FORGIVENESS OF SINS
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!
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
A Limited Statement About Salvation
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
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.
Work Of The Cross Of Christ
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).
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
Christian faith offers sinners the assurance of forgiveness regardless of how
deep in sin they may have gone. Consider these verses:
calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21).
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).
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
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.
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.
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
Is More Than Just Forgiveness
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.