Forgiveness And Atonement

old-kettle-1-1206504-mThere’s a difference between forgiveness and atonement. The latter requires payment, the former does not. Interestingly, God gives both, but He tells us only to give forgiveness to one another.

I’m not aware of any place Jesus required His disciples to make atonement for their sins in order to make things right, either with God or with each other. But He was quite clear about forgiveness.

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors . . . For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matt. 6:12, 14-15)

Jesus told a story about an unforgiving servant to illustrate this point.

one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’

And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’

So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’

But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.

So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.

Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt. 18:24b-33).

The problem is, many have turned the act of forgiving other people into a form of atonement for our sins. That’s not it. Jesus never said we are to atone for our sins. He Himself was the atonement.

Someone who’s received atonement doesn’t need a second dose of atonement. Either Jesus “paid it all” or He didn’t. And if He paid it all, it means we owe nothing because of our sin—past, present, or future.

It’s not like Jesus paid for our sins up to the point of our entering into a relationship with Him, but from then on it’s up to us either to live perfect, sinless lives (as some believe) or to pay for our sins if we “slip.”

Atonement is the very thing that is beyond our ability to make. We can’t give to God what is required—a perfect life—because we don’t have it.

Our forgiveness, then, comes with no strings attached.

But wait a minute. Don’t the passages in Matthew say just the opposite—our forgiveness is contingent upon our willingness to forgive others?

Actually, that’s backwards:

Dangling bitterness and broken relationships are inconsistent with grace receivers. Jesus taught that we are to love and pray for our enemies because this is the appropriate response to being a recipient of God’s grace, forgiving others. (Donald Smith, The God of Grace, Chap. 10)

In other words, a lack of forgiveness is a sign that a person is not a recipient of God’s grace—not that he received grace but God took it back because his actions weren’t acceptable. Instead, God offered forgiveness, and by the act of not forgiving others, a person shows he is spurning God’s forgiveness.

In fact, in another passage in Matthew, Jesus was teaching about prayer, telling His disciples they needed to believe and not doubt and they’d receive what they ask.

Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. (11:24)

He immediately moved to this:

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. (11:25)

Was Jesus changing the subject? I don’t think so. I think He was illustrating that real faith has legs. Faith is not saying, “I believe” and then acting as if I don’t believe. Rather, faith must be demonstrated by action, as James so clearly spelled out (See James 2:13ff).

In the same way, we demonstrate that we understand our need for forgiveness by our willingness to forgive others. We are not in a position to hold others accountable for their misdeeds against us if in truth we have understood how God no longer holds us accountable for our misdeeds against Him.

That’s like the pot calling the kettle black! We aren’t without the black stain of sin searing us, so who are we to point to others and say, You have this nasty black stain, so I can’t accept you.

But if we are indeed the recipient of God’s grace, and our black stain has been removed, we are in a position to mirror the forgiveness we have received. We want to pay forward what we’ve been given.

Paul clarifies the issue:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Eph. 4:31-32, emphasis added).

Just as Christ did for us, so we are to do for others.

Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 6:16 pm  Comments (22)  
Tags: , , , ,


  1. Amen!


  2. Becky

    I never thought about all of that…that there might be a difference between forgiveness and atonement. Really sheds light on what Jesus was teaching about us forgiving each other. Thanks for another good one!


  3. Actually the most stand-out point of this parable/tale is that Jesus did not condemn slavery; anywhere
    You might think he would make reference to a more benign form as found in the OT. But …. nope. Not on your life.

    How about this from Luke.

    The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.

    And as Jesus upheld the Law of Moses 100% it is clear that he was fully aware and fully in agreement of slavery when he preached.


    • Ark…really? You know well I’m sure, that that passage had nothing to do with slavery..sheesh. Slavery was simply a fact in the day. That passage was passing no judgment either way on that issue; not condemning it there is not the same as condoning it. That was simply an illustration of how people are held accountable for what they know. The greater the knowledge and responsibility one has, the greater their accountability for it.

      Besides…your argument is absurd based on your own stated beliefs about the truth of what The Bible says. According to you, the accounts and descriptions of Jesus’ ministry never happened. If they never happened, to hold Him to task for what He said..well it makes no sense. You are getting your wires crossed pretty seriously in your attempts to discredit every single statement that comes from the mouth of a Christian.


