog in the leg it broke his leg. Whining and limping the wounded creature came sadly to the man, fell at his feet, and licked the very hand that had thrown the rock. That is the kind of love and forgiveness that we need to have for those who throw stones at us. Do you?


[4.] The fourth way of forgiveness is from the heart of one we have offended to us. This way is different from the other four in that we have control over the other ways but not this one. We can choose to forgive others. We can choose to confess our sins to the Lord and He has promised to forgive us. But we will not always be forgiven by others. Sadly, people hold grudges.


It is a marvelous thing, is it not, when we are forgiven by another when we have sinned against them or even offended them? It is. So, we must confess our sin or our offense and ask the person who is offended to forgive us. Once we do that in sincerity we have done all that we can do. (We may need to give either restitution or demonstrate repentance by forsaking whatever sin caused their hurt in some cases, but that is another subject.) Then it is up to them to forgive. We cannot control that. Even in the instances where others insist on holding on to an offense, we can have a clear conscience if we have confessed to them and have sought reconciliation.


The only obstacle we have is our own pride – admitting that we have done wrong.


[5.] The last way of forgiveness is the most elusive. We can be forgiven by God both forensically and relationally. We can be forgiven by others. Sometimes, though, we have difficulty in forgiving ourselves.


The last way of forgiveness is forgiving ourselves. The refusal to forgive oneself will always result in a profound lack of peace of mind. It can result in anxiety or depression. Many suicides are the result of a person’s refusal to forgive themself.


There was a terribly tragic incident a few years ago. A man who was an avid hunter went hunting in the winter and took his three year old son with him. He left him in his truck with the engine running and the heater on. He instructed him to remain in the back seat and not to leave the truck until he returned. The man was gone quite a while and the boy got tired of waiting. He left the truck to look for his dad and was out in the bitter cold a long time so that he froze to death. The man, of course, was devastated. He reported the incident to the police. Before the funeral of his son even took place he committed suicide. Leaving his young son in the truck was foolish to the extreme and displayed an almost unbelievable lack of judgment. God forbid that anyone here would ever make a decision that would result in anyone’s death, let alone the death of someone we love. God would forgive that man if he asked. The mother could forgive that man if she were a Christian. The boy, in heaven, would forgive him. But he could not forgive himself.


What the man did was awful but it was not intentional. It was a grievous error in judgment made because of selfishness, putting his own pleasure over the safety of his little son.


But there was another man who intentionally cheated on his wife with the wife of another man. And then, to cover up his heinous sin he had her husband murdered. I refer to King David. As dreadful as the hunter’s sin was, surely David’s was worse because it was intentional.


The difference between David and the hunter was that David believed God. He wrote Psalm 32 after his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah.


   Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,

and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not cover my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”

and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah [9]

And, the Psalm ends like this:


10            Many are the sorrows of the wicked,

but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.

11            Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,

and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!


David forgave himself. David believed God.


We must forgive ourselves. The more egregious our sin the more difficult it is to forgive ourselves. Yet, if God has forgiven us we must forgive ourselves.


A failure to forgive ourselves is actually a lack of trust in the Lord’s word. If God has forgiven us, who are we not to?


Do you desire peace of mind? Then take hold of the five ways of forgiveness.


  • Make certain that you have fled to Christ for salvation. (Heaven to earth)
  • Confess your sins to the Father. (Heaven to earth again)
  • Forgive those who have wronged you. (Your heart to another)
  • Ask forgiveness from those whom you have sinned against. (Another heart to yours)
  • Forgive yourself by trusting God.


You will possess the greatest gift to be had – peace.















[1] First appearing in Principia Discordia by Greg Hill and later in The Illuminatus Trilogy by Wilson and Shea.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 2:13–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 24:46–47). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 10:14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 6:14–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] If you have not memorized this verse, for your own sake, please do so. It will be a source of untold solace to you.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 1:9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 6:6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 32:1–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 32:10–33:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.