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The Divine Delete Button: Forgive and Forget

“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.’” (Luke 23:34, CSB)


“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4, NAS)


I went to a fascinating Men’s Bible study today. The guys were talking about “What does it look like to live as a new people?” from the study guide, The Story of God: An Epic Journey Through The Scriptures. The lesson was surprisingly short but deeply insightful. May I share how it inspired me?




The lesson focused on two words: indicative and imperative. (Oops. I think I just saw someone’s eyes glaze over.) I know it sounds dry, but give me a moment.


An indicative means “showing, signifying, or pointing out,” as in, “That guy whose eyes just glazed over is indicative of his lack of a morning cup of joe.” An imperative means “a command” and “something that demands attention or action; an unavoidable obligation or requirement; necessity” (, as in, “Wake up, fella! This is a Bible study, not a bedroom!”


So, why is this indicative/imperative thing a big deal? Because it’s all over the Bible and is vital to our spiritual lives. Lemme ‘splain.


In short, an indicative is an example, and an imperative is a command.


An indicative drives the imperative because an indicative provides an example that shows us how to do a command.


In other words, an example provides a model to carry out a command. We can also find great motivation to carry out the command depending on the model.


Without the example, we’ll lack the model and motivation to obey the command in the best way possible. Therefore, we need both parts – the indicative and imperative – to be the person God wants us to be, but those two things need to be in the proper order, especially as it relates to our spiritual lives.


Biblically speaking, if we put the indicative in front of the imperative, the example before the command, 1) we have a model to follow, 2) the model motivates us to follow the command, and 3) the reasoning and the strength we need to obey doesn’t depend on us, but on the One who commands us.


But if we put the imperative before the indicative or remove it entirely, the whole process changes dramatically! 1) We have no model to follow, 2) we have no motivation to do the command, and 3) anything we try to do will depend solely on our reasoning and strength, and we all know how effective that is in our spiritual lives. We can end up crushing ourselves and those around us because we lack the motivation or the proper model to follow. (Hat tip to Arnie from the Bible study for this comment.)


The crush happens when we follow the “letter of the law” without the example and the help of the One who gave us His commands to show us how to live as His people. This is one reason the Israelites had difficulty obeying God’s commands under the Sinai covenant. This same reason also explains the difficulty many Christians encounter when following God’s commands for a godly life.


Why did Jesus come to earth as a human being? From our Sunday School days until now, we’re told (and rightly so) that Jesus had to be both God and human to be the perfect substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. But Jesus also came to show us what a human being would be like if they obeyed God perfectly.


Read it for yourself. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38), “‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work,’ Jesus told them” (John 4:34), and “I can do nothing on my own. I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30) (italics author).


Ah-ha! Jesus is our indicative, our example. That means we’re supposed to follow His example and should expect commands to do so. Mull these two verses over.


First, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). That doesn’t mean we enter God’s kingdom by doing good works. That conclusion contradicts clear Bible statements about the gift of salvation (“the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Romans 6:23). What this means is you can claim that you’re in God’s kingdom by declaring that Jesus is your Lord, but only your obedience proves whether you are or not. Jesus unequivocally followed His Father’s will, and we’re expected to do the same.


What’s that you say? That’s not enough to prove we must follow the Father’s will? Well, try this second verse. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). Put differently, just as our elder brother followed our Heavenly Father’s will, we only prove to be Jesus’ siblings if we do the same. The command is implied.


Many other instances of this indicative/imperative (example/command) form are in the Bible.


Indicative: “When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them…” (Matthew 5:1).


Imperative: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).


Indicative: “Then he (young Jesus) went down with them (His parents) and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51)


Imperative: “For God said: Honor your father and your mother; and, whoever speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death”   (Matthew 15:4).


Here’s an instance where Jesus puts the two together in one sentence. “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you (indicative), you are also to love one another (command restated).” (John 13:34). That’s right. Jesus’ disciples are commanded (it’s not optional, people) to love one another just like Jesus loves each of us. So, how does Jesus love us?


That’s a great topic that I’ll leave up to your personal or small group Bible study time. However, let’s take just one example. It’s where Jesus showed us how to forgive and commanded us to do the same. First, let’s run through what it means to forgive.


As a Bible word, one of the main words for forgive in the New Covenant scriptures is aphiemi, “to send away, dismiss, suffer to depart; to emit, send forth” (Mounce) and “to send away, leave alone, permit” (NAS Greek Dictionary). Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says the Greek usage is “to send off” with the nuances of release, hurl, let be, and pardon. To release from office, obligation, debt, penalty.” To forgive is the “undeserved releasing of the man from something that might just have been inflicted upon him or exacted from him (Barclay).” So far, so good.


A dictionary definition. The dictionary defines “forgive” as 1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve. 2. to give up all claims on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.). If I’m reading this right, 1 is to release the offense that caused a debt or obligation claim. 2 is to release the debt or obligation because the offense has been annulled. (


Etymology: The word’s root. Our word, “forgive,” comes to us from Old English; for-, here probably “completely,” + giefan “to give,” meaning to “completely give” something. Late Old English sharpens it even more, “to give up desire or power to punish” ( Now, that hits at the root of what forgiveness is.


