By Dan King, Sr.
We cannot assume that the forgiveness of our sins is immediate and automatic, just because we enjoy a relationship with Jesus Christ. Many people today behave as if this were so. It is worthwhile therefore, to examine this important question.
Forgiveness for the alien sinner results from compliance with the will of God: (1) Faith in Christ (Acts 15:9 — “cleansing their hearts by faith”); (2) Repentance regarding past sins committed (Acts 2:37, 38 — “What must we do? Repent . . .”); (3) Confession of faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9, 10 — “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”); and, (4) Baptism into Christ for remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). The consistency of all biblical examples of response to the gospel of Christ gives us the definite impression that there is a pattern for acceptance of the grace of God by the alien sinner. When those requirements are met by the submissive penitent, then God grants forgive- ness of sins. This is what is sometimes referred to by Bible students as the “first law of pardon.”
In similar fashion, forgiveness of sin for the Christian results from compliance with the will of God for him or her: (1) Repent of the particular wickedness committed (Acts 8:22 — “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness . . .”); (2) Prayer for forgiveness (Acts 8:22 — “and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be for- given thee . . .”). This passage assumes that there exists a pattern delivered to us by the apostles for access into the forgiveness of sin for the child of God also. Some Bible students have called it a “second law of pardon.”
Consistent with this pattern is John’s discussion of “walking in the light” and the momentary failures which may occur in our lives: “If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the 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 his Son cleanseth 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 righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:6-9). This passage demands that we confess our sins, and so put them behind us. Making a clean break with sin is most important to the process, for otherwise we have not met the terms of pardon set by God in his word.
I believe that it is this situation which is described by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, when he wrote:
For I fear, lest by any means, when I come, I should find you not such as I would, and should myself be found of you such as ye would not; lest by any means there should be strife, jealousy, wraths, factions, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults; lest again when I come my God should humble me before you, and I should mourn for many of them that have sinned heretofore, and repented not of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed (12:20-21).
Evidently these church members were guilty of sin which they had “swept under the rug,” feeling that because they had ceased committing the wrongs, they were therefore forgiven by God. Paul’s stern rebuke is clear evidence that one cannot merely “forgive himself/herself” by such personal fiat. This is the same thing as “pronouncing oneself forgiven!” More is assuredly required.
Behavior of this kind assumes that sin is against one’s own self, whereas the Bible says sin is against God. Sin is principally an offence against the nature of our Holy God. It does denigrate the human spirit and diminish one’s estimation of himself, but that is not the point of forgiveness. Sin insults the holiness of God: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thy sight; That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, And be clear when thou judgest” (Ps. 51:4).
It also assumes that forgiveness takes place in one’s own mind, whereas the Bible says forgiveness takes place in the mind of God. David begs for God’s pardon, recognizing that he (God) is the offended party, and so, the one who must forgive: “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:7-10).
A few years ago a major tax case was settled with the Internal Revenue Service by a country music star. He owed millions to the IRS, and the Tax Service eventually settled for significantly less than was actually owed. He was forgiven of a rather large sum of money owed to the government in the form of taxes, interest, and fines. Note, please, that this forgiveness could never have been granted to him by his own “blotting it from his mind” or simply “forgetting about it.” The terms of repayment and forgive- ness were set by the IRS. He met the conditions and was absolved from payment of the remainder. God does the pardoning, and sets the conditions of our pardon, just as the IRS did for him!
Finally, it assumes that we may set our own pattern of pardon, whereas the Bible teaches that God sets the terms of pardon and has left us a pattern for receiving forgiveness in Scripture. As Paul put it in rebuke of the Corinthians for setting their own standards of right, “What, came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only?” (1 Cor. 14:36). We must follow the divine patterns: “So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours” (2 Thess. 2:15).
Sin must be renounced and repented of to be forgiven. We ought not to want any unpleasant surprises at the Final Judgment. Jesus says there will be some (Matt. 7:21ff). Make a clean break with any sinful practice in your life now by repenting and confessing it to God if it is of a private nature, and to God and your Christian friends if it is publicly known. Do not make a small matter of it by simply considering it a part of the past, though, for the stakes are far too high! When God blots it out his book of remembrance, then and only then, may we dismiss it from our minds, forget about it, and go on with our lives.