The promise of forgiveness is the key to
Christian existence. Sin separated man from God. Sin made man’s return to God
impossible. Sin imprisoned man within the consequences of his own evil. Man of
himself was powerless to eliminate sin from his own life, to destroy the
consequences of past sin, or to reverse the damage that sin did to his
relationship to God. Man was a helpless captive of his own evil.
God was equally helpless to restore full relationship with man. God could not ignore sin. He could not pretend that sin had not occurred. He could not dismiss the fact of sin as insignificant. God is by nature a God of justice. Justice is an attribute of His divine being. Divine justice demanded rectification of the injustice of sin. Without rectification, God was powerless to restore full relationship with man.
The solution to the dilemma is contained in the word “forgiveness.” If God was free to extend forgiveness, and if man was free to accept forgiveness, sin would be destroyed as the barrier between God and man. The primary purpose and the ultimate objective of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was to make forgiveness possible.
Forgiveness is God’s essential promise. It stands at the foundation of all of God’s other promises to the Christian. Without forgiveness, all the other promises of God become meaningless fantasies. All other promises, including the promise of the resurrection to life eternal, are contingent upon a person’s having been forgiven. All other promises are intended for a forgiven people, a people cleansed from sin.
All the key New Testament words which depict and affirm renewed relationship with God focus on the reality of forgiveness. Redemption is one being bought back by God, being ransomed from sin. Sanctification is one being set apart from sin for God. Justification is the destruction of one’s accountability for previous sins. Atonement is one having his sins paid for by the blood of Jesus. Propitiation is God’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice as the penalty paid for our sins. Every divine benefit radiating from Jesus’ sacrifice is focused in the forgiveness of sins.
The promise of the forgiveness of sins to those who enter Christ is parallel in significance to the promise of Isaac to Abraham. All the other promises made to Abraham were dependent upon the birth of Isaac. In order for God to keep those promises, first He had to keep the promise of Isaac’s birth. All other promises made to Christians are dependent upon man’s forgiveness. In order for God to keep those promises, first He has to keep the promise of forgiveness. It is just as essential for the Christian to trust the promise of forgiveness as it was for Abraham to trust the promise of Isaac’s birth.
Jesus and Forgiveness
The primary business of Jesus is the
forgiveness of people. Scripture is irrefutably clear about the fact that the
primary objective of Jesus was to make the forgiveness of sin an established
reality. When the angel explained Mary’s conception to Joseph, he declared, “And
she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he
that shall save his people from their sin” (Matt. 1:21). Just prior to the
beginning of Jesus’ ministry John the baptizer declared, “Behold the Lamb of
God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). In the final days of
His life, Jesus said of Himself, “. . .The son of man came not to be ministered
unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
Just prior to the ascension, the resurrected Jesus declared to the apostles,
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead
the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in
his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:46, 47). Paul
wrote to Titus concerning Jesus, “. . .who gave himself for us, that he might
redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own
possession, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14). To Timothy Paul wrote, “Faithful
is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the
world to save sinners….” (1 Tim. 1:15).
Jesus’ death is a solution to the problem of sin only if forgiveness is a reality in the life of a Christian. Jesus either can forgive or He cannot forgive. If He can forgive, then the cleansing from sin is a fact in the life of a Christian. If forgiveness has occurred in the life of a Christian, he has the responsibility to feel and to act as a person who has been freed from sin. The Christian who refuses to trust God’s promise of forgiveness is a living refutation of the power of Christ. Why should any sinner wish to become a Christian just to exchange the guilt of a sinner for the guilt of a Christian? The burden of guilt is equally oppressive whether one be a sinner or a Christian. If God cannot keep His promise of forgiveness, why should a sinner trust any other promise God has made?
Forgiveness and Past Sins
Perhaps the great irony to be found in common
Christian conviction is this: Christians tend to have much greater faith in
God’s forgiveness of the alien sinner than faith in God’s forgiveness of His own
children. Christians will argue passionately that God’s complete forgiveness of
the baptized alien sinner is a fact. No matter what sins a person has committed,
if he with faith and repentance will be baptized into Christ, his total
forgiveness of all past sins is an unquestionable fact. Yet, many of those same
Christians will not affirm God’s complete cleansing of a Christian. They affirm
that sins committed before baptism into Christ are completely destroyed by the
blood of Jesus. At the same time, they spend many anxious hours in their own
lives fearful that sins committed after baptism will condemn them to hell. They
never feel confident that any sin committed after baptism has been destroyed as
thoroughly as those sins committed prior to baptism.
The promise of the complete forgiveness of a believing, penitent alien sinner who is baptized into Christ is clear and certain. The New Testament clearly declares that baptism marks the point of transition from unforgiven sinner to forgiven Christian. In the process of transition, faith, repentance, and baptism are of equal importance. Baptism cannot make forgiveness possible if either faith or repentance are absent. Baptism is no more essential than faith or repentance; baptism is the point of transition from sinfulness to spiritual purity. The passages which document the importance of Christian baptism (the baptism commanded by Christ and the apostles after the resurrection and the inauguration of the new covenant) are likely well-known and understood by the reader: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 2:37, 38, 41; 10:48; 16:33; 22:16; Romans 6:1-4; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 13; Galatians 3:26, 27; 1 Peter 3:18-22.
