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THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS

 

 

The next statement in the Apostles’ Creed is, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” To say I believe in the forgiveness of sins is to say I believe in salvation. It is through forgiveness that the sinner is brought into a right relationship with God. The presence of sin a person’s life brings an overwhelming sense of guilt the Holy Spirit uses to convict him and draw him to God. Without this sense of guilt, a person does not see himself as a sinner in need of salvation. The guilt becomes the catalyst that gives birth to the desire to be rid of the sin and it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that reveals the solution for sin: God’s forgiveness!

Up to this point in our study of the Creed, the facts we observed may be considered largely doctrinal, but, nevertheless, essential for salvation. A sinner coming to God may have no idea to the importance of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, or of the holy church; all he wants is for God to forgive him. Once he is no longer a sinner, these other truths take on meaning they cannot have for an unregenerate mind.

 

Forgiveness: A Limited Statement About Salvation

 

There is more to believe about salvation than just the forgiveness of sins, but this is the starting point for presenting the gospel to those that do not know God. Some object to the Creed because of its limited statement about salvation and they feel that to recite the Creed is somehow to negate other essential aspects of salvation. However, keeping in mind the purpose for the Creed, it is sufficient to point out this key element of the Christian faith to the unlearned.

The Creed gives the sinner no indication of why he needs to be forgiven. There is no statement about original sin, inherited sin, or native depravity. There are no theological terms such as justification, sanctification, new birth, cleansing, baptism and such like to define how salvation works. A sinner under conviction almost never comes to God thinking he needs to be justified or sanctified; he comes to God seeking only forgiveness.

 

The Work Of The Cross Of Christ

 

We discussed the importance and necessity of the Incarnation in a previous chapter. The entire earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth from His humble birth in the Bethlehem stable to His cruel crucifixion on Mount Calvary pointed to one poignant statement He prayed as He died for the sins of the world, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus taught so many things during His earthly ministry, all of which are immensely important and cannot be overlooked. However, all His teaching led to this one moment in history where He prayed for our forgiveness. Until this moment in time, all the forgiveness of sins that had been committed from Adam’s first sin to the last sin committed under the Levitical law was conditional; when Jesus prayed this prayer, that forgiveness became real. When Christ uttered that prayer and make atonement for sin, He made it possible for sinners coming to God, repenting of their sins and seeking God’s forgiveness from that time forward, to experience full instantaneous unconditional forgiveness. That is a fact.

 

Forgiveness

 

The Christian faith offers sinners the assurance of forgiveness regardless of how deep in sin they may have gone. Consider these verses:

 

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21).

 

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).

 

No sin is excluded. No person is exempted. There is not a privileged few. On the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the holy church, the Apostle Peter emphatically stated that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. The “whoever” of whom he spoke includes any and all that will call out to God for forgiveness; along with that fact is the fact that they will be forgiven.

The Apostle John instructs the sinner to confess his sins as that is necessary for forgiveness, which is to confess his sins. Confession involves acknowledging the fact that he has sinned and that his sin stands between him and God; he is truly guilty of moral wrongdoing and worthy of being punished for his sin. Confession also includes the admission that the sinner is incapable of stopping his propensity to sin. The promise attached to confession is the forgiveness of sins and cleansing from all unrighteousness.

The Apostle Paul, standing before King Agrippa, said the sinner must “repent, turn to God, and do works fitting repentance.” (Acts 26:20). As important is confession is, it must be followed by repentance and turning to God. The word repent implies a change of mind resulting in a turn to the opposite direction. In simple terms, it means to give up sin; not just the sins one has committed, but the intent to sin again. When Paul wrote to do works fitting repentance he was in a sense saying people are to prove their repentance by doing good works. Repentance is not simply an emotional response, it is an ethical action that produces demonstrative results evidencing a changed lifestyle.

A sinner under deep conviction coming to God seeking forgiveness will willingly confess his sins and genuinely repent of sinning; but, he probably will not comprehend the concept of being cleansed from ALL unrighteousness or what it means to do good works, these things come to light as he begins to live a Christian life. Initially he may feel incapable of refraining from sin—this is why the holy church is important to a Christian’s salvation because it is the church’s responsibility to teach converts how to live a holy life and to encourage them in a holy lifestyle. The further explanation of the power and privilege of salvation in the Christian life is an essential part of that teaching.

 

Salvation Is More Than Just Forgiveness

 

The forgiveness of sin brings an immediate cessation of guilt and a sense of peace that one has been made right with God. A degree of assurance comes with conversion that encourages the convert he can and will live his life in the way God intends for him to live. The New Testament teaches far more about salvation than just the forgiveness mentioned in the Creed, and it is these other facts added to forgiveness that enable Christians to “do works fitting repentance.” Christianity is not a set of beliefs and certain religious practices; it is the power of God through the Holy Spirit continuously interacting with the believer that results in a holy life.

There are words and concepts related to salvation appearing in the New Testament that are doctrinal in nature. While they are doctrinal, they are not limited to just intellectual concepts; they are the facts of salvation and holiness. We will not present a deep theological discussion of these facts but rather give a summary explanation for each of them.

1. Salvation involves conversion. “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). Conversion means to change from one thing into another, which thing is often the opposite of the first. This is similar to the caterpillar changing into the butterfly; it is the same creature having experienced a transformation from a nature and physiology limited to crawling on the ground or on plants to those by which it can fly uninhibited from place to place. It has not become a different creature; instead, its nature has been changed giving it powers it could not previously comprehend.

