The Completeness of God's Forgiveness
"Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses." Acts 13:38,39
The forgiveness of sins is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is unique compared to other religions in that the cross and the resurrection of Christ provide a complete payment for sin and therefore the receiver of forgiveness can have assurance of sins forgiven.
In every other religious system, there is no full assurance because you never know if you have done enough to earn forgiveness. Have I prayed enough? Have I repented enough? Have I sacrificed enough? Have I done enough penance? Have I made enough offerings? Have I been sincere enough? How can I be sure God is satisfied?
In the gospel, man can never do enough to pay for his sins. Not only was Jesus' sacrifice for our sins complete and sufficient, his ongoing ministry as our eternal high priest is also complete and sufficient:
"Now there were many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Such a high priest meets our need-one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for sins once for all when he offered himself." Heb.7:23-27
Since God made such a great sacrifice of his own sinless Son, in order to forgive our sins that we may come into a right relationship with him, he lets us know how important our salvation is to him. He uses a variety of word pictures to describe how he has dealt with our sins. So far I have found 23. They include our sins being:
- Atoned for – “With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:7; 1John 2:2 (propitiated-satisfied/met his righteous demands); Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 5:6-18; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17
- By way of blood sacrifice, sins are forgiven, purged, covered.
- The demands of justice have been met. God’s holiness does not allow Him to wink at sin. It has to be judged. But his love leads Him to the radical step of taking the judgment we deserve on himself thereby satisfying his holiness and justice.
- Blotted out - "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." Isa.43:25
- “Blotted out” is an image from an account-book, in which, when a debt is paid, the charge is cancelled or blotted out.” Jameson Fausset and Brown commentary.
- Our sins are deleted from God's memory.
- God's forgiveness is based on His mercy, not man's efforts (see context: 43:22-44:5)
- Cleansed – “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.” Jer.33:8; Psalm 51:2; Ezk.36:33; Zech.13:1; Ephesians 5:25,26; Heb.10:22; 2Peter 1:9
- All sin is rebellion against God
- God removes what is unclean
- God sees it no more
- God brings renewal and joy through cleansing
- He even cleans up the conscience (Heb.10:22)
- Covered - "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered." Psalm 32:1; Psalm 85:2; Romans 4:7
- God sees the offender’s sins no more. As far as God is concerned, they do not exist.
- Forgiven - "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord' - and you forgave the guilt of my sin." Psalm 32:1,5; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Ephesians 1:7
- Man's part is honest, verbal confession to God (agreeing with God)
- God's part is to forgive - treat us as though we were not guilty
- God takes the pain of the transgression and guilt on himself. Under the Old Covenant this was symbolized by an animal sacrifice being made. Under the New Covenant this animal sacrifice was considered a shadow whose reality became evident in the death and resurrection of Christ, the single and final sacrifice for sin. In either case, God took the pain, guilt, judgment and shame on our behalf as an expression of his unfathomable love for us sinners.
- Forgotten - "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Jeremiah 31:34
- As part of the promised new covenant, God erases our sins from his mind.
- Our sins are not brought up to us again.
- Hurled into the depths of the sea - "You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:19
- God's forgiveness is comprehensive, covering "all" our sins
- God does not see our sins any more.
- They are dead, buried, and not brought up again.
- Made white like snow or wool [Non-existent by implication – see “Purified”] - "'Come now, let us reason together' says the Lord. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."' Isaiah 1:18
- The heinousness of our sins does not put limitations on his forgiveness
- God treats our sins as the opposite of what they are
- As far as God is concerned, they don’t exist anymore
- Not counted - "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit." Psalm 32:2; Job 14:16 (“…not keep track of my sins.” Is this what God actually does or just Job’s musings?)
- The guilty one is considered innocent (justification. His sins do not appear on his record. The courthouse judge says, “What are you doing here? Your name is not on my list.”
- One’s attitude of sincerity or integrity, is highly valued and rewarded by God. This involves admission of guilt rather than cover up, denial or justification of the sin.
- Paid for – “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:2
- The consequences of sin have been experienced. The purpose of judgment has been accomplished.
- Even when the guilt of our sin is forgiven, restoring our relationship with God, the consequences of our sins are experienced. Even they can be redemptive if we will learn from them, repent and turn away from that lifestyle.
- Pardoned - "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 33:8 (NASB = forgive in NIV); Luke 6:37 (NASB-U = forgiven in NIV)
- Man's part is repentance (turning away from that lifestyle or behavior; renouncing it; changing one’s mind)
- God’s forgiveness is motivated by his mercy
- God's forgiveness is free for the sinner but costly to God.
- God does not exact a penalty from us in order to deserve the pardon.
- Pardon is another legal term forgiving someone who has violated the law and deserves to pay for it.
- Passed over - “…whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over (left unpunished - NIV) the sins previously committed;” Romans 3:25 (NASB-U)
- Because Jesus took on the punishment of the sinner when through his death on the cross, the guilty one, who fully deserved to be punished, was not. The punishment was passed over. This picture comes from the Passover of the Jews in Egypt.
- Purified – “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3; Isaiah 1:18; Numbers 8:21; Acts 15:9; 1Peter 1:22-23; 1John 1:7
- That which was unclean has been purified making us acceptable to a pure and holy God by the blood of Jesus Christ, “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1Peter 1:19).
- Purification of the “heart by faith” of the Gentiles refers to salvation (Acts 15:9-10; 1Peter 1:22-23.) Peter also uses it to refer to salvation but puts it in the light of “now that your have purified yourselves,” live out the new birth (life) by loving each other deeply. Purification from sin leads to love because our sins, which kept us from loving, have been removed. There is no more shame, guilt or alienation.