      • It matters not what I believe. Christians believe it and pass this diatribe onto children.
        As for the slavery issue. Of course, Jesus condoned it, and it was because of the Old Testament doctrine that christian slavers often turned to justify.
        Every time you comment you show your ignorance and demonstrate how indoctrinated you truly are.
        Have some humility, for your god’s sake and at least, just for once, go and conduct some serious research.


        • The Bible acknowledged the slave’s status as the property of the master (Ex. 21:21; Lev. 25:46).
          The Bible restricted the master’s power over the slave. (Ex. 21:20)
          The slave was a member of the master’s household (Lev. 22:11).
          The slave was required to rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10; Deut. 5:14).
          The slave was required to participate in religious observances (Gen. 17:13; Exodus 12:44; Lev. 22:11).
          The Bible prohibited extradition of slaves and granted them asylum (Deut. 23:16-17).
          The servitude of a Hebrew debt-slave was limited to six years (Ex. 21:2; Deut. 15:12).
          When a slave was freed, he was to receive gifts that enabled him to survive economically (Deut. 15:14).

          This is from:


        • Do you really think insulting other commenters makes your points stronger, Arkenaten? Or is criticizing other people who you don’t know just another deflection tactic? I suspect the latter.



          • Becky

            I suspect the latter as well…but I also suspect Ark gets extra joy from insulting me LOL.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Arkenaten, this is just another example of your deflection tactic, Arkenaten, because you are sharp enough to know that the point of a paragraph or passage isn’t isolated from its context. The context of this parable is forgiveness.

      I’ll be happy to discuss 1st century Jewish understanding of slavery with you another day.



      • In the larger context, there is no ”understanding of slavery.”
        Slavery is slavery, and I am not talking about bonded servitude either, although this is pretty close to the bone even in today’s society among some cultures.

        Forgiveness is not in dispute, but rather the atrocious example used to demonstrate.

        Jesus championed Mosaic Law and was thus 100% aware that this included slavery.
        Have you forgotten your Old Testament so soon, Becky? Or are you a going to cherry pick your way around this as well?
        Consider Moses barbaric acts of war and his distribution of the spoils.
        Need I remind you of chapter and verse?
        Please stop trying to do the Theological Two-Step, it is crass and demeaning. For once, recognise that there is no way to simply call on exegeses and hermenutics to wish this away.

        The bottom line:Jesus condoned slavery. Period.
        And so did Paul.


      • Arkenaten, I’m not going to let you bait me into discussing slavery instead of forgiveness on this thread. I notice you ignored Symona’s comment—she’s obviously done research on the topic and is willing to discuss it. Why not respond to what she said?

        As I said earlier, I’ll save my remarks on the subject for another day.



        • I did not ignore Symona’s comment. The link is dead – forbidden, it says. Besides, what is there to respond to? The evidence of slavery is all over the comment. Oh,I know you want to tart it up with terms like in context of culture.
          Next you’ll be suggesting the American Slave trade was merely a minor blip on the road to democracy.

          Why should I care if you wish to discuss slavery? Like every biblical topic you will never approach it with any degree of integrity or honesty while you cling to fundamentalism; the hallmark of the indoctrinated.

          What next, a treatise on how wonderful your god was during his Divine Command phase while Moses and Joshua were busy liquidating the Midianites the Canaanites?
          Truly, your religion is enough to give children nightmares.
          Tell me, have you ever read from the Old Testament to them: Moses and his vile campaigns?
          Perhaps you relish such bedtime tales?

          Honestly, contemplating the monster you genuflect to, I am surprised you can sleep at night.
          Actually, that’s not true. I can understand perfectly.


        • The link Symona gave was not dead for me. I opened up the article with no problem. The point the article makes is salient. But I have more thoughts on the matter—for another day. Since you aren’t interacting with her points, you reinforce my belief that you aren’t really interested in discussing the subject, just deflecting attention from forgiveness.



          • Interesting. The link worked this evening. Odd. Thanks for the heads up. A gremlin perhaps?

            The CARM explanation – ” Slavery was permitted in the Bible because of sin in the world”

            There is not a single verse in the entire bible that states this.
            And 1 Timothy is regarded as a forgery.( in case you were contemplating mentioning it)

            While I acknowledge that people may have been prepared to sell themselves into servitude as a means to pay off debt, there is no similar provision for ”spoils of war” the likes of which Moses took.
            All the girls who had not ”known” a man, yes?
            And his acts of genocide were directly commanded by your god.

