What does it really mean?
Of all the core principles of Christianity, forgiveness is perhaps the most difficult to master. I believe this is due to two factors: 1) the "me first" mentality that is prevalent in most societies, and 2) a basic misunderstanding of what forgiveness really is. I don't know what I can do about the first problem, but I'll take a crack at the second one.
Suppose you have a child who loves playing baseball in the front yard, and you've warned him countless times about the danger of breaking windows. As time goes on, the inevitable finally happens, and you're sitting on the sofa looking at the ball on the floor amidst the shattered glass.
You have two choices, as a parent. You can either make your young son hock his bike or something and pay for the broken window, or you can forgive him. Let's say you choose to forgive him, since it's the first offense, and because you have comapssion for him. But who pays for the window? That's right, you do!
This is the true meaning of forgiveness. It cannot simply be a spoken decree. It is rather an absorbing of the punishment due another. If someone slaps you, your right is to slap him in retalliation. If you choose to forgive him, you are forfeiting that right, leaving you in the negative on the "slap-for-slap" ratio. You have taken his punishment upon yourself. This is the key to understanding God's forgiveness. He didn't simply "will" your sins to be forgiven. He had to take the punishment upon Himself. And that's what the Cross was all about.
"But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed."
But God does require something from us. It is quite simply that we forgive others as he has forgiven us.
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
--Matthew 6:14, 15
In order for you to receive the forgiveness that God offers through the Cross, you must accept it and claim the gift. The Bible is very clear about this. It's not enough to simply pay lipservice to Him. You must put yourself completely under His control, by dying to yourself. The Bible says this is done in two steps. Read this verse and see how clearly it is explained:
"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"
Repentance is a change in direction. It means you stop living for yourself, and start living for Jesus. And baptism is an immersion of your body in water to symbolize the cleansing of your sin, and also the death and burial of your old self. If you believe Jesus is God's Son and you want to be baptized into His name, you can have all your sins washed away. You can make a brand new start, with God's Holy Spirit to guide your life.
If I can help you do this, please let me know.
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (North American Edition), copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.