The Forgiveness of Sins
Forgiveness of sins is something we all need very desperately. Without it no sinner can enter God’s holy presence. The eyes of our God are too pure then to behold iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13). Without the forgiveness of sins the church would collapse.
Where Forgiveness is Granted
In the church of Christ we receive the promise and assurance of the forgiveness of sins. Through the forgiveness of our sins we are freed from guilt and shame; we are freed from the curse of eternal death so that we may live forever in blessed communion with God and his people.
When the birth of our Lord was announced to Mary and Joseph, the angel Gabriel told them that the child they were expecting would save his people from their sins. In harmony with what was announced at the birth of Christ, the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 21 ties the church and the forgiveness of sins together. The forgiveness of sins is the most marvellous treasure which the bride of Christ loves dearly.
By definition the church is a holy congregation and assembly of the true Christian believers, who expect their entire salvation in Jesus Christ, are washed by his blood, and are sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit.Belgic Confession Article 27
The church is entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Within the assembly of God’s people we may hear repeatedly the breathtaking gospel: “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). This is the amazing grace of every church service. We enter God’s presence having sins to acknowledge and confess. Yet the Lord says to us what He declared to the high priest Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you” (Zechariah 3:4). Since there is forgiveness we may receive the grace of the Lord and leave the assembly of God’s people with his blessing and peace.
Do We Need Forgiveness Every Day?
Among evangelical Christians there are those who suggest forgiveness of sins is something you may claim but it should not be something you need every day. The prayer “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” shouldn’t be necessary every day. These ideas have been popularized through the works of Neil Anderson. According to Mr. Anderson, if Christians continue to sin daily it is their own fault. Sin can be avoided. He contends that the reason why Christians sin is because they view themselves as sinners rather than as saints. Whether you will sin or not is a matter of how you perceive yourself. Through the power of your positive thinking you can change your life. Mr. Anderson claims, “You must see yourself as a child of God in order to live like a child of God.” (Victory over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ p. 50) “If you see yourself as a sinner you will sin; what would you expect a sinner to do?” (The Bondage Breaker p. 44). Mr. Anderson, and those who follow him, denies that saints are sinners or that Christians have a sinful nature against which they have to struggle all their life. He claims that if you are a born again Christian, the sinful nature is behind you. If you are a believer and have the mind of Christ you will sin only occasionally. You put to death the sinful nature when you were born again and therefore you should not need to ask for forgiveness of your sins on a daily basis. Whatever sin is present is merely residue and leftovers of the old mind set. If you do not think sin you will not commit sin.
Why We Need Forgiveness
Such reasoning, however, has no solid biblical basis. It demonstrates an alarming lack of self-knowledge. It misses an understanding of the human nature and of the corruption of the human heart. To say we sin only occasionally is a theological construction built upon the terrible sin of arrogance and pride. It not only betrays a shallow view of sin but also of the Lord’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt (Jeremiah 17:9). We are conceived and born in sin. Every day we fall short of the glory of God.
A sinner is not only someone who has committed a crime or has done something terrible and immoral. Sin is our failure to do what the Lord requires of us. It is the failure to be what we could have been and what we ought to have been. It is our failure to live to the praise of God’s glory with all our heart. Sin lies not only in the things we have done wrong but also in the good we have left undone.
The apostle Paul speaks pointedly about this issue in Romans 7. As a child of the Lord he humbly confesses, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (7:18, 19). Reflecting the truth of Scripture, the Canons of Dort also give us clear direction. The last chapter states,
Therefore daily sins of weakness spring up and defects cling to even the best works of the saints. These are for them a constant reason to humble themselves before God, to flee to the crucified Christ, to put the flesh to death more and more through the Spirit of prayer...
