5 Myths about God’s Forgiveness

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.”


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28 Comments on 5 Myths about God’s Forgiveness

  1. Susan M Jacobson // July 2, 2021 at 5:54 am // Reply

    Beautiful Paul!
    Thank you.
    Susana 🙌💕

  2. Great points, Paul! A sin conscious person will inevitably be obsessed with forgiveness. I honestly almost never even think of either one anymore. Now I think in relational terms with God, rather than legal terms. But it hasn’t always been that way. Paul’s books and this site helped me get there. I’m 47 years old now. As a child and teen, I had exposure to Christianity, but wasn’t engaged. At 25 I “got saved” and threw my life into the Baptist Church empire. I desired to be “God’s man” and rose in church ranking, gradually turned into a legalistic minded buffoon consumed with how good I could make myself look to the world while manipulating others into feeling guilty for not trying as hard as me. At about 35 that all crashed as I began to question why none of it satisfied my inner world or did anything to heal my deep wounds and left me empty. I started reading about the ideas around forgiveness as pointed out in this article. Breaking through these myths about forgiveness was my entry point into a grace filled perspective of God – my path of escape to reality, if you will. The Holy Spirit desires to lift the veil for all of us, so we can see that sin has been removed from the equation for our sake. The Father, Son and Spirit don’t do the shame game or abandonment. Their faith, their persuasion, is the way of love. Always has been.

  3. Yes, all our sins gave been forgiven when we repent and acknowledge Jesus. Therefore we are saved. God is not mocked, so this great salvation applies to those who made that true and heartfelt. Decision to follow Jesus. Hypocritically going through the motions does not fool God.
    Even those who cry, “Lord, lord, we cast out demons in your name.” But did not give up their sinful life, are to be cast out to the outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Also, Those who were initially changed, but go back to their former vomit do lose their salvation. This is why Paul said work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And again it is why the scriptures say, Faith without works is dead.

    • Hello Neavel. I’m sorry, but no, that is not why Paul said work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And it is not why the scriptures say faith without works is dead. This God you’ve described sounds more like diablos than the Father that Jesus came to help us begin to see. Look at what you are saying… do you really think that God is like a judge just itching to cast us into outer darkness until we “repent and acknowledge Jesus”, and then he magically turns into a loving Father, but not until then? Forgiveness precedes our faith and repentance. His initiation of love and forgiveness calls to our hearts for a response. We need to let the Holy Spirit expand our minds until they are worthy of the theme of Jesus. We’ve all got a long way to go.

      • Johnny Harry // August 1, 2021 at 11:44 am //

        If confessing all our sins were necessary to salvation, who could be saved? Who’s like Adam was before the fall of man? Who is as Jesus was? God’s requires us to be perfectly righteous to be accepted by him. God imputed that righteousness to us when we believed, satisfying that requirement. Repenting doesn’t save us, being saved lead us to repentance. These can come so close in time it’s hard to distinguish. The scripture says, we didn’t choose him, he chose us. There are many precursors to receiving faith. 1 is hearing his word. Faith comes by hearing his word. I heard Gods word for yrs before I was saved. We can’t see our sin until we’re saved. When our eyes are opened to our sin, we become convicted of it (or convinced, which is a synonym of convicted), then we can confess our sin. Repentance has 2 parts, 1, we change our mind about our sins, we didn’t believe were wrong, now we do. 2 we turn from our sins, walking rightly. This doesn’t happen overnight. Seeing our sins for what they are & refraining from them can be a lengthy process. Curses need to be broken, strongholds need to be pulled down, iniquity needs to be cleansed. If a pill would make go away in an instant I would gobble it down. This process, takes time. Sin is a curse. Not a blessing. It’s in our best interest to be free from sin – in this life.

      • Neavei Isaac // August 2, 2021 at 12:13 am //

        None of your mostly valid points negates anything I said. But. We dont need to argue . The main point is that we cannot continue in our former sinful ways. If we do, or if we go back to that after an initial genuine repentance, we will lose our salvation.