When someone sins against us (either real or perceived), we claim they owe us some kind of compensation, which we must extract from them – an apology, a payment, or other. If we’re particularly ungodly, that compensation for the offense becomes our way of punishing them for what they did to us. “That person offended me. Therefore, they owe me…”. See how that works? Sadly, the degree to which we want to punish them is proportional to how painful we regard the offense.


“What? Someone made a snide comment about me? Then the culprit must endure the pain of humbling themselves, admitting what they did, and apologize to me.”


“What? A merchant cheated me on the price? Now, they get to experience the pain of humiliation and the financial drain of getting dragged through court proceedings for fraud.


“What? My roommate ate the last of the Earl’s Cheese Puffs I had surreptitiously squirreled away in the cupboard behind the peanut butter, pasta boxes, and Hamburger Helper? Nothing short of the death penalty will do!” Okay, so I’m exaggerating. But not by much. Have you ever experienced the Earl’s Cheese Puffs cheddar rush? It blitzes your taste buds with delight.




Okay, confession time. During that pause just now, I had to jump up and grab a handful of the little orange delights. Now my keyboard has orange dots on the keys (as I wipe my hands on my shirt).


All silliness aside, forgiving means willingly surrendering our right to punish the other person. When we truly forgive someone, we dismiss and send away their offense against us and release them from any obligation, debt, or penalty we sought to impose on them to satisfy us. We genuinely give up our desire or power to punish them. It makes sense, after all. If we nullify the offense, we have no claim for punishment.


And this is where we connect to the indicative/imperative part.


Jesus is indicative (our example) of forgiveness. While being crucified, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34). Not only did Jesus refuse His right to punish His executioners and their accomplices, but He asked His Father to dismiss their offense of killing an innocent man unjustly and release them from the penalty for the crucifixion.


Let this sink in. Those whom Jesus forgave committed the worst crime possible – killing God’s Son, the only wholly innocent and morally pure person ever to live. Talk about the ultimate injustice.


And let’s not forget that Jesus wouldn’t have had to submit Himself to this unjust death were it not for our sins. So, we’re just as guilty for His self-sacrificing act, and He still forgives us completely when we come to Him. The Triune God drops our offenses against Him and refuses His divine right to punish us.


It boggles the mind.


Now that Jesus has set the example (indicative), His command (imperative) carries the weight of His authority and His example behind it. We’re to do precisely the same.


“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him (Greek imperative); and if he repents, forgive him (also the Greek imperative)” (Luke 17:3). The Greek imperative mode “expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding” (Blue Letter Bible, Greek Parsing).


Have you got that? Jesus’ imperatives/commands are never optional by virtue of His authority over the spiritual and natural realms (Matthew 28:18). We are to obey what Jesus modeled by forgiving others, even those who aren’t saved. Doubt me? Were the Roman executioners saved? No. Did Jesus forgive them? Yes. How much more should we be ready and willing to forgive our fellow disciples with whom we serve the same Lord?


The excellent news is this. Not only does Jesus’ example motivate and empower us to follow suit, but Jesus also gave us His Holy Spirit to help us. If we try to obey Jesus’ commands apart from His example and the Holy Spirit’s help, most, if not all of us Christians will find it impossible to forgive someone who offends us. Again, if we try to obey the command without the example and the motive or power it offers, we risk crushing ourselves and those around us. But with Jesus’ example and the Holy Spirit’s help, we can dismiss, send away, and disregard any offense that comes our way.


But now, for the forgiveness question that often comes my way. “Have we forgiven someone completely if we can still remember the pain they caused us?” The simple answer is yes because forgiveness is just the refusal to punish someone. Forgiveness doesn’t dissolve the memory of what our offender did to us or the pain they caused. But even in this, we have an example to follow.


I love the verse, “Who is a God like you, forgiving iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not hold on to his anger forever because he delights in faithful love. He will again have compassion on us; he will vanquish our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19, italics author).


Our God not only forgives our offenses against Him, but He “vanquishes “them. Another translation reads, “treads under foot,” and the word is kavash, to subdue. Have you heard someone say, “He put the kibosh on it, and now it’s over.” In other words, the situation is done, and we can, as the old-time New York mobsters put it, “Fugget about it!”


And that’s what God, our Example, does. He casts all our sins into the depths of the sea, forgets they ever existed, and puts up a sign for us that reads, “No fishing.”


That’s our example. When someone commits an offense against us, we should learn to hit the Divine Delete Button to erase any reason to punish the offender. And no fishing.


But there’s no command to forget the offense or stop feeling the pain. I bet most of us can forgive and forget the minor offenses. But it seems to take a special person who can forgive and forget all offenses, especially the biggest and most painful. You know, someone like Jesus.


Remembering an offense is not all bad. If someone offends us, sometimes we need to remember what happened to keep ourselves from being harmed again by the same person. Also, the pain from an offense reminds us to make sure we’ve genuinely dropped our right to punish our offender and not do to another what was done to us.


See? We can find a redemptive purpose even within the memory and the pain from an offense.


But thankfully, a day is coming when God will give us the power to forgive and forget just like He does.


“For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; he will guide them to springs of the waters of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes… He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (Revelation 7:17, 21:4, italics author).


I can’t wait.


In the meantime, hit the Divine Delete Button as best you can. We have the best example and the power to help us forgive as we’ve been commanded.



Shining the Light of God’s Truth on the Road Ahead


Pastor Jay Christianson

The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts


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