What is the forgiveness of sins? This article explains the necessity of being forgiven by God, the object of this forgiveness, and the fruit of being forgiven.

Source: The Banner of Truth (NRC), 1987. 4 pages.

The Forgiveness of Sins

Seest thou this woman? [...] Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much…

Luke 7:44, 47

With her tears, that woman had made wet Jesus' feet She kissed His feet, and anointed them with ointment. Simon the Pharisee had watched her disapprovingly. His pharisaical heart could not understand it, and his hypocritical thoughts could not approve it. The Forgiveness of SinsIt must be a big mistake! If Jesus really was that prophet, He should have known what kind of woman she was. No, Simon could not appreciate it!

Of course Jesus knew the woman. He knew who she was. He said: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much…" Jesus made a comparison between the actions of this woman and Simon … and that comparison served to the great disadvantage of Simon.

What was the great difference between the self-righteous Simon and that sinful woman? You can answer with one word: Love! She loved Jesus in re­turn for receiving forgiving love from Him. This was something the woman experienced and Simon did not.


Every Sunday night we hear the centuries-old words: "I believe in … the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." Automatically, we will repeat them in our thoughts, or … perhaps we don't hear them at all, because our thoughts are somewhere else. Unfortunately, the words do not touch our hearts. These mighty words about the one, holy, catholic church, connect us with the church of all ages. Generation after generation has confessed: "I believe the forgiveness of sins." It is not a small number that extols it. No! It is a great number, a multitude, which no man can number. Even at the present time there is in this confession a union with the living Church in all places of this world.

Everyone in past ages, and even today, have the same need. Because of our sins we have cut off communion with God and we have subjected ourselves to a three-fold death. This is tragic. Sin is the greatest evil. Sin is a crime against God, the Most High Lord, and its result is temporal and eternal punishment. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). How necessary is the "forgive­ness of sins" – necessary for us to be saved, and necessary to experience the joy of praising God's holy Name.

For Whom and How?🔗

For whom is forgiveness available, and how is it obtained? What is necessary to know and how can we know it? Can we obtain assurance of forgiveness? These are just a few questions which live in the hearts of many young people. No doubt there are many additional vital, theological questions here. – Questions which you not only think of while attending church services or in catechism classes but also while at school, at work, or at home with your family.

Knowledge of Sin🔗

"What is going on, my dear?" asks mother. "What is she worrying about?" father asks mother. "Why don't you like to play with us anymore?" ask her friends. Oh, it can become such a heavy burden – not only for a special sin, but our daily sins! The Forgiveness of SinsActs of commission and/or omission. Sins against the Lord! This is something other than our "worn out" conceptions of sin.

To experience sin as sin, we need the Holy Ghost to convict us of sin (John 16:8a). Then you do not only see sins but grieve over them. Sinning does not come as easy as before. Why not? Because you have to deal with God! In the penitential Psalms we hear of the saints of olden times – how they viewed their sins as crimes, trespasses, iniquities, and offenses against God!

That's what you have to deal with now. You become quiet. You have a heavy heart. It isn't fun anymore to play with your friends as you did before. Rather, you desire to often be alone to pour out your heart before the Lord. You prefer to read a portion of the Bible or another edifying book, hoping that something might be for your comfort. Your family may ask: "Is he down­stairs alone again? What is he doing there all the time?"

Confession of Guilt🔗

When we learn to know our sins, we want to confess them. We do this with a broken, contrite heart, for we have sinned against a well-doing God. He never did anything wrong against us … and still, we have offended, insulted Him. What pain, grief, sorrow and affliction! We would never plead for forgiveness as long as we do not know our trespasses. As long as we have not accepted our guilt, we cannot acknowledge them. Guilt of trespasses! Guilt of falling away from God! Guilt of our rejecting of God's invitations! The thief on the cross confessed it right: "We receive the due reward of our deeds!"

In my thoughts I see a young man. What a sight he is! He is ill-clothed. He is filthy. He sits by a herd of swines – diminished in greatness! That's how we view him now. He realizes this, too. His brooding eyes tell us that his thoughts are in another world. The tremendous country-house of his father! He sees his father's servants and the hired ones. They are the day-laborers that are hired in the morning for one day. But see them in the late afternoon. Then they sit at his father's well-provided, loaded table. And he … the native son of his father? He sits here starving in the filthy muck.

How come, young man? His own guilt. He ran away from his father. He has spent all his father's money. He had despised his father's love and nearness. Now he thinks, ponders and compares … what he has had, what he has lost, and what he has done!

"I will arise, and go to my father!" That's the way back, my friend. "And I will say unto him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am not worthy to be called thy son." This is making confession of guilt.

In the Bible I read about a king: "I acknowledged my sin unto Thee and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord" (Ps. 32:5). I read in the seven penitential Psalms (6, 32, 51, 102, 130, 143) of children of God and how they confessed their sins before God and men. It is moving! Stirring! Touching!

Augustine was a great man in church history. Let us follow him into his death-chamber. No one is with us there. The church-father wanted to be alone. Ten days he lay there alone. Time and again his eyes turned to the walls of his room. What was it that he was there? He looked at the quires of parchment with the penitential Psalms, which upon his request had been nailed to the walls. What else did he do? Continually weep­ing, he repeated the words of these psalms again and again. This is the way he died. This man of consequence in Christ's Church died as a penitent!


