Do You Understand the 2 Kinds of Forgiveness?

A simple example serves to illustrate which of the two applies to you today.

The Bible’s teaching on forgiveness can seem confusing. Even contradictory. In fact, over the years I’ve heard one question more than any other.

Do You Understand the 2 Kinds of Forgiveness?

(Photo By Todd Quackenbush. Courtesy of Unsplash.com)

On one hand we have the marvelous promise that once we believe the gospel message—that Jesus died for our sins and rose again—we have forgiveness of all our sins.

All of them.

But that begs a question: If Jesus has already paid for our sins, why then does the Bible tell us to confess our sins for forgiveness?

It’s because the Bible teaches two kinds of forgiveness.

Do you understand the difference?

The First Kind of Forgiveness

Although we have sinned, Jesus shed His blood on the cross as our substitute to pay for our sins. When we believe in Him—when we trust Him for the forgiveness He offers by grace through faith—then we can know that our sins are forgiven (John 5:24).

This forgiveness occurs once—at the moment of faith—and it relates to our eternal forgiveness.

Paul wrote of:

[God’s] beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. —Colossians 1:13–14

This is fine for eternity. But what happens when we sin after we’ve trusted Christ?

(Photo By David Marcu. Courtesy of Unsplash.com)

(Photo By David Marcu. Courtesy of Unsplash.com)

The Second Kind of Forgiveness

The confusion occurs most often with this second kind of forgiveness. No one said it better than Jesus Himself:

If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. —Matthew 6:15

In short, if you as a Christian sin—for example, you bear a grudge against someone—you are still saved, but you are out of fellowship with God.

This kind of forgiveness is different from the kind that determines heaven and hell. It isn’t sought so that we’ll stay saved or regain our salvation. This forgiveness occurs many times—over the course of our lives—and it relates to our fellowship with God.

The Apostle John wrote:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. —1 John 1:9

James said it this way:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. —James 5:16

A Helpful Illustration

A simple example serves to illustrate the two types of forgiveness.

My daughter will always be my daughter. She is mine, and nothing she does can ever change that. But if she sins against me, then there is something between us until she confess and asks for forgiveness.

The two types of forgiveness are essential to understand:

  1. The forgiveness that occurs at the moment of faith relates to our eternal forgiveness.
  2. The forgiveness that occurs in our daily lives relates to our relational forgiveness—our fellowship with God.

Question: What helps you understand the two types of forgiveness? To leave a comment, just click here.

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I'd love to hear your thoughts. Just keep it kind and relevant. Thanks!

  • Dorothy A. DeBisschop

    Wayne, that’s a really helpful distinction. Thanks for a perceptive message today.

    • You’re welcome, Dorothy. I’m glad it was helpful. I find it a very, very common issue. Thanks so much.

  • liramk3

    Hi Wayne my question in forgiveness is, if I have offended someone in the past and then I repent later but no longer in contact with the person I offended or maybe know where they can be found, do I really need to ask them for forgiveness to be forgiven or God forgives me regardless as long as I have repented and confessed my sins to Him?

    • If there is any way for you to connect with the person—even through a letter—then yes, you should take the initiative (Matt. 5:23-24). In the mean time, you needn’t worry about the confession making you right with God, as He knows your heart and knows you’re attempting to do what’s right (1 Jn. 1:9). There’s also a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I talk quite a bit about this in my new book Waiting on God, which tells of Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers and how it serves as an example in our own lives. Thanks and God bless.

      • liramk3

        Thank you Wayne I bought the book, waiting on God! yesterday and now currently on chapter 2 am touched by it and must say the way you explain things makes it easier to understand, am looking forward to finishing it and learn loads .May God continue to give you wisdom and knowledge in His things to grow people like me in the Lord.

        • Wonderful! May the Lord bless you as you wait on him.

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  • Suzy

    Just curious. Are the Greek words the same for both kinds?

  • Patrick McGarrity

    Matthew 6:15 is quoted and then the very next sentence in the article contradicts the plain meaning of Matthew 6:15. Forgiveness of others is a requirement of anyone who is a follower of Jesus, not an option. If you think it isn’t consider Jesus’ words elsewhere in the Gospels, “Many will call me ‘Lord, Lord’, but…

    • You’re right, Patrick— forgiveness is a command for us who follow Jesus. But we would be hard-pressed to add anything other than faith as a requirement for salvation. The context of Matthew 6 speaks to disciples and to children of God who rightly respond to their Father. Paul wrote that we Christians are to forgive because we already are forgiven, not in order to obtain forgiveness:
      “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

      • Patrick McGarrity

        How does Jesus’ parable of the Unmerciful Servant help reconcile Jesus’ reiteration of the requirement to forgive in Mt 6:15 with Paul’s words in Ephesians? Grace is a gift that we don’t deserve and cannot earn, certainly, but there is the “forgiveness clause”. See chapter 2 :”Forgive Others – No Exceptions” of my book which can be downloaded here for free: http://www.foundcatholic.com

        • Patrick McGarrity

          A new version of the book is available: “5 Big Ideas That Will Change Your Life” http://www.5BigIdeas.org

  • Jeanelle. Sims

    You always make me stop and think, asking for forgiveness reflect on my fellowship with my Father but not my relationship to Him. By His grace and mercy I am His for all Eternity. Praise the Lord

  • Michelle thick

    Thanks for the read really appreciate it. This is something to always keep in mind.

    • You’re welcome, Michelle. Yes, it’s essential to remain in fellowship with God by remaining in fellowship with others. Thanks.

  • Janet Peterson

    One thing I’ve learnt in my Christian journey, as I gaze upon the cross I realize I CANNOT SAY I TRULY LOVE WITHOUT FORGIVING AND I CANNOT TRULY FORGIVE WITHOUT LOVING….love and forgiveness are like finger and nail; like peas in a pod. They are simply inseparable. Thanks bro for sound teaching.

    • That’s well-said, Janet. Love and forgiveness go together. Love for God allows us to forgive others (and ourselves!). Thanks.

  • Beth Bradford Kincaid

    Forgiveness – offering and accepting feels like praising God.

    • That’s a great perspective, Beth. Forgiveness is a form of offering and sacrifice to God, isn’t it?

  • ARM BAR

    I can slowly understand the first kind of forgiveness ,but i struggle to understand for the second one,because i’m still confused Wayne and for my understanding, justice is also an important thing,i’m not against God commandments but i’m just feeling like being treated unfairly,that’s all,but i’m Glad you brought this topic Wayne,thank you.

    • Justice is a big deal, but forgiveness does play a part of easing our demand on justice. Part of the image of God within us is a sense of justice. When we see an outrageous wrong, everything within our spirit demands justice. That is, until it comes to the sin we commit — and then we want God to just drop it and forgive. We want God to exact justice for others but grace to us.