      • @Johnny. For most of us it seems our default setting is to relate to God with mechanistic formulas, whether it be concerning forgiveness or any other biblical term. As if certain qualifications need to be met in order to get his attention or approval. It’s like we are always trying to master the right recipe of behavior patterns to trip God’s love wire. But this is the very way of thinking that Jesus is determined to rescue us from. It’s killing us! He came to put his knowing of the Father in us so we could put an end to our charade. The Pharisees had mastered the formulaic principle approach to righteousness. Jesus’ real point to them was not that their righteousness wasn’t good enough, but that they were trying to relate to him in the wrong way because they had no clue who God really is. We can’t mash down religion on top of relationship and expect it to be anything but a watered-down mess. There are no hoops to jump through in authentic relationship. Jesus walked among us basking in the embrace of his Father, receiving his love, saying “NO” to our fallen view of God the whole time. As Christians (aka witnesses of true reality to the world), in terms of our relationship with God, we must get out of this legal framework and move into a framework centered around participating in the life of the one who loves us and has us securely in his embrace.

      • Another great comment, jason b. I love the way you get your point across. Have you ever considered writing a blog?

      • How nice of you to say that, LJP. Your comments pack a punch as well. I have actually. I spent some time over the last couple of weeks researching how to get started and build a site through WordPress. I hope to launch a blog in the near future (within a month) titled See the Hope. Escape to Reality and Paul’s book have been so impactful in my life. We all need to find our way of passing it on.

      • Wow, that’s great to hear, jason b. I agree that Paul’s writings have impacted many people, including myself. I believe you have the heart to want to help people and it won’t be long before people are saying the same about you and your writings.

      • You give me encouragement. What a nice thing to say. Thank you. I think we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what God has called us to in Christ. The church is still just getting started, I think.

      • I think so too.

  4. Johnny Harry // July 2, 2021 at 10:22 pm // Reply

    This is the misconception: Christians believe when they receive faith in Jesus that what is happening is that they are being forgiven for their sins. Not so. We are being reconciled to God. The righteousness of Jesus is being “imputed” unto us, attributed to us, credited to our account. So were not being forgiven but being made righteous by Christ’s sacrificial death. For by 1 man’s disobedience (that is Adams) many were made sinners, so then by the obedience of 1 (that is Jesus) many shall be made righteous (Romans 5:19). Now we receive forgiveness for our sin thru confession, not offering the sacrifices of the Levitical system. Being found in him not having any righteousness of our own (thru keeping the law) but having the righteousness of God, which comes thru faith in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:9). Sin is a curse to our lives, confessing & being freed from our sin in the here & now is in our own best interest, but it is not necessary to our salvation. Genuine faith in Jesus is. This is a 30-45 min sermon. I’m out of words.

  5. Paul, thank you. I suffered under years of these myths until I learned & received the truth of God’s love & grace. Those myths drove me away from God for years. The truth of His love & grace, as you have explained here, brought me back to the Lord.

  6. Thanks very much for writing this article Paul.

  7. Many “Christian” sermons, books, articles and messages preach Christ as if he were simply a new-and-improved version of Moses. Such an emphasis believes that Jesus replaced the laws of the old covenant with laws of the new covenant. According to this perspective, the new covenant continues to explain, as did the old, that our relationship with God is based on law.

  8. What does this mean?

    Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. 1 John 3:9

    I believe this verse is a hint that we have developed an incorrect definition of sin.

    • Hi LJP, yes, I think we have grown up with a very legalistic view of sin. BTW, you can find my take on that passage over at the Grace Commentary.

    • Until my most recent years, I understood sin to be doing stuff you shouldn’t or not doing stuff you should. Then my understanding of sin, upon discovering grace-based teaching and thinking, became a matter of living from our true Christ-identity and maturing so that the ‘way of my being’ lined up more with the ‘truth of my being’. But these days, I’m looking at sin from Jesus’ heart-breaking perspective and beginning to see that the issue of sin is much deeper than even the truth of our identity… the real tragedy of sin is that we are hiding from our great lover, not able to see the Father the way Jesus does or know the Father the way Jesus does and thus we run from the one we should be running to. This catastrophic ignorance is unacceptable to them and I believe that healing our perspective of God is the very thing Jesus came to do, and is doing still. I agree, LJP. Sometimes it seems we have developed erroneous definitions of nearly every theological term the biblical writers have given us.