The Forgiveness of SinsPenitent, penance, contrition, repentance, penitence … Penitence means to be ready for, and inclined to, penitential exercises. It means accepting the penalty of sin, acknowledging deserved punishment, as did the thief on the cross: "We receive the due reward of our deeds!"

Penitence is not always viewed in a right way. Luther spoke about a hypo­critical penitence which only concerns itself with the consequences of our sin. Then I want only to be delivered from the disadvantages of my sin. Then I am much more concerned about my pun­ishment, concerned about myself instead of concerned about offending the Lord. Luther called this penitence, "gallows-repentance." When David accepted his punishment, he sang his penitential song in Psalm 51.

The Way but Not the Basis🔗

Does all of this belong to the forgiveness of sins? Is this so necessary? Yes! Confession of guilt and penitence are the way to, but not the basis for, forgiveness. By means of the Apostle John, the Lord Himself said in His Word: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8, 9). Solomon wrote: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13). His father, King David wrote similarly in Psalm 32:5 after he experienced for­giveness in his personal life.

Confession of guilt is the way to­wards forgiveness. It is, moreover, the Lord's right, for we have sinned against Him. We have violated His justice. We must, and by grace, we may, make confession of guilt.


Confession of sin has to be a part of our prayers. We hear in the penitential Psalms, the godly supplicating for God in their closets in a deeply moving and touching manner. How should we otherwise confess our guilt and sins? To our prayers should not only belong a confession, but also a pleading for forgiveness: "Have mercy upon me, O God … blot out my transgressions; wash me thoroughly from sin and in­iquity and cleanse me from my sin" (Ps. 51:1, 2). The Forgiveness of SinsAnd the prayer out of the depth, "But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared" (Ps. 130). Again in Psalm 79, "O, remember not against us former iniquities; lest Thy tender mercies speedily prevent us." To mention one more, let's listen to the highly favored publican: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner'' These are humble, meek supplications to be forgiven, offered out of the depths of the heart. I do not need to point towards more prayers of Biblical saints. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself says: "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father … forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." This has to be our daily prayer, for we sin daily. We shall never out­grow our need for forgiveness in this life. What is more, whenever a sinner truly makes confession, the Lord shall hear and forgive him. "Rebuke me not in Thine anger … have mercy upon me, O Lord." May this be our sincere, genuine prayer of the heart.

It is no small wonder when your sins and guilt have become a heavy burden, that you become quiet and want to be alone. This has been the experience of God's people throughout all ages. The heart of God's Church beats in this confession. We hear it in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 51 – Question 126, "Be pleased for the sake of Christ's blood, not to impute to us poor sinners, our transgressions, nor that depravity which always cleaves to us…" Not our repentance, our confessions of guilt, our tears of penitence, our prayers, but … only the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, is the basis of forgiveness. That is the only ground and foundation. God's justice has to be satisfied, and that is perfectly, completely satisfied by Christ.

Only by True Faith🔗

How can the wounded conscience be cured? How can the broken heart be healed? How do we receive an inward rest again? Not an idle rest with­out any basis – but a real peace with God, because He blotted our guilt out of His book, and He does not look upon any of our sins anymore! And that only by true faith! Again, we will read in the comforting book, the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 23, "How art thou righteous before God? Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ." When we read the many Scripture references, we are impressed with the number: Romans 3:21, 22; 5:1, 2; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8, 9; Philippians 3:9. There are still more. Try to find them!

True faith is the hand, the instrument, resulting from the working of the Holy Ghost, which accepts and embraces the gifts of God. True faith embraces the promises and in them, Christ and all His benefits. Within Him, and by His blood sinners receive forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Ghost will grant them the assurance of it. It gives them a peace which passes all understanding. As often as they by true faith may embrace the Gospel promises, all their sins are forgiven indeed, only by the merits of Christ. That becomes publicly declared unto them in the preaching of the Word and assured in the sacraments. Then their souls can skip for joy and their hearts become kindled in returning love towards God.

Publicly Declared🔗

That's stated in Lord's Day 31.

In closing, I will quote the late Rev. G.H. Kersten on that Lord's Day:

The thunder of Sinai, the power of sin, the troubled conscience and the assaults of Satan often cause such a stir, that eye and ear are closed for Christ. Behold now the Lord reveals the salvation which is in Christ for His oppressed people by the preaching of His Word. Unbelief with all other enemies must flee. Oh, how amiable the tabernacles of the Lord be­come, how precious His Word! The Forgiveness of SinsThe promises of the Gospel are opened and embraced, the burden of guilt and sin fall away from the shoulders of an oppressed people. Christ becomes especially precious and necessary to them. He is the real substance of the promises of God, and if those promises are received by faith, their guilt is covered and the accuser is silenced. Yea, the Holy Spirit assures His people of the remission of sins in Christ, establishing them with God's promises that the Lord will not be wroth with them nor rebuke them. When sin makes a separation and the Lord hides His face from His people and makes them feel His wrath, then the Lord raises them up out of the depth of their misery by opening the promises and reviving their faith to believe that all their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake.

Fruits of Forgiveness🔗

When sins are forgiven and peace by faith has been received, the fruit will be meekness. We become nothing before God and men. As an example of this, we may behold the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much."

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.