Now that we see how, for the most part, faith/belief is "relying upon Christ for salvation," we must look at the subject of forgiveness in relation to the new birth.
The preaching of faith and belief in Jesus has been replaced with the preaching of "forgiveness" of our sins. The focus has been turned from Jesus back to mortal man. Rather than preaching a need for the whole man to turn to Jesus (repentance), a simple message of putting away sins (forgiveness) is preached.
The word "forgiveness" was first used in the Law of Moses. The Jews continually transgressed the Law, so they were required to make atonement with a sin offering which they practiced year after year, and century after century. Each time the sin offering of blood was made, God granted them forgiveness. But it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin, and forgiveness itself most surely could never take away sin. The sin offerings were merely a pattern of that which was to come. 1
Only Jesus' blood could cleanse the people so there would be no more conscience of sins, as this passage from Hebrews shows: "The worshippers having been once cleansed would have had no more conscience [moral consciousness] of sins. 2 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins." 3 (Hebrews 10:2b-4).
Man's heredity as mortal flesh was the problem, even before the Law brought the knowledge of sin to the Jews. After the first Adam [man], all were sinners, having been born in the flesh. We did not become sinners because we sinned--our deeds came as a result of what we had already become. To be forgiven for deeds of the flesh does nothing to alter the source of our deeds. There has to be the birth of a new creature [Greek: formation] 4 in Christ Jesus. 5 If forgiveness could make a new creature, Jesus died for no reason. If forgiveness could make a new creature, the blood of bulls and goats would have been sufficient for atonement.
Lost in translation
When an English-speaking person hears a bible term, he perceives its meaning according to his present day understanding of the English language. The term he hears may mean one thing to him, while the Greek or Hebrew word has a specific meaning within the given context. Numerous times a word translated from Hebrew in the Old Testament would be repeated in the New Testament. The challenge there was that a Greek word could not be found to carry the meaning without losing its significance. The English translators found it necessary to use words that actually diminished or altered its original intent in the Hebrew text. The word "forgive" is a prime example of how meanings can be lost in translation.
The Hebrew word translated "forgive" means "forgive." 6 While Jesus walked on this earth, the Jews were still under the Law. They understood forgiveness according to their Hebrew language and how the blood atonement preceded forgiveness. Jesus used the word "forgiveness," and in some instances Paul and others would use the word "forgiveness." But in both cases, they were addressing the Jews--not Gentiles.
There are four Greek words translated into the English word "forgive."
1. Aphiemi means "to send forth," 7 and was translated "forgive" in Matthew 6:12: "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." This was in reference to the relationships between people.
Several other words were used to translate the same Greek word, with none being synonymous with "forgive". It is vital that we grasp this. For example, these are some of the words that were used: "uttered" (Mark 15:37), "left" (Mark 1:18), "neglecting" (Mark 7:8), and "did not allow" (Luke 8:51 NAS).
2. Aphesis means "freedom" (or "pardon"). 8 The translators used four English words to convey its meaning: "forgiveness," "liberty," "release," and "remission." Whichever of the preceding six words we use, the intent is to describe the gift Jesus provided through His shed blood. For example, He granted "forgiveness" [pardon] to all - we need not ask for it. Like He said, "It is finished." (John 19:30). The Greek definition for "finished" is "to end, that is, complete, execute, conclude, discharge (a debt)." 9 Jesus provided "freedom" from flesh and its penalty of death, and now man must surrender his self-life - the flesh-life - to the regeneration by the Holy Spirit. The pardon provided through the blood of Jesus canceled the death sentence upon flesh for all who would receive Life in God's only begotten Son.
This next verse uses two of the synonyms for "pardon."
- The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. (Luke 4:18).
3. Apoluo means "to free fully, i.e. (literally) relieve, release, dismiss, (figuratively) let die, pardon, or (specifically) divorce." 10 It was used in these two examples in Jesus' words:
- But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32 NKJV).
- Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37 NKJV).
4. Charizomai means "to grant as a favor, i.e. gratuitiously, in kindness, pardon or rescue." 11 Two examples of English words used by the translators are:
- And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV).
- Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NKJV).
Although the word "forgive" was used in translation of each of the four main Greek words we just discussed, we cannot assume that they are synonymous. Whatever we perceive to be the meaning of "forgive," we must remember that forgiveness/pardon was granted through Jesus' shed blood. And now, we must follow Jesus by way of the Cross and die to self so that His Spirit can be our Life.
The most important type of forgiveness Jesus taught was the forgiveness that we as believers must give and receive as we live on this earth. If we expect the Father to forgive our "trespasses" [Greek: side slips], 12 we must be willing to forgive the trespasses of others. 13 How can we not follow the example Jesus set on the Cross when He cried, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do?" (Luke 23:34).
