God’s call for followers of Christ to forgive does not find its meaning and power in man but in God. That means man does not relate to God on man’s terms, but rather God relates to man on His own terms. Gods call for us to forgive is radical in essence, relational in its outworking, and redemptive in its end.
Who, then, is God? “He is the creator and sustainer of all. He is infinite, eternal and unchanging in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.” He is righteous in all of His ways, never wrong, simply awesome and the object of the heavenly host's proclamation day and night, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!”
Who is man? Man is created by God in his own image; made that he might know, love, enjoy and obey his maker in all of his desires, thoughts, and actions; failing on all accounts, yet still bearing God’s signature; in infinite debt and missing all the payments.
Enter Christ, the perfect image of God, the second member of the Trinity, Son of God existing for all eternity. He willingly enters history, lives in human skin, knows what it means to be human, is righteous in all of His ways, dies for us, and offers his perfection to God in our place. He willingly offers his life of love and obedience to God in the place of our life of complete and willing hatred for God. By Him, our debt is completely removed, making us able to fulfill our call to be the spotless image of God on earth—the goal of our redemption. Jesus Christ is grace.
There are many things that could be observed in light of this, but for the sake of observing forgiveness I draw the following: Forgiveness, as defined by God, is willingly costly and ultimately redemptive.
First, forgiveness is given willingly, not begrudgingly because this is how Christ forgives. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame.” May this be a comfort to all the sheep of God who quiver and waver in the certainty of their place in Christ. He came to die for sin in joy, not spite! In doing so, the infinite and terrible cost of Christ’s sacrifice is arrayed in the beauty and shimmer of joy.
As we see in Christ, forgiveness is also costly. No cost could be greater, for nothing could be added to the death of Christ. Forgiveness not only costs the death of infinite and perfect life, but it also could only be done if Jesus, as God, humbled Himself to be subjected to the lowly status of the man of dust he created. The magnitude of this beauty and horror cannot be fully fathomed by the minuscule mind of man, so we simply must stand in awe.
Second, forgiveness is ultimately redemptive. Forgiveness of our sin is a means to an end, not an end in itself because Christ died so that we might be reconciled to God. “For all who believed he gave power to become the sons of God.” Forgiveness serves redemption’s purpose of our relationship with God being made whole again. God did not give a half-hearted effort in our salvation by forgiving us of our current sin and then leaving us in our inherent unrighteousness. No, God’s grace overflowed in our salvation that we might not only be forgiven but given a perfect standing before him, reconciled back to God as sons and daughters to be forever embraced, cared for and to live under his perfect rule.
This vertical relationship with our maker has everything to do with our horizontal relationships with our fellow man. This is made crystal clear by the words of Christ when he says, “If you do not forgive others their trespasses your father in heaven will not forgive your trespasses.” The only way that we can truly forgive anybody for anything is if we have been forgiven by God. In other words, true forgiveness of the man beside us (horizontal) can only exist if we have been forgiven and reconciled to God (vertical).
God’s forgiveness of us defines, motivates, and empowers us to forgive. Therefore, the call of Christ to forgive is not a call to look within but a call to trust him, it is a call to display to others what we have received ourselves. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” God will not be mocked by lip service, but he warns by saying, “If you do not forgive others their trespasses your father in heaven will not forgive your trespasses.” In other words, this cannot be faked. The degree to which we are unwilling to forgive our neighbour is the degree to which we will not know and experience the forgiveness of God.
The call of Christ is simple to us. We are called to forgive willingly those who hurt us, absorbing the cost, all with the goal of reconciling the damaged relationship. May our longing be for the image of God to be displayed in us as we experience God’s forgiveness and extend it to our neighbour; all so that we may join heavens hosts in proclaiming God’s unchanging glory now and forever.
 New City Catechism