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The Forgiveness of Sins
By David A. DePra
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:12-14)
In Jesus Christ, and in Him alone, there is forgiveness for ALL sin. This is, of course, the foundational Truth of Christianity. But in order to more fully grasp it, we must set in order a number of related Truths, and get to the root of what forgiveness of sin really is.
The Truth of the Redemption, indeed, of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, is predicated on another Truth: That we need it. If I do not believe that I am a dead sinner, who is lost and deceived without God, I am not going to think I need redemption. If I do not believe that I need forgiveness from God and deliverance from sin, then I am not going to take seriously the finished work of Jesus Christ.
When I say, "believe it" I mean more than simply "agree to." Any of us can give assent to the Biblical doctrine of repentance from sin, and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. But the question is, "Do I realize that I must repent? Do I realize that I must receive forgiveness?" And more importantly, "Have I done so?" Have I actually BELIEVED – that is – placed my whole self into the hands of God through Jesus Christ? – in an unconditional moral surrender?
There is no salvation for me unless I have done so. Salvation is the result of seeing my helplessness as a sinner who has lived independent of God. But that is not all. Likewise, I must see the One who is the solution. I have to place my faith in Jesus Christ. IN HIM is forgiveness of sin.
The fundamental problem with human beings – in the eyes of God – is not found in the bad things we DO. Certainly we have all done many bad, sinful things. But there is a root cause for all of our "acts of sin." The fundamental problem is that we have all been living independent of God. That is THE SIN.
God made man a dependent creature. Note that: A DEPENDENT creature is the KIND of creature we are. Nothing will ever change that. So right now, like it or not, you have your faith and dependency in something. If it is not in God, it is in yourself – or in some projection of yourself. As a dependent creature, you don’t have the choice as to whether to have faith. You only decide what to put your faith IN: God or yourself.
This principle was there right from the creation of Adam. When God created Adam, He planted two trees. The tree of life represented faith and dependence upon God. The forbidden tree represented faith in oneself – independence from God. That is why it was said that if you ate of the forbidden tree that you would "be as God," deciding good and evil. Eating of that tree was a declaration of independence from God – in favor of self-rule.
So here we see that the original sin of Adam was that he declared his independence from God. He chose self-rule and self-ownership – over and against belonging to God. This sin had catastrophic consequences. Why? Well, independence from God is willful separation from God. And we all know what "separation from God" is, don’t we? It is death. When Adam walked away from God, he died. He walked away from the Source of all life.
When Adam severed his relationship with God, he died spiritually, and corrupted what a human being IS -- as a creature. But he also severed the entire human race from God. Thus, each of us are born into this world separated from God.
None of us since Adam ever sat down and chose to be born separated from God. We were born into it. But we affirm Adam’s choice every second that we continue to live independent of God. And if God brings the Light and Truth of Jesus Christ into our world, then we affirm Adam’s sin by neglecting or refusing to come back to God through Jesus Christ.
So now we clearly see THE SIN – THE SIN of the human race. It is independence from God; self-rule; belonging to myself. We are not only born that way, but we continue to AFFIRM this rebellion and independence throughout our lives.
As mentioned, the problem with each of us is not fundamentally in what we DO. The problem is what we ARE. We are a fallen race – a dead race. We are creatures who are MADE FOR GOD, but who are separated from God. The sinful things we DO are nothing more than the outcome of our faith being in ourselves, and of us living for ourselves. All of the "acts of sin" that we DO are the result of independence from God.
Jesus Christ came to redeem us from this condition, and to restore us back to God. It is by taking our faith off of ourselves, and putting it in Him, that we are saved. In short, rather than live in the unbelief of self-rule, we must repent and "come to Jesus" by faith. We have to get back to the purpose for which God originally created man: Eternal fellowship with Him.
The sin of independence from God has a name – one which is used quite often in the Bible. That sin is called UNBELIEF. This only makes sense once you realize that FAITH is trust, dependence, and reliance, upon God. Unbelief, which is the opposite, is therefore independence and self-reliance.
I am living in unbelief if I am living independent of God. Most of us, of course, do this without any knowledge of what we are doing. Living in unbelief comes natural – we are born "in Adam" to do that. Tell someone in this condition that they are ABNORMAL, and need deliverance, and they will think that you are foolish.
Today – even in some churches – if you suggest that people who are "in Adam" are ABNORMAL, and need the Cross of Jesus Christ to deliver them, you will be branded as mean-spirited. People like the gospel of self-esteem. They don’t want to talk about themselves as sinners.
