What is the difference between pardon and forgiveness? Pardon in the Greek means simply “to let loose” or “set free.” A pardon is the remission of punishment and release from penalty for a legal offense. However, full pardons do not imply innocence nor erase a criminal record, and fines cannot be recovered. A “conditional pardon” means serving a lesser punishment. A pardon does not allow the offender to return to equal status before the offense. The offender is still guilty, still has a criminal record and may have to pay restitution. In the Greek forgiveness implies “a remission of debt, or sin.” To forgive means to cease to feel resentment and the need for revenge against the offender. It also means to give up claim to restitution and retribution, and set free the offender of guilt. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him and let go in order that your Father Who is in heaven may also forgive you your own failings and shortcomings and let them drop. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your failings and shortcomings” (Mark 11:25-26). “Then Peter came up to Him and said, Lord, how many times may my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? As many as up to seven times? Jesus answered him, I tell you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). “In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses, in accordance with the riches and the generosity of His gracious favor” (Ephesians 1:7). Forgiveness allows the offender to return to equal status before the offense. We forgive because God forgave us. The first thing God does for us in the redemptive process is forgive us. Our redemption is justified if we forgive.
An example explaining the difference between pardon and forgiveness would be as follows. A young boy was working for grocery store and was caught stealing. The store owner said, “What should I do with you?” The owner thinking his own heart was filled with mercy, and he knew how to forgive, said, “I will forgive you. But you must leave my store and never return.” The boy thought for minute and said back to him, “But, Sir! You said you would forgive me. That is not forgiveness. That is pardon. You are pardoning my offense and not requiring a penalty, but you are not restoring me to my position as before.”
Scripture offers the best in constructive and positive insights, values and guidelines for conducting just and fair processes to help deal with criminal offenders. The Christian church must challenge any criminal justice system that does not follow biblical justice. Forgiveness lies at the heart of compassion and sits at the center of the cross. To forgive an offender, it means forgiving the offense, the penalty associated with it and restoring him to his original status. If God has forgiven us through Christ, then we need to learn how to forgive one another. Christ pardoned my sins when He shed His blood, but He brought me into the fullness of forgiveness when He died, was buried and rose again. Jesus came to pardon us, to wipe out our sins, and to clean the slate. But he went beyond that to give us the total, absolute forgiveness of god. “As He is, so are we in this world” (1John 4:17). We are joint heirs with Christ. He took us a sinner and brought us into a place of equality with himself.
The following are legal terms used in relation to pardons and forgiving. “Amnesty” is the act of a sovereign power granting oblivion (general pardon, forgetting) from a past offense, but may have certain requirements attached. The constitution does not use the word “amnesty” and is not recognized in our legal system. Amnesty is generally employed where pardon is extended to whole classes or communities rather than an individual. The distinction between amnesty and pardon is philological rather than legal. “Clemency” is different in that the penalty is lessened without forgiving the crime. An offender may be given clemency if capital punishment is not carried out. A “reprieve” is when Governments pardon an offender if he/she has demonstrated fulfillment of debt to society, or if he/she has been wrongfully convicted. “Exculpation” is to clear from alleged fault or guilt, to prove guiltless, to justify, being free from charge or burden, to set free from the consequences or penalties of violation, or to acquit of all participation in a crime.
“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy (every evil, abusive, injurious speaking, or indignity against sacred things) can be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not and cannot be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, the Holy One, will not be forgiven, either in this world and age or in the world and age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). Can a “true” (born again) Christian keeping God’s commandments and laws commit the unforgivable sin? No! There is no biblical support for a true believer committing the unforgivable sin. If you are worried that you have committed the unforgivable sin and cannot be forgiven then you should not worry because if you are worried about it, you most likely haven’t committed it. People have committed the unforgivable sin have no conscience or sensitivity to be concerned. So it matters not to them.
In serious capital crimes, pardon may not be attainable, but if the offender repents and becomes a new person in Christ with proven behavioral changes, it is our responsibility as Christians to forgive him. “Pay attention and always be looking out for one another” (Luke 17:3). If your brother sins, seriously tell him so and express disapproval to him, and if he repents, forgive him.” So it becomes the victim’s depth of relationship with God as to his/her ability to forgive in such circumstances. “The Lord is slow to anger (long-suffering) and abundant in mercy and loving-kindness (rich in faithful love), forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion (forgiving iniquity and transgression). But He will not leave the guilty unpunished (by no means clear the guilty), bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18 and Exodus 34:6-7). “The Lord responded; I have pardoned them as you requested. Yet as surely as I live and as the whole earth is filled with the Lord’s Glory, none of the men who have seen My Glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tested Me these ten times and did not obey Me, will never see the land I swore to give their fathers. None of these who have despised Me will see it” (Numbers 14:20). In the above verses, God did pardon the Israelites, but He did not forgive them by His announcement of punishment. Even though a person is pardoned, there still is a need for social and divine justice.