When seeking to understand the biblical definition of forgiveness, it must first be understood that there are two main Greek words for forgiveness, both of which refer to a different kind of forgiveness.
The first type of forgiveness is charizomai forgiveness, by which God has graciously forgiven us of all our sins—past, present, and future — whether we confess and repent of these sins or not.
All people have this gracious forgiveness (charizomai) from God, whether they are a Christian or not.
As far as God is concerned, your guilt has been removed from you. Your sin is no longer an issue with God.
However, we all still struggle with the consequences of sin in our lives and in our relationships. The biblical answer to this problem is to first of all recognize that we have the gracious and loving forgiveness of God, but then to admit to God that we have actually messed up our lives by failing to live according to His instructions, and then seeking to take steps and make changes which allow us to live according to God’s will.
The biblical words for what I have just described are confession (admit, agree) and repent (turn from sin and turn toward obedience). When we do this, we receive release (aphēsis) from the captivating power of sin in our lives.
When understood this way, we see that aphēsis forgiveness has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a person goes to heaven when they die. Aphēsis forgiveness is about whether or not we live in bondage and enslavement to sin here and now in this life.
This sort of forgiveness is not about whether or not God “forgives” us. He does and He has! No, seeking to gain release (aphesis) from our sins through confession and repentance is about whether or not we gain freedom from the destructive power of sin in our lives which seeks to wreak havoc in our lives, our health, our marriages, our family, our finances, our jobs, and pretty much everything else.
God has forgiven so that we might gain forgiveness
So when we read the Bible and encounter the words “forgive” or “forgiveness,” how should we understand these words? One thing to do would be to get an interlinear Bible so that you can see when the text is talking about aphēsis forgiveness and when it has charizomai in view.
But if you don’t have an interlinear Bible, you can simply look in the context of the verse which talks about forgiveness, and if there are conditions involved to receive this forgiveness (such as repenting, confessing, or forgiving others), you can be almost certain that the forgiveness in question is aphēsis. If, however, the forgiveness is being offered freely by God to all without condition, then you can be confident that the forgiveness in question is charizomai.
Faith Alone in Christ Alone and Forgiveness
Faith alone in Jesus Christ grants us eternal life. But all Christians still struggle with sin. Many still sin just as much as they did before they were Christians. Though they have believed in Jesus for eternal life, there is still a pattern of sin in their lives from which they just cannot break free.
As a result of this ongoing power of sin in their lives, some of them begin to wonder if they are truly Christians. Sadly, many books, pastors, and Christian leaders only reinforce this idea. They teach that if you have patterns of habitual sin in your life, you have good reason to question whether or not you actually have eternal life.
But instead of this damaging line of thought, it is much better to realize that the way to gain release from the power of sin in our lives is not by wondering whether or not God has truly forgiven us and accepted us into His family (He has!), but by accepting by faith that God loves us completely, and wants us to break free from sin even more than we do.
This process of release (aphēsis forgiveness) begins by agreeing with Him that we have sinned (confession), and then making the changes necessary in our lives (repentance) to get back onto the path of righteousness.
So do not let anyone ever tell you that you have committed a sin which God cannot forgive. No matter what sin you have committed, God has already forgiven you for it in Jesus Christ. This forgiveness is free and unconditional, and has already been extended to you whether you know it or not.
But God does want you to confess and repent of your sin, not in order to gain forgiveness, but because you have been forgiven. This confession and repentance is for your own good, so that you can gain freedom and deliverance from the enslaving power of sin in your life.
If this idea is helpful or challenging to you, share it with others using the buttons below to get their input as well!
Carlos Shelton says
The best way it was explained to me was that repentance is the main time we turn around and walk with God and it is a one time thing. After that, we live confessional where we confess our sins to God and others and in that relationship we are freed from those bondages we are held in. Confession, in a sense is “failing forward”. There is no condemnation but we do learn that sin is stupid and God did not make us to be stupid but to do His good works. This takes the pressure of performance and allows freedom from a performance based faith. From there, we can begin to walk in love and trust that God is lovingly guiding us to grow more in the knowledge and truth of Christ Jesus.
However, most people cannot overcome the idea that repentance is a one time event. They cannot understand that repentance is when we humbly bow before God and receive forgiveness by Grace. Most people use repentance and confession in the same way. I am not a stickler for words so mostly do not argue the difference as I understand what the person means. However, for myself, I was freed from the oppression of failing God every day by learning the difference.
Jeremy Myers says
I guess I am one of those that is not comfortable with saying that repentance is a one-time thing. I understand repentance more like you explained confession.
But regardless, as you say, the point is not so much the words we use (I need to remember that!), but what we do about the sin in our lives when God reveals it to us. Hopefully we agree with God and turn from the sin. THAT is the main thing, no matter what we call it.
Carlos Sanchez says
My understanding and discerning of his holy word is that when we fall into a sinful nature, the beauty of it all, is that we have a forgiving God. The Spirit of God will then give us that strong discernment that we have failed God in our nature. Then, we should repent and then comes when we acknowledge that we have fallen short of his Grace. Now is the time to admit and confess our sins to the Lord Almighty that when we confess through our mouths, then we will be forgiven. But……Now….. we have to fulfill that confession with our hearts and turn away from those wicked ways, so that only and then God will heal our land/heart of such sin.
Thank you, God Bless You!
Yin Ram says
I have understood God’s forgiveness of all sins. Thank you so much.
Dominick FreeGrace Macelli says
Judicial and Parental
Jeremy Myers says
Right! Those are two good terms for these kinds of forgiveness.
Brian Midmore says
I like to steer clear of a forensic view of the atonement. God has adopted us into his family and disiplines us as sons. No sin a son commits will exclude him from the family, but in order for blessing to flow the son must agree with his parents that he has done wrong and be penitent . In Acts 2.38 we read that in order to receive the Holy Spirit we need to be baptized for the remission (aphesis) of our sins. Now the Holy Spirit is the spirit of adoption Rom 8.15 so in order to be adopted into God’s family we require the aphesis of our sins (according to Peter on the day of pentecost). Therefore it seems that aphesis is essential for gaining eternal life.
Jeremy Myers says
Right. I do not hold to a judicial form of the atonement… though this change is a fairly recent development in my theology, and maybe it has not filtered down enough into other areas of my theology, such as my thinking on forgiveness….
Anyway, in my own thinking, I wouldn’t connect Acts 2:38 and Romans 8:15 the way you have. The baptism in Acts 2:38 is the Jewish water baptism of repentance, and the baptism in Romans 6 (and the following context) is the Spirit baptism which is quite different.
Brian Midmore says
But Acts 2.38 is about both water baptism and Spirit baptism. For you to call it Jewish baptism of repentance implies that it is in some way Old Covenant which clearly it is not since it is to receive the Holy Spirit which was promised by Joel for the latter days i.e in the new covenant era. Therefore Acts 2.38 is certainly connected with Rom 8.15. Those who were baptised on the day Pentecost were adopted into God’s family by the aphesis of their sins.
Jeremy Myers says
No, I would not say that they were adopted into God’s family by the aphesis of their sins. Nor would I connect Acts 2:38 and Romans 8:15 as you have done. Acts 2:38 does include both water and spirit baptism, but this has to do with Peter’s “keys of the kingdom” which is found in Acts as the Gospel goes to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles. After that, people are spirit-baptized the moment they believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Loving this Jeremy. The pastoral implications of this and previous posts seems so positive and life giving to me. Trusting in Christ for salvation and forgiveness of sins, yet leaning on him for freedom, salvation and release from sin and struggles that so tightly clings to us. For me it feels like a much better framework for growing in christlikeness without the bondage of guilt and and condemnation.
Jeremy Myers says
I really, really hope so! Some people think theology is a waste of time and is dry and dusty. But I love theology (reading and writing and discussing it) because it changed my life … how I think about God, how I interact with people, how I go about being a father and a husband, etc.
And having that freedom from guilt and bondage is essential to growing in Christlikeness, just as you say.
Matthew Richardson says
1 John 1:9 seems to suggest that forgiveness requires confession. I guess that’s an example of aphēsis ?
Jeremy Myers says
Pal Madden says
It doesn’t seem so clear cut to me.
There’s a third word, aphiēmi which is the root for aphesis, and is sometimes translated forgive (like in first John 1:9), and yet it seems to be used more in the sense of cancellation of debt, than in the sense of release from bondage.
For instance, it is used in the parable of the unforgiving servant, who won’t forgive his fellow slave a debt, and therefore the king won’t forgive his debt and hands him over to be tortured until it’s paid.
Furthermore we are commanded to aphiēmi others or else God wont aphiēmi us, and we have no power to release anyone from the bondage of their sin, we only have the power to forgive the debt of their sin.
Blake Sutherland says
Aphiemi is a verb, aphesis is a noun. They ultimately equate to the same parental release of consequence as described above. The two words essentially have the same meaning, but in a different part of speech.
In Matthew 12:32, when speaking of the unpardonable sin, the interlinear word of aphethēsetai is used, which again seams to have the root word of aphesis.
Does this mean that even the unpardonable sin of denying the testimony of the holy spirit is under Charizomai type forgiveness? Is the forgiveness of denying the holy spirit really concerning the consequence and damage of the sin? What is meant by the use of aphesis in this context?
Jeremy Myers says
Excellent insight, and good connection with some of what I have written elsewhere on the blog. I actually came to this same realization myself about three months ago, and it radically changed my view on what the unpardonable sin is. I am still working through the ramifications of it, and hope to revise and update my book on the subject in 2016.
In studying the bible, you are right in the two forms of forgiveness. It is clear that the two forms of forgiveness are Charizomai and Aphesis. Forgiveness is a 2 party process, the forgiver and the forgivee.
Charizomai is, in all instances in the bible, is forgiveness in the heart of the one that is doing the forgiving, the one that has done no wrong; the forgiver.
Aphesis is the forgiveness in the heart of the one asking forgiveness; the forgivee. The one who feels the release and taking of away of consequences and guilt.
In the case of the unforgivable sin, the greek context of the word cannot be ignored. God has already made us into one humanity that is completely reconciled through the death of his son on the cross. In his heart, both gentile and christian are one humanity are already forgiven for all of their sins. (Ephesians 2:15-16) (1John 2:1-2)
In the case of the unforgivable sin, the root word aphesis suggests that the forgiveness is felt in the heart of the one being forgiven. This makes sense, since God has already forgiven everyone’s sins at the cross, whether they accept that or not. It also makes sense that one who does not accept Jesus, thereby willingly blaspheming the holy spriit, will not feel the relief of aphesis in their heart. (The one being forgiven). Even though God himself has already forgiven them in his heart, in their own heart they do not know Jesus, they do not know the love that God has for them. And therefore they are sadly not granted eternal life because they have not believed in Jesus for what he has done for them personally.
They are, however, under Charizomai forgiveness, because this is simply God’s loving and forgiving nature. Forgiveness and eternal life are then two unrelated events in one’s life.
I can conclude from my studies in scripture that: Every living person is forgiven in God’s heart. However, not everyone will feel God’s forgiveness in their own heart, (aphesis), and in a related fashion not everyone will be saved, because not everyone will believe in who Jesus was and/or what he did for them.
Jeremy Myers says
You got it! That is my basic takeaway on the unforgivable sin as well. God has forgiven people for all sin, but the unforgivable sin is the one that people think they cannot be forgiven of, and cannot let it go. They think they are unforgiven because they think God cannot forgive them (even though He has).
Ed Campbell says
OK, so are you and Blake saying that anyone who fears they have committed the unpardonable sin, has necessarily done so? If they fear this (even falsely), then they cannot accept that aphesis forgiveness for themselves.
Jeremy Myers says
Hi Ed, I’m not sure I understand the question… but I am saying that when a person feels guilt over committing a sin (and fear comes from guilt), this proves they have not committed the unforgivable sin, because guilt over sin shows that the Holy Spirit is still at work on their lives to convict of them of sin.
@Blake. When you say “Aphesis is the forgiveness in the heart of the one asking forgiveness; the forgivee”. There are several times that aphesis or aphiemi is also used in the context of being the forgiver (Ex. Luk 1:76-77, Luk 24:46-48). How can you explain this?
What of a believer who struggles to know/experience aphesis? That is, they want to believe & receive God’s promise of Charizomai but it is foreign &/or they feebly have come to Him without much/any affirmation thereby continuing to waver (new believer)? Or one at the other extreme, believing, from their perspective, erroneously, they’re forgiven without having a genuine relationship w/ God’s through Christ? I recognize how deceptive our hearts can be & aim to gently encourage myself & new disciples toward kingdom reality. As a believer for 30 years, i’m blown away i’ve never learned or caught this difference in forgiveness. I appreciate ur grace based article but hope to understand Heb 12 disciplinary action by the Father when/if God gets angry with sin…any insight? another real possibility i’m may need to include with wisdom. thanks!
After scouring the internet (and my husbands Bible college and pastoral library) for a better understanding of Mark 11:25, this was the best and clearest writing I have found on the topic! Thank you for writing this!
I understand that God has forgiven my sins, but what should I do if I can not forgive myself for my sins that has caused so much pain to so many of my family and friends?
susan martin says
if you want to be released from the condemnation your family puts on you read the book Boundaries By Author’s DR. Henry Cloud & DR. John Townsend, it will set you free, this will better help you understand why the guilt that comes from our family and friends affects us so much and how too deal!
James – so understand what you are saying. Not sure if Susan was replying to your question or not, but as I understand it, it wasn’t your family putting condemnation on you but you yourself unable to completely forgive yourself for what you did to them.