Paul addressed this possibility in his epistle to the Corinthians. He said,
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (I Cor. 1:18)
According to the apostle Paul, if I think that the Cross of Jesus Christ – the means of God’s forgiveness – is foolish or unnecessary, it is evidence that I am ALREADY in the process of perishing. Of course. I don’t see any need for Jesus Christ, or His Cross. I see no need for forgiveness. Therefore, I am still living in my sin – the sin of independence from God.
There can be only one solution to independence from God: Dependence upon Him. Faith. Back to the original relationship God intended. Back to being NORMAL. This spells LIFE. It is the relationship Jesus came to restore.
Unbelief is the affirmation of Adam’s sin: To live independent from God. Again, we are born into this condition -- through the nature we inherit from Adam. But once Light comes into our world, and we see that we need to be delivered, we are no longer blind. At that point we must choose. Ultimately, willful unbelief is the refusal or neglect to surrender to Jesus Christ.
We are now beginning to see why FAITH in Christ is necessary. FAITH in Christ is a renouncing of our independence, through repentance, and is a moral choice to fully dependent on God. We are saved "by grace through faith." We fully depend and rely upon what Jesus Christ has done. And our faith in Him stays in Him – forever.
God must show us we are ABNORMAL. The only way to do this is to introduce the NORMAL. If I had an inaccurate yard stick, but no other, I would just go on, not aware that everything I was measuring was inaccurate. But if someone provides an accurate yard stick, which I can put alongside of the bad one, then I will be able to see the Truth. I will see the wrong, because now I have the right. I will see what is ABNORMAL, because there is now a NORMAL in front of me – a correct standard.
God has to show us that we are unrighteous and abnormal. We cannot see this ourselves, because all we have to work with is an abnormal "yardstick." We cannot measure ourselves by ourselves and expect to arrive at the Truth. So what God does is introduce His righteousness – which is the accurate "yardstick." And actually, God has been doing this right from the point when Adam sinned.
A big step in God’s plan of redemption occurred when God gave Israel His law. That was quite a yardstick for righteousness. Paul tells us the purpose for which God gave His law:
Now we know that whatever things the law says, it says them to those who are under the law -- that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
God certainly gave His law to reveal to us His righteousness. He was saying to us, "If you want to know how to live perfectly in My sight, here is how." But did God actually think we could? No. The fundamental purpose of God’s law was to expose us as sinners. As Romans says, when the law speaks, every mouth is stopped, and the whole world is shown to be guilty before God. Everyone of us is shown to be ABNORMAL.
In effect, the law of God was His "accurate yard stick." Once we see His law, we see how crooked and ABNORMAL we are. It leads us to realize that we have been living independent of God.
The law of God is holy, just, and good. (Rom. 7:14) There is nothing wrong with God’s law. But when we look into the law of God, we see that we are NOT holy, just, and good. Indeed, we see that we are unholy, unjust, and bad. God’s law was therefore His instrument for bringing Light in our world, that we might see just how far short we are from His glory.
Again – the law of God represents God’s NORMAL. Once it is put along side of us, we see that we are ABNORMAL – and in need of something far beyond ourselves.
The law was a witness to man of his corrupt condition. But even those who were not given the law have such a witness. The Gentiles were never given the law of God. Yet Paul tells us that they – as well as Israel – have the witness of right and wrong within them of CONSCIENCE.
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:14-16)
Paul is telling us that there is a "moral monitor" in each of us which bears witness to right and wrong. In fallen man it is an imperfect witness, for it does not always perfectly define what is right and wrong. But it is there, telling us we OUGHT to do right. We all have a conscience. We all know SOME right and wrong.
Do you doubt that everyone knows right and wrong? Well, the next time someone does wrong to YOU – it will prove my point. You will protest because you believe you have been wronged! From where did you get that knowledge? You KNOW right from wrong.
Our conscience is a residual of what God originally created in man. And while it cannot, in and of itself, reveal to us Jesus Christ, and cannot, in and of itself, save us even if we obey it, it CAN and DOES tell us what failures we are. We cannot even live up to the standard of our own conscience!
God’s law, and even our conscience, tells us one thing if it tells us nothing else: We fall short. It tells us that there is a standard which is outside of ourselves, and which is higher than ourselves – which shows us to be ABNORMAL. Thus, it points us to GOD. Add to the law and our conscience the fact that God will orchestrate various situations in life to show us our need. God is at work to point us to Christ.
In all of this, we begin see how a bad person – one born in Adam -- can make a right choice. It is true that a bad person cannot make himself good. But a bad person can be shown how bad he is – and how good Jesus is. He can then make the choice to put his faith in Christ. Again – we must put our faith in something or someone. We have never lost this capacity. It is fundamental to what we are.
What we are describing here is really the outcome of repentance. Once we see what THE SIN is – that we have been living for ourselves independent of God – we then know what we need to repent of. We need to repent of self-rule – of self-dependence. We do this by surrendering to God and by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.
