The Cost of Forgiveness

Pastor Michael Bowman

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” (Eph. 2:8)

It’s always important to remember that forgiveness comes as a gift. It’s not something that you earn. It’s not something that you worked really hard for and now receive because you deserve it. It’s a free gift for us, but that doesn’t mean there was no cost. Every gift costs something. The gift of salvation, and hence the gift of forgiveness was something that the Lord has given us by giving of himself.

When you think about forgiveness, you need to realize that there is always going to be a cost. Justice requires that debts be paid and that sins be punished. The Lord could not have forgiven sins by simply saying, “no worries”, and moving on. No, he had to actually pay the penalty, covering the debt himself.

Let’s try to illustrate this idea: Justice requires that when you steal something, you return it or pay for it. Let’s say a business owner finds out that you’ve stolen $100 of merchandise from them. That $100 has to be dealt with. It would be just for the owner to take you to court to make you repay what you have stolen. Let’s say the business owner decides to forgive what you have done and not make you repay it. Does that mean the -$100 on the books disappears? No, of course not. It simply means that the business owner is going to have to pay the price instead of you. Forgiveness is free for the one receiving it, not for the one giving it.

When the Lord forgives sins, it didn’t come without cost. Christ didn’t die as an example alone, or just to make a show of his love. Those might be aspects of his atoning death, but he died primarily because it was necessary. It was the only way for redemption to actually be accomplished and God’s justice satisfied. The debt had to be paid, the question was would it be paid by us or would the Lord cover it himself.

Isaiah 53 illustrates this well. Let’s focus on verse 5. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” He was wounded for our transgressions. He paid the penalty that we owed. We transgressed the Law, we were not obedient, and yet he bore what was coming to us. He had to be crushed if we were going to be spared. That is what justice required. Notice that we receive peace and we receive healing, but that wasn’t free. It wasn’t cheap. It was very costly. In order for us to receive, he had to pay. He received the chastisement and he received the stripes.

Don’t forget that forgiveness isn’t free and it isn’t cheap. We sometimes think in those terms simply because we didn’t have to pay anything for the forgiveness we have received. When we start to give forgiveness to others we start to understand it is very costly. The glorious reality is that Christ paid our debt, he bore the penalty we deserved, he fulfilled all justice so that we might be forgiven. That reality is all the more powerful when you see what it costs. It was a gift that cost his very life. He gave of himself for your forgiveness.