            Carm’s pithy explanation is merely yet another sidestep to allay the fears of weak and twisted Christian morality. Quite disgusting.
            Apartheid was justified on similar grounds.

            The fact is, your god does not condemn slavery at alland in some scenarios , actively encourages it. ( Moses was acting on Yahweh’s order’s, after all)

            Even Jesus was perfectly aware of the socio-political situation and said zilch in condemnation of the practice which was an integral part of middle eastern/Roman life.



  4. Do you really think insulting other commenters makes your points stronger, Arkenaten? Or is criticizing other people who you don’t know just another deflection tactic? I suspect the latter.

    Rest assured, I would have no compunction about addressing such issues in exactly the same manner if we were face to face across the kitchen table.
    If I was relying in anonymity this would make me as much a hypocrite as those religious I take to task.
    So what you suspect is merely a way for you to hide behind rhetoric and garner cheap applause from fellow indoctrinated fundamentalists, such as Wally, who, by the way, is really pushing for Sycophant of the Year award and we are only in the first week of January.


    • I didn’t say you were relying on anonymity, Arkenaten. I said you were deflecting discussion of forgiveness by degrading someone you don’t know.

      From my perspective Wally has always responded to you with forbearance and grace. In fact, he is a good example of forgiveness.

      I think it’s quite amusing that you see his comments as some kind of flattery. In reality, they show how two Christians who have never met and who know nothing about each other personally can still be like-minded because we serve (sort of like slaves) the same Lord and Savior and we believe in and rely upon the same Book.



      • Becky

        I was hardly flattering when I raised my concern about what you said in a previous post, now was I? Maybe the problem is I didn’t couch it in slander and insults, but instead tried to address it in a reasonable way huh?

        It wasn’t that long ago that, if Ark and I had been in the same room, the difference would not have been that vast. I have hurled my share of insults and derogatory statements towards Christians in the past. But, it was the kind, dogged persistence of a couple of Christians that also helped me eventually come to faith myself. I just remember that they never just let me trample on them, but at the same time they didn’t act the way I did in response. It made a difference, for sure.


        • It was your emotional issues that were the catalyst for your reaching out to the supernatural.
          What were a ‘couple of Christians’ doing pestering you in the first place?


          • Ark

            This is my final comment to you on this thread. Becky has been more than kind to allow this conversation to take place, and I’m done clogging up her post with it.

            First of all, you don’t know jack about what emotional issues I might or might not have. For you to say so is pretty presumptuous. Your position is apparently that only a nutcase could have the unmitigated gall to disagree with you. On the other hand, a fairly strong case could be made that your behavior is an indicator of some emotional issues.

            Ironically, these friends were not pestering me at all. They were simply living their lives as Christians. Kind of like you, I was the one who sought them for confrontation. They didn’t ask for it, but I was sure willing to provide it. But their response was not nearly like mine. Ponder on that one, my friend. Even still, God’s grace extends to us included. Have a blessed day.


          • You are always ”done” with one thread or another.
            Your petulant dismissals are de riguer
            As for my presumption; I have stated on numerous occasions, I have never encountered an adult in real life or in cyber space – who did not have emotional issues/problems prior to converting to Christianity; often associated with sex, drugs, or some sort of violence ( either as recipient or perpetrator.

            Your ”might or might not” comment clearly suggests there is every likelihood I am on the money and your personal testimony, and that deplorable ”atheist” post you did on the (Isaiah) blog – implies something similar.

            As for my ”behavior”. We all blog on a public platform. If you kept your nonsensical beliefs to yourself there would nothing for me to respond to.
            But if you believe I am presumptuous, then don’t respond.
            I get the feeling that
            a) deep down you know darn well I am right on the money
            b) you relish the opportunity to try and demonstrate that you know and understand just what Christianity is all about; and certainly more than the poor misguided atheist who is going to hell.

            If you say I am a liar, regarding your conversion then call me out, give me the straight answer and I will apologise unconditionally.


      • Well, that was a nice bit of Christian back slapping. As to the question of who is deflecting ….
        Hmmm …. slavery. The charge that the character, Jesus of Nazareth condoned slavery; that is a given. So, you were saying?


  5. As a further note regarding slavery. If we allow for CARM’s premise
    ( which you seem to wholeheartedly support) why were early Christians not condemning the practice right left and centre?


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: