Words of Jesus: Forgiveness


Cecil O. Samuelson Jr.
“Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

Words of Jesus:

It is the Savior’s desire that we each feel His peace. He said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). In these troubled times, a familiar hymn assures us:

Sweet is the peace the gospel brings
To seeking minds and true.
With light refulgent on its wings
It clears the human view. 1

We may have much that worries us, and we may find many reasons to be concerned. Yet, as President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) observed, peace and the Savior’s doctrine of forgiveness are inseparably connected: “The essence … of forgiveness is that it brings peace to the previously anxious, restless, frustrated, perhaps tormented soul.” 2

Luke records a story from the life of the Savior that demonstrates the kind of peace the Savior bestows when we receive His forgiveness (see Luke 7:36–50). Jesus was invited to the home of Simon, a Pharisee, for dinner. A woman who is described as a sinner learned that Jesus was in the house and came, bringing ointment. As Jesus rested leaning forward on a couch with His feet extended away from the table, the woman approached Him from behind, weeping and washing His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with her hair, kissed them, and poured the fragrant ointment on them, taking care to gently rub the oil into His feet. The host found fault with Jesus for accepting this act of kindness from a sinner. Jesus perceived his thoughts and offered for his chastisement one of His most poignant lessons on the doctrine of forgiveness.

He told the story of a creditor who had two debtors. One owed 10 times more than the other. Neither had the means to pay his debt, so the creditor graciously forgave them both. “Tell me therefore,” the Savior asked, “which of [the debtors] will love [the creditor] most?” (Luke 7:42). Simon rightly answered that the debtor who owed the most would probably love the most.

Jesus then compared Simon’s lack of care and hospitality for Him to the woman’s actions. The Master wanted Simon to see himself in the story as the debtor who owed less and the woman as the debtor who owed more. Jesus reinforced His point by saying, “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:47).

Jesus then turned His attention to the woman. Looking her in the eyes, He bestowed His peace upon her, saying: “Thy sins are forgiven. … Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50).

We do not know the circumstances surrounding this woman’s transgressions, but we can imagine the gratitude, joy, and peace she must have felt at that moment.

Peace in Christ

We must look to the Savior, not the wisdom of the world, for peace and forgiveness. You may recall the story of the man with palsy who was paralyzed (see Matt. 9:1–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–26).

The Savior was in Capernaum, teaching in a house crowded to overflowing. Four men came carrying their disabled friend on a stretcher, hoping Jesus would heal him. Because of the great congestion at the door, the men carried him to the roof, made an opening, and carefully lowered the palsied sufferer into the room where Jesus was. Jesus was not irritated by this interruption but was touched by their faith. He boldly and publicly said to the sick man, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matt. 9:2) and admonished him to sin no more (see Joseph Smith Translation, Matt. 9:2).

As the man still lay on his bed, some of the scribes and Pharisees thought to themselves that Jesus had just committed the sin of blasphemy (see Bible Dictionary, “Blasphemy,” 625–26). He confronted their faithless minds by asking if it requires more power to forgive sins than to heal the sick (see Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 5:23). The Savior said that so His listeners would “know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6; see Joseph Smith Translation, Matt. 9:6).

Jesus then turned to the palsied man and declared, “Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house” (Mark 2:11). And immediately he arose and did as he was commanded. The complainers and critics could not dispute the obvious miracle and its clear implication: Jesus has the power to forgive sins. And “good cheer” or peace results when we know that our sins have truly been forgiven by Him.

Forgiving Others

When the Master taught His disciples what to do when they felt offended or received trespasses (see Matt. 18:15–35), it seemed to them to be a new doctrine. “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Matt. 18:15). The Savior’s words about forgiving others required a significant adjustment in attitude. They had been schooled in the notion of “an eye for an eye” (Matt. 5:38; see Lev. 24:20). Peter, wanting to be sure he understood the meaning of the teaching, asked, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Matt. 18:21). Peter was probably aware of the rabbinical requirement that the offender make the first move to resolve the offense and that the offended person forgive only two or three times. 3

Jesus answered with clarity, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). In other words, there must be no constraints, numerical or otherwise, placed on our forgiveness of others.

The Savior then told His disciples a parable so that they might more fully appreciate, remember, and apply the lesson that we must forgive everyone (see Matt. 18:23–32). He described a king who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants who owed him money. The first servant owed him 10,000 talents, which would probably be the modern equivalent of millions of U.S. dollars. The servant was not able to repay the debt, so the king ordered him and his family to be sold into slavery. The desperate servant petitioned for time and patience, promising to pay all. Touched by his sincerity, the king was moved with compassion and forgave his very large debt. The servant, therefore, fell down and worshiped him.

This same servant, who had just been the recipient of the king’s wonderful act of mercy and forgiveness, immediately went in search of a fellow servant who owed him 100 pence, the probable equivalent of a few U.S. dollars. He rudely demanded immediate payment. When the fellow servant pleaded for time and patience, the first servant was not willing to extend what he had just freely received from the king. He had his fellow servant cast into prison until he could pay the debt. This callous act was observed by other servants and duly reported to the king. “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.” Jesus then added this postscript, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matt. 18:34–35).

Those who wish to consider themselves as disciples of the Master must understand that we, like the first servant, owe a great debt to our Heavenly King for the many gifts we have received from Him. This understanding unlocks the door to the gifts of repentance and our own forgiveness. The retention of these gifts depends upon our faithful forgiveness of those who have offended us. The Savior said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7) and, “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” (Matt. 7:2).

Forgiving others, however, does not necessarily mean that we would endorse or approve of the behavior or transgression. In fact, there are many actions and attitudes that deserve clear condemnation. But even in these we must completely forgive the offender. “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

All Sins but One

The Savior was very clear that, conditioned on repentance, all of our sins can be forgiven through His sacred and atoning sacrifice except for what He called “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 12:31; see also Mark 3:28–29). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught on this subject: “Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him.” 4

Thus, the clear assurance of the Redeemer is that “all sins shall be forgiven” (Mark 3:28) when we repent, for the Savior’s mission was to preach repentance (see Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 3:22; see also Mosiah 26:29–30).

The Gift of Forgiveness

The Savior taught His disciples on two separate occasions that they were to pray for forgiveness of sins or debts to God. We are also to demonstrate the sincerity of our prayers by forgiving those who have sinned against us. He instructed them to pray, “Forgive us our debts [offenses], as we forgive our debtors [those who have offended us]” (Matt. 6:12) and, “Forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Implicit in this teaching is a direct link between pleading for forgiveness and our efforts to repent of all our sins.

In all our forgiving and seeking forgiveness, we must recognize that, despite whatever restitution we may be capable of providing or receiving, our efforts and those of others are woefully insufficient to meet the demands of eternal justice. How, then, is true forgiveness possible? Paul, in speaking to the Ephesians, wrote that it is in Christ that “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).

The blessings that flow from the gift of forgiveness are many. Chief among them is peace. It is the Savior’s desire that we each feel His peace. He said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). The forgiveness we offer to others and the forgiveness we receive from Jesus Christ lead us to Him and along the path to eternal life.

[illustration] Detail from Christ in the Synagogue, by Gustave Doré

[illustration] Seest Thou This Woman, by Crystal Haueter

[illustration] Christ Healing the Palsied Man, by David Lindsley

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    Hymns, no. 14.

  2.   2.

    The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), 363.

  3.   3.

    See James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. (1916), 391–93.

  4.   4.

    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 358.