There is simply no escaping it: Man is accountable to God. We can deny it, avoid it, and even protest it. But in the final analysis, we will answer to Him. We have been living independent of God, and if we have heard the gospel, we have refused or neglected to come to Jesus. THAT IS SIN – great sin. It is sin against God Himself. We must repent of it.
God doesn’t make it complicated. If our root sin is that we have affirmed the sin of Adam by living independent of God, then the solution is that we need to come back to God. I have to stop putting my faith in myself – stop living for myself – and I have to START putting my faith in Jesus Christ. I have to return to totally dependence and surrender to God.
What we see here is CHANGE. It is a change of direction and a change of mind. That is what the terms "conversion" and "repentance" mean. I have to stop walking away from Jesus, and turn around, and "come to Jesus."
Thus, to "come to Jesus," I must repent. But of what? Of NOT "coming to Jesus!" Of unbelief. And if I do repent of unbelief, I will do what? Well, I will come to Jesus! I will BELIEVE. That is what at the forefront of the gospel message is always the command, "Repent and believe!"
Some folks imagine that they must take inventory and confess and repent of every sin they have ever committed before they can come to Jesus. But this is not Biblical. The Bible tells us to confess our sins. Repent of our sins. But always, the confession and repentance of my many sins is the RESULT of coming to Jesus – and never the requirement BEFORE I can come.
We see this in the first epistle of John. John says:
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. 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 us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:5-9)
Here we see that if we come to the Light, we have fellowship. If we come into the Light, we will see our sins and confess them. None of this is required – or possible – before we come to the Light. All of these things are the result of coming into the Light and Truth of Jesus Christ.
Thus, we see this wonderful Truth: The sin of the human race is that we have lived independent of God. It is THE SIN. Our affirmation of this sin is unbelief. We must therefore repent of unbelief – and in doing so, BELIEVE, i.e., come to Jesus. Once we do, salvation is ours. And in Christ we will find forgiveness for all of our sins.
The Finality of Forgiveness
When we turn to Christ by faith, we receive forgiveness in Him. It is forgiveness for unbelief – for our refusal or neglect to turn to Him. But once we do turn to Christ, we also find forgiveness, indeed, deliverance, from all the "acts of sin" which we committed as the result of living independent of God.
God’s forgiveness through Christ is a done deal. It cannot not be undone, or added to. Forgiveness is finished. It would be finished and complete if not one person ever believed or benefited from it. God’s forgiveness is as finished and as final as is the death of His Son which paid for it.
We need to understand what this means. It means that God has done all the forgiving He is going to do. It means that if you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you are as forgiven, right now, as you are ever going to be. You are not getting forgiven, but you are a forgiven person.
If there is one Truth of Christianity which has been misrepresented and misunderstood, it is this one: The finality of God’s forgiveness. Understanding it sets so much in place. Misunderstanding it throws everything else out of whack.
For instance, in Romans 8:1, Paul tells us that there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Why is he able to make such a statement? Because forgiveness is finished. There is nothing you can do to UNFINISH it. There is therefore no possibility of condemnation when forgiveness is finished and unalterable.
All through the New Testament, the forgiveness of God is a FINISHED act:
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake HAS forgiven you. (Eph. 4:32)
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, HAS he quickened together with Him, HAVING forgiven ALL your trespasses. (Col. 2:13)
I write unto you, little children, because your sins ARE forgiven you for His name's sake. (I John 2:12)
To wit, that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. (II Cor. 5:19)
"In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." (Eph. 1:7)
Have we realized that right now -- if we are in Christ -- that we are eternally and unalterably forgiven? And that there is nothing which stands between us and God? This is a Truth, which if realized, would change our lives.
Forgiveness is often spoken of as merely a "legal classification." Certainly, Paul uses the legal position as a means of illustrating the forgiveness of God. But God did more for us than to simply legally "reclassify" us from unsaved to saved, or from condemned to forgiven. God not only forgave our sins in Christ – through Christ God has DELIVERED us from sin itself.
The Truth is, if all God did was forgive us, in the sense of reclassification, but did nothing to deliver us from sin itself, then what He has done is not a moral thing. This would mean that God "forgives" us FOR sin, but leaves us IN sin. You can see the problem. God had to do more than change our legal position. He had to change US.
Herein we see why salvation is called a new birth – why we are called new creations in Christ Jesus. In Christ we have, not only forgiveness, but DELIVERANCE from the old creation, and a new birth into the new.
The Greek word for forgiveness in the New Testament bears this out. It means, "to release; to send away." So ask: When God forgives us, what is released or sent away? Merely our guilt? Only some punishment for sin? No. WE are released. We are set free from sin.