Flesh-obsessed man is also sin-obsessed. This obsession has infiltrated every avenue of teaching, preaching, and evangelism. More often than not in our "evangelizing," we focus on the sin and sins, rather than upon the new birth. Unless the Spirit of God does a REAL work in the heart of man, there will be no conversion. No matter how many times we are forgiven, it can never change what we are.
If we as Christ's ambassadors would go the way of the Cross, preaching Christ and Him crucified, we would see many more souls brought into the Kingdom of God. Old things would pass away and all things would become new. Our proclamations of the Gospel would continually lift Him up and He would draw those out of darkness into His light. We are all born without Him, and that is why we need Him. Sinners are simply souls without a Savior, seeking to find satisfaction in this life. They need to hear there is a Savior Who wants them for His own.
Smith Wigglesworth said, The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. He is ever unveiling, making manifest, breathing upon humanity in a great way, burning, quickening, until men cry out, "What must we do to be saved?" Do we think our persuasive (and condemning) words will convince a man of his sinful state? We need to be like Wigglesworth, and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work! We simply must proclaim the need for going the way of the Cross - that "need" being a solution to our condition of flesh.
If Charles Finney or Smith Wigglesworth were preaching, lives would be changed and sin would literally fall away under the Holy Spirit's conviction. Can we almost hear those preachers proclaiming how "peace cannot be found in a bottle," but in Jesus, the Prince of Peace Who calls sinners to come to Him? When faced with the reality of the Son of God, preached with power, sinners would be convicted of their sinful condition and they would come to the Lord. Sin would no longer have control over them because they have come to Jesus, the Light of the world. Even so, many a sinner has been convicted of his need for a Savior, yet foolishly never responded to Christ.
Several Greek words have been translated into the one English word "light." One of these words is used in reference to Jesus being the Light of the world 14 and has its own specific definition: "to shine, or make manifest." 15 Just as light dispels darkness when the switch is turned on, so does Jesus dispel the darkness of death when He enters a person's life. If a person wanted light in a room he would not tell the darkness to "go away." Asking forgiveness for sins committed would be about as effective. Yes, Jesus would forgive someone for his sins, but what He wants is to bring about the new birth. If there were one thing for which we should ask forgiveness, it would be this: rejecting Him for so long and not responding sooner to His call to "come."
The bible tells us, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you." (James 4:8). We must open the door to Him and be willing to surrender "self." If we remain full of self and offer to Him only our sins to be forgiven, His Spirit must look elsewhere for a temple to fill.
If the Holy Spirit is drawing a person into a relationship with Jesus, what is it that He is drawing him away from? The answer lies in the Greek definition of the word "repentance." According to Strong's Greek dictionary, repentance is "by implication, reversal (of [another's] decision)." 16 Who can the "another" be but man in the Garden of Eden?
In Acts 5:30-31 Peter was speaking to the Jews when he said, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew hanging him on a tree. Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins." Why would Peter use the words "for to give repentance to Israel?" Simply for this reason: God sent His Son as a Savior to give Israel "reversal of Adam's decision," and "pardon [remission] of sins." He made a way for them to turn from the heredity of flesh and receive pardon from its death sentence. And that is true repentance - the only way to Life. Peter also said, "The Lord does not delay and is not tardy or slow about what He promises, according to some people's conception of slowness, but He is long-suffering (extraordinarily patient) toward you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9 Amplified).
The Greek word exclusively used as "repent" literally means "to think differently or afterwards, that is, reconsider (morally to feel compunction)." 17 In every verse where this "repent" is used, "reconsider" could well have been used in its place. 18
For many years I have noticed the inescapable "calls to repentance," regardless of denomination or affiliation. Without exception, the hearers are told they must ask God to forgive their sins. In reality, they should be told what Peter said: "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38).
Even young children are condemned into repenting of their sins. Just think of a little boy, listening to a Christian tell him that he is a sinner. All he can recall at the moment is the lie he told his parents that morning. He feels guilty and asks God to forgive him. Later, as he is thinking about the events of the day, he cannot help but wonder what will happen to him if he slips up and tells another lie. He is filled with fear of sinning and "going to hell," like he heard about from the Christian. Unless the Master arrests for Himself the heart of the little boy, what will he grow up to become? The knowledge of good and evil is the force behind all this - there is no knowledge of the pure Truth. How many ministers of the Gospel are preaching condemnation to the hearers, when they ought to be proclaiming Life?
The new birth
The Old and New Testaments have been preserved for the express purpose of teaching how man became separated from God and how Jesus brought reconciliation by means of His death on the Cross. "For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." (Romans 5:10). To be saved by His life is to be born from above. Jesus reconciled all mankind to God through His death, but to be saved man must be born anew with His Life.
The bible revisers of the late 1800s used the more accurate word "anew" rather than "again." The true meaning of the translated word "anew" is "from above." 19 Man is born flesh, the offspring of flesh, and for that to change he must be born from above. The word "born" means "regenerated" according to the Greek word from which it was translated. 20 A more exact translation of Jesus' words would be: "You must be regenerated from above." (John 3:7).
