“The Forgiveness of Sins”


This phrase is the creed’s succinct statement of the essence of our vicarious salvation in Jesus Christ. What is Christian salvation? It is the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of humanity to God in Christ. Forgiveness is what needs to happen in order for a relationship to be restored and to continue when one party has offended the other. We have personally offended God; that is the definition of sin. In his divine righteousness the offense of our sin has eternal and infinite significance. It would be just for him to end our relationship, to require that we suffer in a way commensurate with the nature of our transgression. But, in Jesus Christ, God has absorbed the pain of the broken relationship, he has suffered for our transgression (Isaiah 53:4-6), in order to forgive us and to restore the relationship.

“In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). In the words of Karl Barth: “God himself, by taking man’s place in Jesus Christ, has taken over the unconditional responsibility for his way” (Dogmatics in Outline). Because Jesus is our substitute, our vicar, our representative in relationship to God, our godlessness was imputed to him as he suffered in our place (especially at the cross), and his godliness has been imputed to us so that we are forgiven, justified, and welcome in God’s presence with the same reception given to Christ himself. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them… For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21).

We don’t deserve forgiveness. By its very nature, forgiveness is undeserved favor given in spite of offense. Asking forgiveness is a great imposition. In the case of our salvation, before we asked for it—and regardless of the fact that we never perfectly confess, apologize, repent, and ask forgiveness for our sin—God sent his Son into the world to forgive us. Jesus is the only one who has the right to condemn another human being, but he does not; he forgives, at the cost of his own life. Forgiveness was his idea in the first place, his initiative in our relationship, an imposition upon himself that he has invited and promised to grant. He forgives us because that’s what kind of God he is. He gives himself to those who reject him (who even killed him!), which is the highest, purest, freest expression of love. Because of Jesus, you can be assured that you could never feel, think, say, or do anything that would make God turn his Fatherly love away from you. And if you truly know God’s forgiveness in Christ, you can extend God’s forgiveness in Christ to others who have offended you (Ephesians 4:32).

Do you know your need of forgiveness? Why do you think/feel you need God’s forgiveness? Is it easy for you to ask forgiveness of God? Of others? Why or why not? Do you know why David asks forgiveness of God when he has so terribly hurt Bathsheba and Uriah (Psalm 51:1-4)? How is asking forgiveness different from apologizing or saying, “I’m sorry”? How is forgiving different from saying, “That’s okay”? Can you forgive the people who have hurt you most deeply, who have committed the gravest injustices, whom it is instinctive to demonize? How do you think about forgiving others in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

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