If I understand you correctly, my heart goes out both for you yourself but also from the standpoint for understanding exactly what you are saying. While there is a feeling at times of separateness from my family and friends brought on by MY actions, I know that most of it is my acceptance of God’s forgiveness but my continued internal pain from what I did to everyone around me. It isn’t simply coming from them; it is an overwhelming sorrow for our acknowledged wrong-doing that didn’t just harm us but so many others. Particularly in recent months, the weight I had released came back full force and the ache is constant. I long for restoration but it doesn’t appear to be possible and thus I fall back into a feeling that I cannot complain or expect anything more because I was so wrong; so totally wrong. Sometimes some anger slips in with that as there are many things they could do ; that I would do in their position but they don’t and then I go back into the mode of “well, you caused it/you deserve it. To be upset with them is to insinuate that you have been wronged, not them.” It is a vicious circle and Satan delights in it as it doesn’t reflect well on them and it of course makes you a ball of agony and self-recrimination. I don’t have a lot of answers other than a few weeks back I decided that all the letters I had said I was going to send would be done , reflecting my thoughts, accentuating my desire to heal and in turn permit healing on their part, and much more, But I didn’t do it. And I have thought about doing this for at least a year and a half today, I woke up and thought “You keep begging God for help but when you feel a direction to go, you don’t do it, You stop/fear that things will be worse, And they are worse for your non-actions. Believe what you believe and do it, The consequences cannot be more agonizing than the internal pain that never ceases, So James, my advice to you and that I will try to take for myself is tell them again plainly and in writing how you feel. Both the serious repentance and sorrow ; all the things that came out of it for everyone and how you desire restoration. How the wonderful mercy of a forgiving Lord has helped you but that you need and they need to bridge that gap between your remorse that is eating you alive and the embrace of those you love and that love you, I wish I could say this better, May the Holy Spirit soften any hard hearts and may you feel this day the incredible embrace of our Father who loves us so much and who forgave all of this before we were even born. Your family may not come to the level they should but you have then done all you can do, At that point, move on with Jesus and take heart.
Thank you for this word. As if you have been living my life the last year and a half. I caused pain to family and friends through an adulatory. A walking believer for over 30 years, seeing and experiencing the power of God through those years, married for 36 years with a supportive, loving and Jesus loving wife…the worst pain comes from seeing that daily, the cycle you described, especially coming to the realization that I no longer desired to be married to her. It obviously was more than an affair that brought me to this place, but so many believers have placed me in the box of “turned your eyes from God”, “walking in deception”, “how can you ever reconcile divorcing her to God” “God isn’t leading you””you have no testimony any longer”and the list continues… because I was spiritually dying to the physical sin I had/ was continuing, i told my wife about not wanting to be together with her, broke it off with the other women and suffered under the pain of people wanting me back together with my wife, restoration, healing, being obedient, basically wanting me to plug into my life again and God would fix it, apparently so they would all feel better, that all would be right again and the Box checked for them. I met with our Pastor who I confessed all I was and desired, and he was gracious, and though I told him my heart was for the woman I had broke it off with, he directed me to being obedient to my marriage, he would always love me, but did not agree with me choosing the other woman, and after another month of not knowing what to say to my wife of where I was in all this she told me to find somewhere else to live, which I have and have been apart for a year and a half…the physical side of the other relationship was ended, as there is no life in that, but my heart is for her, she lives several states away see each other maybe 4 times in the last year and this battle of tears searching for God through the text scripture barrages, 2 adult kids mostly cutting me off because I am still in a sin relationship, and 2 adult kids who have just listened and just let me be there dad, as a relationship, friends who have me condemned for my sexual sin and blindness and following the harlot at the door, placing my only value with them or God with being married to the same woman…obviously every relationship and sin has its complexities, I am not seeking justification or am I justified in my sin of adultery I committed. I failed the covenant of marriage, my family and friends, and when I broke off the relationship for two months of communication I thought I would experience a freedom in my repentance from my sin, which I did, but the pain of feeling left undone, like I was being placed back somewhere I no longer desired to be along with the loss of my relationship left me empty…so many tears of the rights and wrongs, guilt, shame, the enemy was having a feast upon my soul…the hardest place to come to was my pain did not come from God not being with me or Him not in my life, I knew he was, as He is for all of us in joys and sorrows, sins or faith, it was the pain of knowing I didn’t want to be married to someone who supported me and loved me, we went through struggles and victories, raised 4 great kids, I married at 21, facing that, as the enemy would say to me, “who does that to another person?” And that I didn’t want to try to save it as I had no desire to do it any longer, it has been a devastating fact to face, the condemnation of it, and daily reminders from friends with scriptures of obedience and righteousness…so here I am, nobody may even read this in some blog reply forum from years ago, but it has allowed me to open up after reading what you said, so thanks for that, God used it for me…I am not looking to be right or excused from the pain I caused, but it has been hard to move to freedom again when no one let’s go of you, including my wife who sends me prayers everyday, and many times they feel as psalm 91 says “arrows that fly by day” as I said more to the story, as there always is…many have told me I have not repented because I didn’t turn away, as I have ended up staying emotionally connected to this other woman. That has been my next hurdle as I know I confessed the darkness I was hiding in from the adultery, repented of it, it was brought into the light with it’s obvious consequences, but she is who I share with daily and I am told you can’t have a relationship with her because you are still in sin, even if you are not physical, it has been rough finding footing when I am hit with that…I am new to your site Jeremy but have read much of your stuff on forgiveness, marriage, divorce, not looking for an out, but understanding…Knowing that God is with me, and for me, that if I am keeping everything in the light that I will see His way in my walk…
Bryan Blagg says
Good article. Great insight. We are in accord on 99%.
