Does God forgive?God declares Himself to be "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6–7). The God of the Bible is a God who forgives. In fact, the Bible says "He does not retain His anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love" (Micah 7:18). Some other translations say He "delights to show mercy." So the God of the Bible actually enjoys forgiving. He enjoys it so much that Isaiah 30:18 says, "Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you" (NASB). So if God longs to be gracious, what is He waiting for? How do we receive this forgiveness He is waiting to give?
God's forgiveness comes through repentance. First John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." However, it is not merely speaking about our sins to God. True repentance includes a turning away from those sins back toward a reliance on God. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God promises, "if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." That promise is repeated in Jeremiah 36:3: "one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin." God forgives any humble, repentant sinner who turns away from sin back toward God. First John 1:9 makes it clear that all we have to do is ask. There is no need to have lived a worthy life before committing the sin or to make up for our sin by good deeds afterward.
Jesus assured that repentance is all that is necessary when He extended forgiveness to the criminal who was crucified next to Him. Another criminal railed against Jesus, but this criminal rebuked him saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong… Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:40–42). To which, Jesus replied, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). This criminal had committed a serious crime worthy of the death penalty. There is no evidence that any part of his life previously possessed any redeeming qualities. Because he was on the cross, death was imminent so there would be no opportunity to make up for his sin through future good works. He would not be baptized, or pray more prayers, or evangelize to others. He was about to die and he knew that death was the "due reward" for his deeds.
The Bible teaches that death is actually the due reward for any and every sin: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). It also teaches that "surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins" (Ecclesiastes 7:20; see also Romans 3:10–11, 23). We are all, like the criminal on the cross, rightly under a death penalty. Graciously, Romans 6:23 finishes with "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The criminal on the cross shows us how to receive that new life in Christ. First, he acknowledged his sin and agreed that he deserved death. Secondly, he recognized Jesus for who He is—the son of God who lived a holy, sinless life and then sacrificed that life on the cross. And finally, he asked Jesus to be in relationship with him. This humble repentance was all that was necessary for the criminal to receive forgiveness and a life with Jesus in Paradise.
Indeed, King David knew from his own sinful life marked by adultery and murder that the sacrifices God accepts "are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51:17). With the example of the criminal under the death penalty and King David the adulterous murderer being forgiven by God, we can rest assured there is no sin for which a humble and repentant sinner cannot be forgiven. In fact, God is eager to forgive sin and exercise mercy and extend compassion. He is merely waiting for your repentant heart.
What is the meaning of God being rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4)?
The grace of God—What is it?
Is repentance necessary for salvation? What is repentance?
How does salvation involve both justice and mercy?
How do I receive forgiveness from God?
Truth about Salvation