A Growing Awareness of the Extent of Sin
As we grow in knowledge of the saving merit of our Lord Jesus we become increasingly aware of the sinfulness and corruption of our human heart and the great need for forgiveness. I am the least of all the saints. I do not know any sinner who is worse than I am. As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” The apostle does not say, “of whom I was the worst before my conversion.” He remains chief of sinners! Through the working of the Holy Spirit Paul is profoundly aware of the corruption and evil of his heart. He needs the forgiveness of sins every day of his life. Knowing his own sinfulness Paul does not consider himself worthy of being an apostle.
As Christians we have only a small inkling of what we are confessing when we say with the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe ... the forgiveness of sins” It isn’t the murderer, prostitute, or drunkard, the person with a criminal record, or all those we view with a critical eye who is the worst of sinners. A kind and loving senior Christian is no less sinful than a rebellious teenager. Every Christian must bow in submission and confess, “I am the least of all the saints. I am the worst of sinners. I sin because I am a sinner. Everything I do from the beginning to the end of my life is contaminated with sin.”
We are not only guilty of sins we commit – as if those are the only ones that need to be forgiven. There are hidden faults which are concealed from the public eye and from our own perception and awareness. We need forgiveness much more than our sinful minds can begin to comprehend. As David prays in Psalm 19:12, 13, “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.”
It is an act of extreme arrogance to think ourselves less sinful than others or that we should think we can make our way through a day without the need for the forgiveness of sins. Rather than turning my focus on what others are doing wrong I must first learn to see that my situation is desperate! I deserve to die for every sin I commit against the Lord and others. Daily I need to humble myself before the face of God’s divine majesty. Humility must characterize our relationship with the Lord and with each other. It is a complete miracle of God’s love and mercy that we may confess with fellow sinners in the communion of saints, “I believe the forgiveness of sins.”
The Blessing of Forgiveness
Without forgiveness we cannot live. Forgiveness is the only way out of all our troubles. The Lord in great mercy cancels the bond which stood against us because of our sins (Colossians 2:14). He erases ours sins and wipes them all away through Christ’s atoning blood. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:7, 8, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” In Colossians 1:13, 14 he concludes,
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Lord sees everything in our lives. Nothing is hidden from the sight of our God. Yet all the sins we commit are covered by Christ’s blood. The Lord is merciful and gracious. David says in Psalm 103 that the Lord removes our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west... And how far is the east from the west? He does not say that God removes our sins from us as far as the north is from the south. For then you could say we and our sins are a long distance away, poles apart. But the Lord removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west – an immeasurable distance. There is no measurement that can be used to show how far the east is from the west. Similarly, there is nothing that can measure how far God removes ours sins from us.
When the Lord forgives your sins He promises never to hold them against you – not even on the day of judgment. For He is not like so many humans who resurrect past sins to knock the sinner over the head with them repeatedly. In worldly fashion we even deem it necessary to have a criminal check done on fellow believers. The Lord God does not keep a record of past sins and misdeeds to bring them all to mind the next time we commit an offence. He graciously grants us the satisfaction (payment) of Christ and clothes us with his righteousness so that we never come into condemnation.
Our fallen human nature will do everything to draw us away from the joy and assurance of forgiveness. Therefore, we must also use the means God has granted to us to live in the blessed assurance that our sins are forgiven. Daily we must confess our sins and seek forgiveness. Every Lord’s Day we must place our lives under the ministry of reconciliation. Such knowledge gives a child of God profound joy and happiness.
The Word of God tells us in no uncertain terms that every believer who confesses his sin can also be assured his sins will be forgiven. King Hezekiah spoke beautifully of the forgiveness of sins in a prayer he offered to the Lord after he recovered from a sickness. He said, “In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back” (Isaiah 38:17). When the Lord casts our sins behind his back, his wrath is turned away from us and his love rests upon us. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The Lord cleanses us of all our iniquity. How else could Christ say to the criminal on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43)?
We are truly blessed by the confession: I believe ... the forgiveness of sins. Each Lord’s Day the wonderful gospel of the forgiveness of sins may be proclaimed to God’s people: “Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins” (Psalm 103:2, 3). “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” (Psalm 32:1).