John 1:11-13 explains how it is solely the work of God when a person is born anew. "He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." It is not by man's own will, nor the will of another, that a person is born from above - it is only of God. We must not think that the new birth will transpire because of repeated emotional pleas, using music and dramatic stories to tug at the heartstrings. Though the new birth experience can be emotional, it MUST be a work of God's Spirit, revealing the sinfulness of the flesh life.
The phrase "believe on his name" is found exclusively in John's record of the Gospel. Jesus' name means "Jehovah frees (or saves)." 21 Matthew's gospel says, "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for it is he that shall save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21). The meaning of His name was emphasized, and Joseph heard "Jehovah saves" when the angel of the Lord spoke the name "Jehoshua (JESUS)." When a person believes on the Name of the Lord, or calls on the Name of the Lord, he is declaring that "JEHOVAH SAVES." He is acknowledging Jesus as the Son of Jehovah and receiving Him as Savior.
"Just say this little prayer after me"
The present-day concept of what it means to be born again is also based on the error that has invaded the Church. We must fully understand the relationship between the knowledge of good and evil, flesh and blood, the Law of Moses, and the Cross of Jesus Christ. Man-made doctrines have reduced the born-again experience to a simple formula where saying a little prayer after the preacher makes us "born again." Where is the inward change? How can a formulated prayer make a new creature in Christ Jesus? Where is the surrender to the Holy Spirit?
The idea of praying "the sinner's prayer" was derived from this passage in Luke:
"Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14 NKJV).
We dare not take this publican's prayer and make it a formula for being born anew, suggesting that mere words can make us a new creature. Unless we humble ourselves and cry out from our helpless state as the penitent publican did, our words will be empty, and no door will be opened for the Holy Spirit to do His work.
In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah speaks of how he "saw the Lord." "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5) If only we could "see the Lord" in all His Glory! Then we too would cry out to be cleansed of our uncleanness. To be holy as He is Holy would be our greatest desire.
The familiar John 3:16 is followed with: "For God sent not the son into the world to judge [Greek: try, condemn, punish] 22 the world; but that the world should be saved through him." (Verse 17).
When every person is born, he is born judged - simply because he is flesh and has not yet come to rely upon Christ for salvation. As Jesus said, "He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:18).
If Jesus did not come to judge, why should we? He tells us, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." (Matthew 7:1-2 NKJV). In Jesus' compassion and love, He courts man to draw him into a relationship with Himself. If we are without loving compassion, we can drive away others from a relationship with Jesus. They may even conclude that God is a judgmental taskmaster who expects perfect performance once they become Christians. We must point them to Christ and let the Holy Spirit do His work.
Through the knowledge of good and evil and the Law of Moses, the Jews believed they were righteous by adhering to the Law. They were reticent about receiving the Messiah, preferring their own righteousness. Jesus told how they loved the darkness and would not come to the Light, lest they be admonished 23 for their evil deeds. "But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God." (John 3:21) All works are evil when rooted in the knowledge of good and evil. But the works of one born of the Spirit are wrought in God. He has a new heredity as a new creature in Christ Jesus. Therefore, since he is "doing the truth," He is not afraid to come to the light.
The Law of Moses was the accuser of Israel because it exposed their guilt. When Jesus was explaining to the Jews how Moses' Law had borne witness of Him, He told them, "Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me." (John 5:45-46 NAS).
One day, a group of scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman they had found in the act of adultery. According to the Law of Moses, an adulteress was to be stoned to death. But Jesus took the opportunity to teach a valuable lesson, even to those who were yet under the Law. He said that whoever was without sin was to cast the first stone at her. There was not one without sin, and they all left the woman alone with Jesus. When she realized that no one had condemned her, 24 Jesus told her, "I do not condemn you either. Go on your way and from now on sin no more." (John 8:11b Amplified) Then in verse 15, Jesus also spoke these words, "You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one." (NKJV).
1. Hebrews 10:1-2a
2. Greek #4893
3. It is interesting to note that the Greek word, translated "sins," is actually singular. The translators, however, made it plural in almost all verses in the New Testament.
4. Greek #2937
5. 2 Corinthians 5:17
6. Hebrew # 5545
7. Greek #863
8. Greek #859
9. Greek #5055
10. Greek #630
11. Greek #5483
12. Greek #3900
13. Matthew 6:14-15
14. John 8:12
15. Greek #5457
16. Greek #3341
17. Greek #3340
18. Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:3,5; 16:30; 17:3,4; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20; Revelation 2:5,16,21
19. Greek #509
20. Greek #1080
21. Greek #2424, taken from Hebrew #3091
22. Greek #2919
23. Greek #1651
24. John 8:3-11a