How God forgives us can be confusing at times when we compare different scripture verses with one another. There are two different kinds of forgiveness that are found in the Scriptures, and if we are going to be careful students of the Word, we need to learn to be able to distinguish between them. To help us understand the difference between the two types of forgiveness, I’m going to call one judicial forgiveness and the other parental forgiveness. Yes, I know, neither of these terms are actually found in the Bible but this is just for illustration purposes, as a means of clarifying our understanding. Judicial forgiveness is the forgiveness of a judge and parental forgiveness is the forgiveness of a father. The first term is taken from the courtroom and the second from the home. First let us go to the courtroom. God is the Judge and sinful man is the person on trial. Man is guilty of sinning, and the penalty is eternal death. But the Lord Jesus appears and announces, “I will pay the penalty which man’s sins deserved; I will die as a Substitute for him!” This is what the Savior did on the Cross of Calvary. Now the Judge announces to sinful man, – “if you will accept my Son as truly being your Lord and Savior, I will forgive you.” As soon as the man puts his faith and trust in the Savior, he receives judicial forgiveness of all his sins. He will never have to pay the punishment for them in hell, because Christ has paid it all. The forgiven sinner now enters into a new relationship: God is no longer his Judge from a condemnation perspective; now He is his Father.
Romans 8:1 NIV “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
And now we move into the home for an illustration of parental forgiveness. God is the Father and the believer is the child. In an unguarded moment, the child commits an act of sin. Then what happens does God sentence the child to die for the sin? Of course not, because God is no longer the Judge, but the Father! What does happen? Well, fellowship and communication in the family is diminished. The happy family spirit is gone. The child has not lost his salvation, but he has lost the joy of his salvation. Soon he may experience the discipline of his Father, designed to bring him back into fellowship. As soon as the child confesses his sin, he receives parental forgiveness.
1 John 1:9 NIV “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Judicial forgiveness takes place once-for-all at the time of conversion; parental forgiveness takes place every time a believer confesses and forsakes his sin. This is what Jesus taught in John 13:8-10: we need the bath of regeneration only once to deliver us from the penalty of sins, but we need many cleansings throughout our Christian lives to give us parental forgiveness.
Hebrews 10:14 NIV “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
The difference between the two types of forgiveness may be summarized as follows:
|The Person’s Status||Sinner
(1 John 3:2)
|Relationship of God||Judge
|Result of sin||Eternal death
(1 John 1:6)
|Role of Christ||Savior
(1 Tim. 1:15)
|High Priest and Advocate
(Heb. 4:14-16; 1 John 2:1)
|The Person’s Need||Salvation
|Joy of salvation
|Means of Forgiveness||Faith
(1 John 1:9)
|Kind of Forgiveness||Judicial
(1 Cor. 11:31, 32)
Loss of reward at the Judgment Seat Of Christ
(1 Cor. 3:15)
|Positive Result||New relation-ship
| Renewed fellow-ship
|Frequency||Once (One bath of regeneration)
|Many times (many cleansings)
Hopefully, from now on, when we come to verses that speak about the once-for-all forgiveness that is granted to us as sinners through the work of Christ, we will know that the subject is judicial forgiveness. The following illustrates this:
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7).
And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:32 RSV).
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses (Col. 2:13).
However, when encountering other passages of Scripture that deal with parental forgiveness such as :
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven (Luke 6:37).
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any, that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses (Mark 11:25).
Notice that in two of these verses God is specifically mentioned as Father: it is the Father’s forgiveness that is involved. Notice also that our being forgiven depends on our willingness to forgive others. That is not true of judicial forgiveness; willingness to forgive others is not a condition of salvation. But it is true of parental forgiveness; our Father will not forgive us if we don’t forgive one another, there is a cost to not forgiving one another, not salvation wise but definitely relationship wise.
In Matthew 18:23-35 The Lord Jesus told the story of a slave who had been forgiven 10,000 talents by the king. But that same slave wouldn’t forgive one of his fellow-slaves 100 pence. The king was therefore angry with him and delivered him to the jailers till he paid all his debt. The Lord Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Here again it is a matter of the Father’s forgiveness. It is sin to have an unforgiving spirit, and God cannot forgive us parentally until we confess that sin and forsake it. Forgiving our brothers and sisters in the Lord is not something to be taken lightly. We forgive the inexcusable because we have been forgiven the inexcusable.
One of the joys of Bible study is to see these basic distinctions and to be able to apply them in our daily reading. So hopefully, from now on when you come to the subject of forgiveness in the Word you should be able to say, “Oh, yes, that refers to judicial forgiveness” or else “that must refer to the Father’s forgiveness of His child.”
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!
Primary Source: jesusplusnothing.com/questions/forgiveness.htm The author of this article, I Gordon, quotes from a book called ‘Here’s the difference’ by William MacDonald.