Forgiveness of Sin

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“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins …’” (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
, Revised Standard Version).

How are we forgiven, and where do baptism and Jesus Christ fit in? The Bible says God forgives our sins and mistakes. Through faith in Christ’s sacrifice, we have all of our sins and the guilt we harbor entirely removed. We are then completely clean in God’s sight (Acts 22:16 Acts 22:16And now why tarry you? arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
American King James Version×
).

It is comforting to know that God not only forgives our sins, but totally dissociates them from us: “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12 Hebrews 8:12For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
American King James Version×
).

David was awed by God’s complete mercy and forgiveness. He wrote, “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” (Psalms 103:11-12 Psalms 103:11-12 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
American King James Version×
).

Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells us of the forgiveness that follows when we repent and turn to Him: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good … Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:16-18 Isaiah 1:16-18 16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, and let us reason together, said the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
American King James Version×
).

The cleansing of sin and reconciliation to God are by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Without His sacrifice, our sins cannot be washed away.

Paul made it clear that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9 1 Corinthians 6:9Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
American King James Version×
). He then explained how we are cleansed and made right with God: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 1 Corinthians 6:11And such were some of you: but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
American King James Version×
). Jesus Christ cleanses the Church “with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26 Ephesians 5:26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
American King James Version×
).

This washing away of the accumulated filth of our sins is part of what is symbolized by baptism. Before Paul was baptized, Ananias said, “Why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16 Acts 22:16And now why tarry you? arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
American King James Version×
). By plunging our entire body under water, we are symbolically cleansed throughout.

Of course, the water is only a symbol. In reality, the cleansing of sin and reconciliation to God are by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, our Savior (Romans 5:8-10 Romans 5:8-10 8 But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
American King James Version×
; Acts 20:28 Acts 20:28Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.
American King James Version×
). Without His sacrifice, our sins cannot be washed away.

Leaving guilt behind

Thankfully, God does not keep a scorecard with good deeds on one side and bad ones on the other. Our slate is wiped clean of every sin if we confess and repent of our sins and ask for His forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
American King James Version×
). As earlier pointed out, no good deeds, no physical effort of our own, can ever repay God for the precious gifts of forgiveness and the cleansing of our guilt.

It is normal for us to feel guilty when we sin, and the pain of penalties for past mistakes often lingers. Guilt, however, need not remain as a debilitating weight dragging us down.

Guilt can spawn needless feelings of inferiority and bitterness. After we repent, God totally forgives our sins, and there remains no reason to feel guilty unless we sin again. Even then, we should immediately repent, ask God to forgive us and put the guilt behind us. God, in His infinite mercy, applies Christ’s sacrifice to cover and remove our sin and guilt.

We are told in Hebrews 10:22 Hebrews 10:22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
American King James Version×
: “Let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water” (NLT). A clear conscience is one of the most wonderful gifts God gives His children.

King David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22 Acts 13:22And when he had removed him, he raised up to them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.
American King James Version×
). He was not perfect, but he did strive to prevent sin from separating him from God. In Psalms 139:23-24 Psalms 139:23-24 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
American King James Version×
, David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (NRSV).

He also prayed: “Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalms 51:9-10 Psalms 51:9-10 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
American King James Version×
).

How is sin forgiven?

Sin is the transgression of God’s sacred law (1 John 3:4 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
American King James Version×
, KJV). The penalty we all have earned for sinning is death (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×
). This cause-and-effect relationship is absolute and automatic. The penalty of death must be paid.

We cannot jump out of a 10-story building, futilely trying to break the law of gravity, without paying a penalty for our actions. In the same way, when we break God’s spiritual law, the death penalty for doing so must be paid. Forgiveness does not mean eliminating the penalty for our sins. Rather, it means transferring of the penalty from us to someone who could accept and pay that penalty in our place. The question is, who pays that penalty?

Because all have sinned and the death penalty hangs over everyone, God knew that a Savior was needed to die for the sins of the world. Notice Peter’s words: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed …, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:18-20 1 Peter 1:18-20 18 For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20 Who truly was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
American King James Version×
, NIV).

