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Forbearance and Forgiveness

There has been a recent controversy in certain circles regarding the subject of forgiveness.  Some speak of all sinners as having been already forgiven, and all that has to be accomplished is for them to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, His death for our sins, and resurrection, and the forgiveness that they already have can be their’s in actuality.  Others have a real problem with this teaching, because redemption is through His blood, according to the riches of His grace, and forgiveness is only applied to those who have faith.  They would argue that this “universal forgiveness” will lead to “universal reconciliationism”, and ultimately, universalism, teaching that all people are really saved.

This is a good time to check our language, and to see if we are using the right words to convey the message that we are sending.

Regarding reconciliation, it is God’s attitude toward the world.  God has, in fact, reconciled the world to Himself¹.  He is not presently speaking in His wrath, nor is He vexing with His sore displeasure².  He is calling all men everywhere to be reconciled to Him³.  The reconciliation of the world is an act of God, whereby He brought the entire world into a position before Him in which they could only fall on His grace.  They are concluded all under sin4, and as unworthy sinners, His heart of love has opened up the way that they can receive righteousness from Him, entirely apart from themselves, by Christ alone.

It seems to me that the heart of the problem is a mixing up of two related, but different, concepts.  These concepts are forbearance and forgiveness.  The 1828 Webster’s dictionary defines these terms in this way:

Forbearance Forgiveness
  1. The act of avoiding, shunning or omitting; either the cessation or intermission of an act commenced, or a withholding from beginning an act. Liberty is the power of doing or forbearing an action, according as the doing or forbearance has a preference in the mind. The forbearance of sin is followed with satisfaction of mind.
  2. Command of temper; restraint of passions.
  3. The exercise of patience; long suffering; indulgence towards those who injure us; lenity; delay of resentment or punishment.

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance and long suffering? Romans 2:4.

  1. The act of forgiving; the pardon of an offender, by which he is considered and treated as not guilty. The forgiveness of enemies is a Christian duty.
  2. The pardon or remission of an offense or crime; as the forgiveness of sin or of injuries.
  3. Disposition to pardon; willingness to forgive. “And mild forgiveness intercede to stop the coming blow.”
  4. Remission of a debt, fine or penalty.
Webster’s Dictionary, 1828 Edition

While we naturally, in studying the Scriptures, would like to look these up in Bible dictionaries, or go to the Greek to begin a word study, I would like to relate this to you in a way that many can understand in our common life experiences.  The way that the business and banking world defines these terms may help us with this controversy, and then help us to use the proper terms with the proper meaning behind them.  Words are the means by which we communicate, and to communicate properly, we need to assign the proper meaning to the terms, and we all need to understand the same meaning.

In the table below the terms are defined from a business perspective:

Forbearance Forgiveness
Temporary relief granted by a lender (a bank, for example) by not exercising its legally enforceable right of foreclosure against a defaulting borrower. Forbearance may take the form of extra time allowed to come up with the overdue payment in return for the borrower’s promise to make regular payments in the future. A forbearance is generally deemed sufficient consideration in law to make the borrower’s promise of timely payments an enforceable contract. Writing-off of a portion of one or more loans to a financially troubled firm by its lender(s). The objective is to help that firm in its debt restructuring so that it remains viable and is able to pay off the remaining part of the loan(s).

To help further understand this, many people these days have a student loan.  Many of those with a student loan have this loan in the condition of forbearance.  This means that they are not required at the present time to make payments to repay the loan.  The debt is still attached to the debtor, and at some point will be out of the condition of forbearance and payments will again need to be made.  The loan must still be paid in full, it is simply that the lender giving time to the lendee to “get on his feet”.

If that loan is forgiven, the lender has “written off” the debt and has relinquished all claims against the borrower.  It is no longer put to the account of the borrower.  It is a debt no longer owed.  The definitions above speak of a partial forgiveness (debt reduction), or full forgiveness5.

In Jeremiah 31, the LORD speaks of a coming day when He will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  A most important aspect of this covenant comes in verse 34, we read of a forgiveness of their sins, and in this verse, we really get the Biblical definition of forgiveness:

Jeremiah 31:34 — “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

That is how far the forgiveness that God will grant to Israel in that day will be.  Their sin will be remembered no more.  There will be a complete expunging of that debt.  It is an act of grace.  He will frankly forgive them.

To return to our initial subject, the sins of everyone are not temporarily forgiven, only to be re-reckoned to unbelievers at the Great White Throne judgment, but they are in forbearance, while the word of reconciliation is being proclaimed.  The offer of full forgiveness is being held out as a bona fide offer for all to be justified of all things6.  This offer is part of the gift-righteousness that God offers “unto all”, and it is reckoned “upon all that believe”7.

The idea in Scripture of forgiveness as a term regarding debt repayment is not at all foreign.  When the Lord taught His disciples in the manner in which they should pray, He stated that one thing they should petition this to the Father:

Matthew 6:12 — “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”8

Our sins carry a debt that can only be dealt with divinely, for we are completely unable to pay them in the least, let alone to the “uttermost farthing”.  The matter of first importance in the gospel of Christ is that Christ died for our sins, and in so doing, He can freely, and frankly forgive all who believe.  While judgment for sin is now in forbearance, do not despise God’s forbearance as though He will never deal with your sins.  God is righteous and will judge sin, but since He is offering free justification and free forgiveness to all who will accept His offer, it is foolishness to disregard His offer and neglect such grace.

Despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering?

 End Notes
  1. 2 Corinthians 5:19 — “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”
  2. Psalm 2:4 – 5 — “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure.”
  3. Two Scripture passages together convey this thought:
    1. 2 Corinthians 5:20 — “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
    2. Acts 17:30 – 31 — “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.”
  4. Again, two Scriptures convey how God has dealt with the human condition:
    1. Romans 3:9 — “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin..”
    2. Romans 11:32 — “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.”
  5. As believers in Christ, baptized into Christ, into His death, Colossians 1:14 says that “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins”, and in the same epistle, the Apostle Paul states that we who are quickened together with Him have been forgiven all trespasses (Colossians 2:14).  There is no need to argue here.  All means all.
  6. Acts 13:38 – 39 — “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
  7. Romans 3:21 – 22 — “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference…”
  8. When we do not understand the difference between what the Lord was preaching and teaching His disciples when He taught in Matthew chapters 5,6, and 7, and the forgiveness that He revealed to the Apostle Paul to teach us in the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery (Romans 16:25), we can become confused as to exactly how we are forgiven.  In the “Sermon on the Mount”, forgiveness was on legal grounds:  Matthew 6:14 – 15 — “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  Under grace, we are forgiven according to the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7), and forgive others “even as God for Christ’s sake” has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).  We are forgiven by grace.  We forgive because of grace.  It is that simple.





Charles Miller View All

Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.

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