I would only ask for consideration to the remarks on repentance being obedience. There is definitely obedience in the Christian walk, but it’s to a life of faith. We walk by faith not by sight. Repentance is living in dependence. Confessing sin and then admitting there is nothing I can do to change myself. Seeking the transformation that the Spirit provides. Obedience without biblical explanation leans towards works. “I can just do better”. You used “take steps and make changes” which leans towards works. That’s not proper application, that’s still self-righteousness, let go and let God take over. The biblical words used over and over are: submission to His will, laying aside our pride, surrendering all, and living by the Spirit. Repentance is trusting in God, believing in Jesus, living by the Spirit to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We are broken vessels, only through dependence do we find freedom from our sinful nature.
I doubted my Christian walk around 35 after a divorce and failed business. I did all the things, I checked all the boxes: church attendance, mission trips, committees, youth volunteer, children’s teacher-aid, set up tables and chairs, marriage conferences, choir, usher, etc. I was great at the stuff. I was not being dependent in Him. I was being self-righteous. It took great breaking: divorce, bankruptcy, joblessness, to get me to my knees. I walked the isle at age 11 in Marlow, OK, I said the prayer and got baptized. My sinful ways from high school through college we’re not Christlike. I was not a repentant believer, I was self centered, self seeking, self absorbed.
I say all that because I sought new steps and changes through my flesh, but it wasn’t until I sought new steps and changes through surrender that I found freedom from my innate desires.
I’m struggling with the question why is Jesus not speaking about the Charizomai forgiveness on more places. By example mat 26:28 “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” He uses the word aphesis here, not charizomai. Can somebody explain this?
Jeremy Myers says
I think I address this text more in my course “The Gospel Dictionary” and maybe also in my book “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.”
The basic answer is that the death and shed blood of Jesus was never required or necessary to purchase forgiveness for us from God. Charizomai is always free, and could not be purchased.
So why did Jesus die? To liberate/rescue/free (aphesis) us from the power of sin in our lives. We learn how to do this through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Thank you for your answer!
It does make sense that its true what you’re saying. I just finished the book of “The Normal Christian Life” of Watchmen Nee. He explained that whole part on how to deal with our flesh, and how Christ died to release us from the power of sins. According to Romans 5-8 an 12. Although he is not mentioning anything about the differences of forgiveness, he does points that the gospel is not only about the forgiveness of sins, and working hard to please God, but about that Jesus wants to for fill His work in us. That really helped me understand how to live as a christian. Pointing more and more to Jesus. Its all about Him. Less of me (soul), more of Him (Spirit)… Less = more
I have ordered your book “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus”, and also some of N.T Wright’s you mentioned. You really triggered some essential subjects in your articles about forgiveness. Thank you for your sharing.
What verses can we find that show the Charizomai forgiveness. Is there a list? Also the Aphesis forgiveness? Thank you so much
Alao Kayode says
Great teachings. More Grace to you , ( the teacher )
will my deceased wife foregive me for adultry when i die
Char Gherke says
Was just speaking about this to a friend and she was telling me that we need to forgive others for their thoughtlessness however many times we encounter a problem. To me it boils down to the fact that we are being taken advantage of by others actions. Does this mean that we are to be a doormat allowing others to walk over us at their whim? I think not. How best do we handle a situation? We all are coming from a different perspective according to what we want and how we handle things to get that.
Mae. Stapley says
I wonder how I can send a comment to you.
I am very concerned about the unpardonable sin. Please help.