The apostle John spoke of God’s great love for us and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that pays the penalty for our sins, making forgiveness possible. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 1 John 2:2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

And: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10 1 John 4:9-10 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

God actually created all things through Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14 John 1:1-14 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
American King James Version×
; Ephesians 3:9 Ephesians 3:9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
American King James Version×
; Colossians 1:16-17 Colossians 1:16-17 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
American King James Version×
; Hebrews 1:1-2 Hebrews 1:1-2 1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 Has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
American King James Version×
). As mankind’s Creator who, being the perfect Son of God, lived a sinless life in the flesh, Jesus Christ was able to serve as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all humanity for all time.

Jesus Christ’s perfect love and sacrifice

The incredible truth is that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×
). Even more amazing is that God loved us when we were still sinners; we were still under the death penalty when He called us to conversion (Romans 5:8 Romans 5:8But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus has a deep, burning desire to help mankind share eternity with Him (Matthew 23:37 Matthew 23:37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets, and stone them which are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!
American King James Version×
). The book of Hebrews says that we should be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2).

It was anything but joyous to go through scourging and crucifixion, an incredibly brutal and torturous form of execution. Isaiah 52:14 Isaiah 52:14As many were astonished at you; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
American King James Version×
prophesied that Christ’s appearance would be “disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness” (NIV).

Psalm 22 describes some of the thoughts and feelings of anguish and pain Jesus faced when enduring His betrayal and death. Yet He had the spiritual vision to look past His own suffering to the joy of spending eternity with others who would choose the road to eternal life (Hebrews 12:2 Hebrews 12:2Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
American King James Version×
).

With our old sins now buried in the grave as pictured by baptism, we should not go back and dig them up. Considering the symbolism involved, this would be akin to grave robbing.

He willingly accepted the curse, the death penalty meant for us, “having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Galatians 3:13 Galatians 3:13Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree:
American King James Version×
). (To learn more about who Jesus actually was and what He went through for us, read or download our free booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story .)

Christ’s sacrifice was so complete that no sin ever committed is too big or small for God to forgive (Psalms 103:3 Psalms 103:3Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases;
American King James Version×
). Paul called himself the chief of sinners, yet God used him powerfully after his conversion (1 Timothy 1:15 1 Timothy 1:15This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
American King James Version×
). Throughout the book of Psalms, King David praised God’s mercy. He saw God’s mercy as endless, filling the earth (Psalms 119:64 Psalms 119:64The earth, O LORD, is full of your mercy: teach me your statutes.
American King James Version×
).

Such examples inspire great hope. No matter what our background or past mistakes, when we genuinely repent and are baptized, God promises complete forgiveness.

Humanly devised teachings of psychology can make us feel good about ourselves and seek to improve our self-image. None of these human efforts, however, can forgive sin and completely remove the spiritual penalty associated with it. Only Christ’s sacrifice can permanently cleanse and forgive us.

Burying the past

As God no longer associates us with our old sins, so should we put the past behind us. With our old sins now buried in the grave, as pictured by baptism, we should not go back and dig them up. Considering the symbolism involved, this would be akin to grave robbing.

For some, such grave robbery in the form of continuing to fret about past sins may seem like repentance. But it’s more a way of punishing oneself. We need to understand that God wants repentance, not penance. He does not want us to throw old sins back into His face by continuing to be consumed with thinking about them. He expects us to trust Him and His desire to completely forgive and forget.

We need to learn from our mistakes; but once we have done so, we need to leave them buried in the past. We are to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 Romans 6:4Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
American King James Version×
). An individual who does this, in God’s eyes, becomes a new person, someone completely forgiven as though he or she had never sinned.

It is important that we see ourselves from this perspective and focus on the future. Paul expressed the concept this way in Philippians 3:13-14 Philippians 3:13-14 13 Brothers, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×
: “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Realizing how complete forgiveness is possible through Christ’s perfect sacrifice, we must look ahead to maintaining the right course. In the next chapter we will see how to stay on the road to eternal life.

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