No religion preaches the complete forgiveness of sins like Christianity. You might say it’s one of our unique selling points.
So why do we do such a bad job with it?
We tell people God may forgive them if they say the right words and keep on the straight and narrow, and then we try and pass off this awful message as though it were good news.
Newsflash: telling people they have to work for divine favor is neither news nor good. In fact, it’s bad news because there is nothing you can do to atone for your sins. Happily, the good news is so much better.
Here are five things the Bible says about forgiveness, and five things it doesn’t.
Myth 1: God may forgive you
Manmade religion manipulates people with carrots (God might forgive you) and sticks (he might not). It’s an ancient racket that leaves people anxious and susceptible to extortion (give us your money and service). But if we preached the true meaning of forgiveness, we would disarm religious bullies and liberate those whom Jesus loves.
Here are two related questions: When were you forgiven? And when were your sins carried away? The answer to one is the answer to the other because forgiveness has to do with the removal of sins.
On the cross your sins were carried away by the Lamb of God. This is Christianity 101, yet most Christians don’t know it. Instead of thanking Jesus for carrying all their sins – past, present, and future – they’re begging him to do what he’s already done. They need to hear the good news:
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for his name’s sake. (1 John 2:12)
God may forgive you? Look to the cross. He already did!
Myth 2: God’s forgiveness comes with price tags
Prior to the cross, Jesus preached conditional forgiveness to people living under the old law-keeping covenant. “If you forgive, God will forgive” (Matt. 6:14). But on the cross Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law so that we might live under a new and better covenant of grace.
Instead of preaching a law that never applied to us in the first place, we ought to tell people what Jesus said after he rose from the dead: “The forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to all nations!” (Luke 24:47). Do you see? Your forgiveness is a done deal. This is the good news the apostles proclaimed all around the world:
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. (Acts 13:38)
Forgiveness is not a reward to be earned but a gift we receive by faith (Acts 10:43). You can’t work for it because Jesus did it all.
Myth 3: God forgives in instalments
The standard maintenance myth goes like this: “God forgave some of your sins, but now it’s up to you to keep the ledger clean.” How do you do that? You have to be good and faithful. You have to give and serve. You have to repent and confess.
Now those are all good things, but if you think doing them earns you forgiveness, you’re captive to superstition and unbelief. You need to repent from your dead works and agree with God’s Word.
The Lord “pardons all your iniquities” (Ps. 103:3). All means all. Before he died, Jesus prophesied that all sins would be forgiven (Mark 3:28), and on the cross his prophecy was fulfilled (Heb. 9:16). Here’s the good news:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Eph. 1:7)
You have been completely and eternally forgiven through the blood of the Lamb (Heb. 9:12). God doesn’t forgive on the instalment plan. In Christ, you are as forgiven as forgiven can be.
Myth 4: God only forgives some people
The Catholics say only those who confess are forgiven and the Protestants say the same thing! What does the Bible say?
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). To forgive means to carry or take away sins and Jesus carried all our sin. There’s no sin he did not bear. “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb. 7:27).
Some people hold onto their sins as though they were unforgiven, but as far God is concerned, all our sins were dealt with at the cross (Heb. 9:26). Here’s the good news:
He himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
Propitiation means satisfied. Because of Jesus, the demands of justice have been fully satisfied. Once upon a time the world was under the condemnation of sin, but God has forgiven all sin and there is nothing left to forgive. If God is satisfied with the sacrifice of the Son, let us be satisfied too.
Myth 5: God forgives but never forgets
Ah, the ol’ videotape chestnut. You know the one. “One day God will play a tape showing all your secret sins.” Yeah, that’s great news. Just terrific.
Beware this fake news! There are no videotapes because love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5). You may have regrets that keep you awake at night, but God remembers your sins no more (Heb. 8:12, 10:17).
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. (2 Cor. 5:19)
Here’s the good news: Your heavenly Father loves you more than you know. The only tapes he has on you are highlight reels!
During his time on earth, Jesus went around forgiving people who had done nothing to deserve it, and while he hung on the cross he forgave those who put him there. The Son of God did this to give us a picture of what true forgiveness looks like; it looks like love.
This is the good news the Church ought to be preaching to a world condemned by sin and guilt. “God holds nothing against you! He loves you and wants you to enjoy his love.”
What can we say in response to this happy news? There is only one thing:
“Thank you, Jesus.”
Are you thankful for God’s forgiveness? Let me know in the comments below.
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