When Jesus died on the Cross, He did not merely bear the penalty FOR sin. He bore sin itself. THAT is why we are not only forgiven for sin, it is why we are delivered from sin itself through the Cross, and then the resurrection.
The finished forgiveness of God, and the deliverance which we experience through the Cross, is pictured in a rhetorical question Paul asked of the Romans. In Romans 6:1, he asks, "Shall we continue in sin because grace abounds?" His question is just as important as is his answer. Why? Because it tells us that grace DOES abound even when we sin! That means that forgiveness is finished. Even if we sin it is finished!
Many Christians cannot conceive of a finished forgiveness. To them, that would lead to license, which IS "sinning because grace abounds." Yet notice: Paul is SAYING that grace abounds even though we sin. He is SAYING that. That is why he is asking the rhetorical question, "Shall we continue in sin BECAUSE grace abounds."
Paul operates from the premise that the forgiveness of God is finished. If we sin it does not change the fact. Why? Because it never depended on whether we sinned to begin with. The forgiveness of God depends only upon Jesus Christ.
The reality is, if I am sinning BECAUSE grace abounds – that is – using the grace of God as a license to sin, I am not converted. I can’t be. Why? Because if I am converted I got that way by repenting of sin – by coming to Jesus! By wanting to forsake sin! Or, to use Paul’s answer to his own question, "How can anyone who is dead to sin live any longer IN sin?"
Why don’t we continue in sin, seeing as how grace abounds? Because we are DEAD to sin. Here we see DELIVERANCE through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Before conversion, we were alive to sin, and dead to God. After conversion, we are alive to God, and dead to sin. Here we see a change – not merely legal – but in US. We are delivered from the power of sin through the Blood of the Cross.
The Righteousness of God
God gave his law for the purpose of cornering us into the conclusion that we are ABNORMAL, wrong, and in need of forgiveness and salvation. He gave us a good law to show us how bad we are. Then, He tells us to put our faith in Jesus – by repenting of the sin of not putting our faith in Christ.
Through faith, God offers us forgiveness. But more. He offers us a righteousness. It is a righteousness which has nothing to do with us – a righteousness which is in Jesus Christ. This is, in fact, Paul’s conclusion in Romans:
But now the righteousness of God which is independent from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:19-24)
God is saying, "I have shown you that you are not righteous. I have shown you that you need forgiveness. But I have also shown you that there is nothing in you by which this can be accomplished. Not by your works and not by your self-effort." And then He says, "There is a righteousness which I have for you that is totally independent of anything about yourself. It is the righteousness of My Son. It can become yours only by faith."
Do we really understand what "the righteousness of God which is by the faith of Jesus Christ" is? Some of misunderstand this, and think that our faith IN Christ is what makes us righteous. We think that, sure, we cannot make ourselves righteous by works, but we CAN make ourselves righteous by faith. We may not say it quite that way, but it is what we assume.
This misunderstanding leads to all kinds of nonsense. For instance, there are those who object to the suggestion that we can even have faith to begin with – on the grounds that it would be merit, or "a contribution to our own salvation." That, they say, would abort grace. But this is a "straw man argument," for it is an argument against what faith is NOT, rather than what faith IS.
And then, of course, there are those of us who DO think our faith is to our credit. We think that it is because we had faith in Christ that God saved us. Without realizing it, we have unwittingly put our faith IN our faith!
True Biblical faith – the faith which God says results in salvation – never carries MERIT. It is never said to be "our contribution to our salvation." Indeed, true faith emerges from the conviction that I have NO MERIT. True faith emerges from the conviction that I can make NO contribution to my salvation. Faith is never in my faith. Faith is in Jesus Christ.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, God does to us what He did to Abraham. God "reckons it to us as righteousness." But notice what this does NOT mean. It does NOT mean that our faith makes us righteous. No. Faith, in and of itself, is NEVER said to make us righteous. Rather, Jesus makes me righteous – because my faith is in HIM. But that is not all. By faith His righteousness is in me.
Get this. Our faith is in the Righteous One. HE makes us righteous. But not as a thing unto ourselves. Our faith in Him results in His righteousness in us. The righteousness is Jesus in us.
When we see that faith is total reliance and dependence this becomes clear. God says that if we will, from a conviction that we are unrighteous, put our faith in the Righteous One, then His righteousness becomes ours.
What is happening here is no more complicated than a bankrupt person relying on someone else for their need. There is no merit involved. There is no contribution possible. It is simple – and desperate – trust and reliance.
God’s forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ is at once the most simple, yet profound Truth. And the means by which we obtain this forgiveness is simple faith. I repent of living for myself by turning around and "coming to Jesus." I place my faith in Jesus Christ.
This is the gospel of grace. And happily, God is at work calling and drawing each of us to see and experience this Truth. *
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