In Christianity, the sinner is converted into a saint. He has not become a different being; he is still the same person, with the same personality and physical traits. Through the miracle of salvation and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit he is enabled to live a holy life instead of crawling around in the pits of sin. His lifestyle is changed and he has a new purpose for his life—to please God. Instead of behaving like the sinner he was, he now behaves like a saint—a holy person. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus was talking to adults whom He told to be converted and become like children, the opposite of what they were.

2. Forgiven Christians are like little children in that they have been adopted into God’s family. “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4:4–6).

Adoption is a fact children don’t fully comprehend until they live in their new family for some time. Sinners are under the control of sin, subject to its dictates and leadings. It can be said that the devil is their father and he provides them with a living that is sure to undermine their lives and take them to eternal destruction. Having repented of sin and been forgiven, the new Christian is immediately adopted into God’s family. An immediate spiritual and moral change takes place because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of His Son, has come into his life providing him with a living that is holy and leads to eternal life.

3. Forgiven Christians have changed kingdoms. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” (Colossians 1:13). People are either in God’s kingdom or Satan’s kingdom. Only Christians can be in the kingdom of the Son of His love, all others are under the control of darkness and sin. The Apostle Paul writes of this other kingdom in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” This “god of this age” is none other than Satan, the devil, and his kingdom is one of darkness that blinds the minds of all except those in Christ’s kingdom. Adam Clarke comments on this change of kingdoms:

 

Darkness is here personified, and is represented as having, power, authority, and sway; all Jews and Gentiles, which had not embraced the Gospel, being under this authority and power. And the apostle intimates here that nothing less than the power of God can redeem a man from this darkness, or prince of darkness, who, by means of sin and unbelief, keeps men in ignorance, vice, and misery.

He has thoroughly changed our state, brought us out of the dark region of vice and impiety, and placed us in the kingdom under the government of his dear Son, the Son of his love; the person whom, in his infinite love, he has given to make an atonement for the sin of the world.

 

Forgiven Christians have been redeemed from the power of darkness of the “god of this age” and brought into the kingdom of God where they are delivered from unbelief, are given a clear mind with regard to the things of God, and protected by the very love of Jesus Christ.

4. Forgiven Christians have been born of the Spirit. This is an absolute requirement to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus said in John 3:5–6, “I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Sinners are spiritually dead. The only way for them to become alive spiritually is to be born again—born of the Spirit of God.

Jesus said in John 5:24, “He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (New American Standard Bible). There is a sense in which passing from spiritual death to spiritual life is the same as a new creation resulting in a radical change of lifestyle. This radical change is described in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any person is (ingrafted) in Christ, the Messiah, he is (a new creature altogether,) a new creation; the old (previous moral and spiritual condition) has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!” (Amplified Bible). This new life is inseminated by the Holy Spirit and fills the spiritual void caused by spiritual death. Because this life is begotten by the Holy Spirit, it can be nothing other than a holy life—the “previous moral and spiritual condition” has been radically changed being replaced by the ability to life a holy life in obedience to all things God reveals to and requires of the forgiven Christian.

5. Forgiven Christians are justified. “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38–39). With forgiveness comes justification. While the word justification does appear in the New Testament, it is a theological word that is not readily understood, especially by new Christians. Paul speaks of the forgiveness of sins in verse 38 and then uses the word justified in the very next verse showing that forgiveness of sins and justification are essentially the same thing.

Paul wrote that the Law of Moses was incapable of justifying people. The ancient Jews could make sacrifices for their sins at the temple in Jerusalem and God would forgive them. But the forgiveness was short-lived because there was no power in those sacrifices to keep the people from sinning again as the sacrifices did not address the real cause of sin. The sacrifices under the law of Moses looked forward to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross that would make a true and real atonement for sins. Under the gospel of Christ, Christians are truly forgiven and they are also cleansed from sin. 1 John 1:7, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” The blood of sacrificial animals could not do this; it is the blood of Christ that completely wipes away the record of a person’s sin so that it no longer exists in the mind of God. This is justification: to be declared sinless by God. A simple way to think of justification is to say that the blood of Christ makes me “just-as-if-I” had never sinned.

6. Forgiven Christians are sanctified. Jesus called the Apostle Paul to preach the gospel “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” (Acts 26:18). Forgiveness immediately makes one a saint, a sanctified, holy one. The word sanctification means to be set apart to God; to be made holy. Forgiven people are holy because they no longer have any sin.

The words sanctify and sanctification appear many places in both the Old and New Testaments. While the fundamental meaning remains unaltered, the contexts in which the words appear indicate different aspects of how things are set apart to God and made holy. In the experience of salvation from sin, the very fact that a person’s sins are forgiven and he is justified, the absence of sin means that he is then a holy person; he has been sanctified in this sense. There is a secondness in salvation theologians call “entire sanctification” that is a process wherein the Christian grows in the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18).

7. Finally, forgiven Christians are added to the Church. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (the Church, verse 28).” (1 Corinthians 12:13). We discussed the holy Church in the previous chapter but from this we learn that at the very moment a person repents of his sins and is forgiven, the Holy Spirit immediately makes him part of the body of Christ, the church. He has no need to join a church to continue or aid his salvation, but he should find a congregation of believers that are holy living people who understand the true nature of the church and are free from sectarianism as the biblical church of God. Where a congregation of people has experienced forgiveness as described above, the truth of God’s word will prevail and the people can be established in holiness.

To say “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” is to believe in a complete work of salvation that results in, not only the forgiveness of sins, but a real deliverance from sin and from sinning. Believing in such forgiveness is necessary to salvation.