So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents form doing harm. (Joel 2:13–14—NKJV)

These two verses are the central message of the prophecy of Joel. As you most certainly will suspect from the message of these verses, authentic forgiveness is not a light-hearted matter nor is God one with whom to trifle. All the highest virtues of forgiveness that a human can desire are modeled in this passage for saved and unsaved alike. As we will see by the end of this study, final forgiveness so that one may enter heaven is only received through faith in the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ, but that does not stop every man from practicing the biblical principles of forgiveness with his fellow man today.

The first step toward being granted full and complete forgiveness is a repentant heart. It was a very Jewish thing to display contrition of heart for calamity by tearing the outer garment, putting on sackcloth and casting ashes in the air. It was an external display of internal anguish over feelings of regret, deeply felt. However, just as in our day, some wanted to be seen to be repentant by external signs, but inside there remained still the rebel’s insolence and the miser’s reserve. Were there is no real repentance there is no real forgiveness. Joel calls believers to really repent in the heart—the center of volition, emotion, deliberate thoughtfulness, and the wellspring of action.

Such genuine repentance is expressed by the Hebrew word translated “return” in our text. It is a word which signifies forsaking your previous action, turning the whole way around until your heart is turned toward God and away from your former path. It is a one hundred and eighty degree turn. Repentance is always made of such stuff. This is the repentance that God loves all the more for its rarity among men.

Once you have set out upon this course, God desires that you pursue rightness and justness no matter what the cost. Proverbs 4:23–27 reads, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil.” Real, genuine repentance looks exactly like this to a watching world. Is it any wonder that when a sinner repents and turns to God he has no problem owning Jesus Christ as His Savior, Master, & Lord, and following in His steps?

To such a penitent heart, God opens up the storehouse of His wealth of forgiveness. Holy Spirit authored repentance is the only key that unlocks the door. The repentant sinner finds within God’s storehouse of forgiveness, all sorts of heavenly riches purchased by the substitutionary death of the Son of God (1 John 2:2). Joel tells us that within, we find out that God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. Exodus 34:6–7 states, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin….” Psalm 86:5 reads, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.”

Take time to read Psalm 103 where you will find these words, “Bless the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Real forgiveness comes from Christ’s work on the cross. “The Son…in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:14).” Are you assured of God’s forgiveness and His bountiful blessings by being under the blood of Christ? Are you modeling genuine forgiveness among men because you are a beneficiary of divine, eternal forgiveness? Trust and obey.