- Purification is also part of the sanctification process as we walk with God (1John 1:7).
- Put behind his back – “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.” Isaiah 38:17
- God’s merciful actions are motivated by his love.
- God does not see them anymore.
- He is the one that removes them from his sight or from consideration. It is like coming before a judge and no charges are brought against us.
- Removed - "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:12
- Forgiveness has an eternal dimension. The distance between east and west is infinity-immeasurable. Once forgiven, the sin is not accessible. God hits the delete button and there is no recycle bin.
- Forgiveness is complete, not partial. The infraction is not visited again.
- Set free -“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” Hebrews 9:15
- This is a slave market picture where the sinner, who is in slavery to his sins, is released from a state of slavery by the ransom or payment made by the blood of Christ.
- Sprinkled - “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:22; 9:13-14
- By having our guilty conscience cleaned up, we are able to draw near to a holy God with confidence as there is nothing between us.
- God does not only deal with our sins, but goes beyond the acts to their source, our sinfulness. He deals with us at the heart level, the conscience level, bringing us into the freedom and joy of communion with Him.
- God’s cleansing deals with the whole man-spirit and body. Is this a reference to baptism?
- Swept away - "I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you." Isaiah 44:22
- Clouds or the morning mist are seen for a while then disappear as if someone just swept them away. This is what God does with our sins.
- As far as God is concerned, they don’t exist anymore and therefore are never brought up again.
- Our sin offends God because of his nature of moral perfection and because it is a rejection of his love for us.
- As the morning mist disappears, God leaves no trace of our sins when he sweeps them away. It is as though they were never there.
- God leaves the initiative of repentance to us, respecting our free will; – “Return to me…”
- God has already done his part in redemption. The cross is behind us. Repentance is before us to choose.
- Taken away – “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, "The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.  But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” 2Samuel 12:13-14; Isaiah 6:7; Zechariah 3:4; 1John 2:1-2 (NLT)
- Forgiveness is free. It is not cheap because someone else has paid the price. (Mohandas Gandhi, as a 15 year old in S. Africa, drove his father to meetings. On one occasions he was to pick him up at 5.30pm. Gandhi went to a movie and forgot about the pick up. While the son drove home, the father walked in order to think about what he did not do to teach him responsibility).
- The consequences of sin are costly. The price tag goes up the older we get and the more responsibility we have.
- God's reputation is marred by our sin
- To take away is to remove out of sight so that it is not considered anymore
- Trodden under foot - "You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins under foot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:19
- God conquers our sins.
- Our sins do not have control of us.
- God’s treatment of our sins is motivated by his heart of compassion
- Washed - "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." Psalm 51:2; 1Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:22; Revelation 7:14
- When He washes away our sin, God does not see it any more. As far as He is concerned, it does not exist.
- When a little boy is bathed, he looks good and smells good. God wants us to look good and smell good—he is concerned for our dignity and disposition.
- Wiped out - "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you-even Jesus." Acts 3:19
- Man's part is repentance-turning away from sin and turning to God and his ways.
- In wiping out our sins, God does not see our sins any more.
- Wiped out equals blotted out in other translations.
- What does the fruit of repentance and forgiveness look like? Renewal, refreshment, joy.
- God’s face hidden from them - "Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity." Psalm 51:9
- This time the Psalmist, probably king David, uses terms God has used in scripture, to deal with his sins.
- To hide his face is to not see the sins or to treat them as though they did not happen.
- David knew that if God was to require judgment of his sins, he would be destroyed – Psalm 103:10.
- Nineteen out of the twenty three pictures cited so far first appear in the Old Testament.
- God's provision for forgiveness, through the death and resurrection of Christ, is so complete and sufficient that it was made once for all.
- God leaves no trace of our sins to be discovered or revisited.
- His forgiveness covers all our sins no matter how heinous they may have been.
- God’s forgiveness deals with the violation of his standard (legal dimension), the guilt (moral/spiritual dimension) and the shame (psychological/emotional dimension) of our sins by holding nothing against us.
- Forgiveness does not remove the consequences of our sins.
- People need to honestly acknowledge & repent of their sins.
In 1996, I got involved in putting on an addition to our house in Lake George, Colorado. For the plumbing, the inspector wanted to see a pressure test to make sure that there were no leaks in the plumbing system so that the people living in that house would not experience any health hazards. To me this is a good picture of how complete God's forgiveness is. It is air-tight. There are no leaks!
How do we respond to such marvelous truth?
- We praise our wonderful, merciful & compassionate Lord for his love for us and his desire to fellowship with us to the extent that he will provide such a perfect answer to our uncleanness.
- We thank the Lord for how much our sins cost him even though forgiveness is free for us.
- We want to be honest about our sins and quickly confess them, appropriating the provision of the blood of Christ, which was shed to wash "all" our iniquity.
- We repent, turning away from our sinful ways, and turning to the Lord by the power of his victory over sin that we may fulfill his purpose of making us "holy and blameless in his sight." Philippians 1:4
- We want to forgive others who sin against us in the same compassionate and complete way that God forgives us. Once we have forgiven, we should never bring up the offense again because God never revisits our forgiven sins.
- We want to accept the consequences of our sins, make restitution where possible, and not be overcome by them.
- We want to put past sins and failures behind us and not let them hinder our present life since God has put them behind him.
"But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13, 14
Cardinal Sin story
Around the year 2000, a Philippino woman told Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila, that she had a word from the Lord for him. He couldn’t be bothered, but she kept badgering him.
To get rid of her he asked her to ask the Lord to reveal a particular sin in his life.
She came back.
“Did you ask the Lord?”
“Oh yes,” she said.
“Oh no!” he replied. “What sin was it? “
“God said he didn’t remember.”