25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
26 “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
In the Old Testament, there are two words that are translated in the Old King James Bible as “repent,” each one distinct in its intent. In the Prophets and in some earlier books, we often see the Hebrew word “shubh,” which means “to turn” or “return.” That is how it is translated in the New King James Bible.
30 “When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice
31 “(for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.”
“Return, O backsliding children,” says the LORD; “for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.”
That word “shubh” is not very different from the Greek “metanoia,” which means “to change thinking.” When we turn back to God, we certainly are changing our thinking, leaving behind our focus on the world and turning our focus to God. But that word is also occasionally used when God turns in His thinking.
Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day.
In this respect–God turning from His wrath–the word “shubh” overlaps with the other Hebrew word that signifies repentance: “nacham.” The word “nacham” literally means “to sigh” or “to pant,” and it is most often used to signify God changing His mind after seeing what is happening. In modern English Bibles, it is often translated “relent.”
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
As you can see, God relenting from His promised judgment is often a result of us repenting of our evil ways. However, such a change of heart is not something God necessarily must do. God is the righteous Judge, and when we stray, when we turn from Him, we have to expect that He will exact a penalty for our sins. When King Saul defied the Lord, then God took the kingdom from him and gave it to David. God wasn’t about to change His mind on that decision.
1 Samuel 15:28-29
28 So Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.
29 “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”
God does not need to relent from His judgments. But God may CHOOSE to relent. That, my friends, is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a central theme throughout the gospel story of Christ. Constantly, Jesus goes around forgiving people their sins and healing them. And in today’s verses from the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus telling us that WE need to forgive, too. Of course, we know the similar verse from the Lord’s prayer so well that we recite it almost without thinking. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) If we forgive, then God forgives us. If we just think of it like that, it’s a simple enough equation. But look back for a moment at that scene when Samuel told Saul he had lost the kingdom.
Samuel said to Saul that God doesn’t have to relent from His judgment, that God is not man and so He doesn’t have to forgive. God could have chosen to forgive Saul’s sins, but He did not. God did not need to change His mind, did not need to repent. But men DO need to repent, we DO need to change our minds.
Note the way Jesus phrases today’s verses. He tells us that if we forgive “anything against anyone,” then God will forgive our “trespasses.” But isn’t God’s gift of eternal life contingent upon our repentance? Yes, it is, because if we don’t turn away from our wickedness, then we can never experience the fullness of God’s forgiveness in Christ. How then can Jesus say that if we forgive others then God will forgive us? Because forgiveness is part of repentance.
You see, we like to think that our sins are mainly about offending God, and that when we return to Him and come to know His love, THEN we will find it in our hearts to forgive others. Often I have heard people say: “I know so-and-so hurt me, and I still love them as Christ said I should. But forgiveness? I’m not there yet.” Not there yet? Forgiveness isn’t a destination, it’s a starting point! Too many people think of forgiveness as a place we should hope to get to someday, perhaps when we are more mature in our faith, when we are better versed in Scripture, when we have more of the Holy Spirit, when… When what? Don’t we remember when God forgave us?
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus was crucified before you and I were born! He died to bring us God’s forgiveness BEFORE we sinned. Our repentance isn’t about coming to love God more and THEN learning to forgive. Repentance is about changing the way we think, and that INCLUDES changing how we relate to others. Yes, we are called to return to the Lord, and we are to relent from doing the sinful things we do, and we should pray daily that God will forgive us our sins. But even as we repent and ask for God’s forgiveness, we, too, need to be forgiving and forgetting just as He does. We need to START our repentance with forgiving our debtors and ourselves, leaving behind all the baggage of our brokenness and embracing the light burden of Christ’s perfect love.
On the Cross, the first three words from our Savior were “Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34) Sweeter words were never heard in the world before nor since. If God so forgives us and relents from His righteous judgment, so we, too, ought to repent and forgive.
Father God, we thank You over and over for Your mercy and forgiveness. No words could ever convey how great is Your grace upon us. Therefore, O Lord, help us to live in Your grace, guide our hearts to start with forgiveness as part of our repentance. Teach us to forgive others just as You forgave us in the midst of our sin. Mold us to Your will and Your love, dear Father. Amen.