Q.56. What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
A. I believe that God, because of Christ’s atonement, will never hold against me any of my sins nor my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life. Rather, in his grace God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment.
When we speak about the forgiveness of sins, it is of utmost importance to understand who it is that grants forgiveness. Take for example a child who hits another, they are told to apologize and the injured child is told to say, “I forgive you.” From this example, we can deduce that the offended or injured person grants forgiveness. Therefore, we must ask, who is offended or injured when people sin? God, of course. He alone bears the greatest anger from our sin. Every sin we commit challenges his authority and right to determine what is good and evil. Every sin committed tells God that he is not sovereign and that he must not be obeyed. Every sin makes a mockery of those people God created in his image, for every sin affects others. Therefore, God alone can grant forgiveness of sins. This doesn’t mean we no longer need to apologize when we wrong others, it simply means that this forgiveness doesn’t affect God’s view of our sins. Ultimately we must seek his forgiveness as well as the forgiveness of our neighbor. This is why the catechism begins by reminding us that God gives forgiveness. Read Micah 7:18-19.
Yesterday we explored how one child forgives another when they are wronged. Today we need to ask if the picture of forgiveness painted by these children is an accurate picture of the forgiveness granted by God. Does God simply wipe away our sins without anyone being punished? Again, the catechism corrects our modern sense of forgiveness without punishment when it states “because of Christ’s atonement” our sins are forgiven. It is true, our experience of forgiveness feels a lot like a child forgiving another, but the truth of forgiveness is that Christ was punished in our place so that we could be freed from punishment. Read 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.
The word atonement is a fancy way of saying that someone must bring a gift in order to the relationship to be restored. When someone has upset another, they may say, “I bring a peace offering.” This is atonement. When one has broken a law, the judge’s sentence is a work of atonement. Similarly, when Christ died on the cross and shed his blood, sin was atoned, peace restored and punishment satisfied in order for humanity to once again be in relationship with the holy God. Read 1 John 2:2.
God forgives our sins; but he also forgives our sinful nature and tendencies even when we do not act on them. Each of us struggles with being good and avoiding evil. For some that struggle is harder than for others, but no matter, we all must fight against our nature. Paul wrote about this reality in his letter to the Romans. Read Romans 7:21-25. Isn’t it amazing and wonderful that God forgives us and rescues us even from our internal struggles with good and evil?
But there is another benefit to divine forgiveness – being declared righteous. When God forgives people of their sins, he also declares them righteous at the same time. Forgiveness and righteousness are 2 sides of the same coin for the Christian. What is righteousness? It is being declared completely pure, blameless and holy. Read Romans 3:21-26 and 4:6-7. Did you notice how Paul ties righteousness and forgiveness together? In Christ we are righteous and forgiven. Read 1 Corinthians 1:30.
How does one receive “the forgiveness of sins” and the righteousness of Christ? Read Philippians 3:7-11. Faith is the key that unlocks this wonderful gift of God. When we believe in the Son of God as the only atoning sacrifice for sin and the only one able to make us truly righteous, then God gives us all this and more. That is why Paul writes that everything is a loss compared to knowing Christ. May you know Christ more fully and believe in the only one who can forgive you from your sins and cleanse you from unrighteousness. Read 1 John 1:9.