      • Thanks, Paul and Jason b. The definition of the the root word for sin is “to be without a share in”. God’s will for all human beings is for them to partake of His eternal life. Eternal life is God’s life. “To miss the mark” is another common definition for the root word of sin, but it is secondary to “to be without a share in”. Man’s view of missing the mark is behavior based, but God’s view of man missing His plan for them is not partaking of His eternal life. This definition makes 1 John 3 make more sense. Once we have a share in eternal life we “cannot” not have a share in eternal life. Reading these verses with the incorrect view of sin causes condemnation and even fear of not being saved (see 1 John 3:6). Plugging in “to be without a share in” for the word sin gives these verses and many others their true, beautiful meaning.

    • @LJP, “To be without a share in” … I like that! It points to the real crux of the matter when defining sin – it puts the focus on what we are missing out on, eternal life. If we add to what you’re saying, a proper definition of ‘eternal life’, it gets even better. In John 17:3, Jesus gives just such a definition. There is a special one-of-a-kind life shared between the Father and Son, unlike anything else in the cosmos. Jesus, the good shepherd, is committed to making his knowing of the Father and the other-centered nature of their relationship OUR knowing of Father. When we see the Father through Jesus’ eyes and experience the love that he is experiencing, then we can start to have a real definition of rest, joy, peace, righteousness, wholeness etc. Until then, we are just playing church or wallowing in the pig pin. If eternal life is knowing God and being a living expression of, and participating in, their abounding relationship, then sin is easily defined as missing out on such an existence. This sinful (missing out) existence is what God is wrathfully against and will ultimately destroy. With this non-performance based understanding of sin and eternal life (along with nearly every E2R article) that help us see just how overflowing with grace God is, these 5 myths about God’s forgiveness above, in my opinion, are exposed to be less like simple innocent misunderstandings and more like pure evil darkness that must be untangled from our gospel presentations worldwide and burned in the fire. It is so obvious that God’s forgiveness is something we respond to, not something we bring about.

  9. Wow, good perspective, brother Jason. Thank you.

    • Thanks David. I often think of how broken hearted Jesus must have been to walk among us seeing and hearing first hand, as a human, what horrible and grotesque things we think about his Father, knowing none of it is true.

  10. Johnny Alexander Sánchez // July 7, 2021 at 5:27 pm // Reply

    Gracias pastor Poul por la afinación y pureza de la verdad del evangelio de la Gracia. Este es el punto central del cristianismo, el perdón total de los pecados. Muchos se confunden acerca del perdón total, porque es indiscutible que a veces pecamos. El asunto es que hay un registro memórico de nuestra antigua naturaleza y un estilo de vida pecaminoso,con adicciones o malos hábitos que quedan aún pero que ya fueron tratados en la Cruz, Dios no tiene ningún problema con eso. Cada vez que somos consiente en nuestro perdón total, en nuestra justificación como un regalo; el registro de pecado va desminuyendo. El apóstol Pablo dijo, que ya no hay condenación para los que estamos en Cristo; quiere decir, que tenemos una grandísima esperanza, que aún si fallamos o cometemos pecado, ya no hay más culpa, castigo o condenación. Jesús murió a la culpa y condenación e igual nosotros. Ésta es la buena noticia, el apóstol Juan también lo dijo, si pecamos abogado tenemos para con el Padre. Saber por revelación acerca de el don de la justicia, nos da la capacidad y poder para no pecar, pero si pecamos, tenemos un sumo sacerdote en los cielos. Gracias Pastor Poul por sus enseñanzas centradas en Cristo y su obra terminada en la cruz.

  11. Hi Paul. First time here on the site. Can you clarify something for me on myth 4. Are you talking about the complete forgiveness for those who repent or complete forgiveness for the entire world apart from repentance?

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