There is unanimous agreement in Christ’s church that baptism is the point of transition from sin, and that at baptism all past sins of the sinner are destroyed completely. The baptized sinner is no longer accountable to God for his past sins. It is because of that unquestioned conviction that any Christian will plead with any sinner guilty of any form of evil to be baptized into Christ. Regardless of the nature of the sins committed, the sinner is assured unconditionally that the sins will be destroyed if he with faith and repentance will be baptized for the remission of his sins.
There is only one reason for any Christian placing that much confidence in the effectiveness of baptism. There is only one reason for any sinner placing that much confidence in the effectiveness of baptism. This is the reason: faith in the promise of God. Baptism is to be trusted to cleanse a sinner from all past sins simply because God promised it would. God promised that He would accept the shed blood of Jesus as atonement for the sins of any baptized believer, and He would thereby extend forgiveness for all past sins.
Forgiveness and The Christian’s Sins
God’s plan for man’s forgiveness was not a
partial solution to the problem of sin in human life. It was not a powerful plan
to care for 100% of the needs of the alien sinner, but a weak and ineffective
plan for caring for the needs of the Christian. It was not a highly effective
means of dealing with human sinfulness for those outside of Christ, but an
inadequate means of dealing with human sinfulness for those in Christ. God’s
sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus, was a total solution to the problem
of all human sinfulness of both the lost and the saved. It was a complete
resolution of the problem of human sinfulness. It is as effective in dealing
with sins committed after baptism as it is in dealing with sins committed prior
The most specific passage which deals with God’s promise of forgiveness for sins committed by His children is 1 John 1. This letter was unquestionably written to Christians. Through the frequent use of “we” John affirmed the common spiritual bond linking him and those he wrote. In verses 5-10, John stated these truths: (1) God is light; there is no darkness in God. (2) To claim to have fellowship with God as one walks in the darkness is to lie and to not “do” the truth. (3) The blood of Christ cleanses Christians from all sin if they walk in the light. (4) If Christians claim to have no sin, they are self-deceived. (5) A Christian’s confession of sin results in the certain cleansing of sin, a cleansing from all unrighteousness. (6) To claim to be free from sin (and thereby having no need for forgiveness) is to make God a liar and to prove His Word is not in that individual.
There are those who would claim that “walking in the light” (v. 7) means that the person is living a sinless life in Christ. At any time the person sins, he ceases to “walk in the light.” That position stands in opposition to the point of the passage in two distinct ways. (1) If “walking in the light” means living a sinless life, John said that God will use the blood of Jesus to cleanse all sins from those who have no sin. Thus, forgiveness is for those who do not need it. To the contrary, the passage affirms that it is for those Christians who do need it—which is every Christian. (2) John also plainly stated that to claim sinlessness is to be self-deceived and to be void of the truth (v. 8), and is to make God a liar and to verify that His word is not in that person (v. 10).
This passage shows how imperfect, sinful Christians (which is every Christian) can live in fellowship with a sinless God. They cannot live in fellowship with God by pretending to have no sin. They can live in fellowship with God by walking in the light, by maintaining fellowship with other Christians, and by confessing their sins. To walk in the light is to devote one’s self seriously to a godly existence. He will not live a sinful lifestyle. He will not indulge evil in his life. Maintaining fellowship with Christians is to be a living, functioning part of the spiritual family of God. He is a living part of the church. Confessing sins is a person’s acknowledging acts or attitudes of evil to God when he becomes aware of his sin.
There are specific promises to the Christian who walks in the light, maintains fellowship with Christians, and confesses his sins. The blood of Christ “cleanseth” (present, on-going) that Christian from ALL sin. The faithful, righteous God’s forgiveness will be extensive and adequate; it will cleanse from ALL unrighteousness.
Note the perfection and completeness of God’s forgiveness for the Christian. If the Christian maintains (1) a continuing, serious commitment to godly living, (2) fellowship with Christians, and (3) the readiness to confess sin upon the awareness of sin, God will forgive ALL sin and cleanse from ALL unrighteousness. Just as God’s forgiveness at baptism is not just for those sins which the sinner knows and understands he has committed, God’s forgiveness of the Christian is not just for sins the Christian knows and understands he has committed. Not only does God forgive the Christian of known sin, but He also forgives sins of ignorance. No Christian has a perfect understanding of the Word or a perfect knowledge of all forms of evil. All Christians likely commit more sins in ignorance than through knowledge. No one can repent of or confess sin which he does not know to be sin. Yet, proper dedication to godly living and to a penitent heart which readily confesses known sin results in one being forgiven of all sins.
God’s perfect, total solution to the problem of sin cares for all sin before and after baptism. It does not permit willful indulgence in sin, but it provides complete forgiveness to those who resist sin in their lives through godly living and who confess their failures. Forgiveness of sin does not end at baptism; it begins at baptism. The blood of Christ begins to flow continuously in the life of a Christian upon baptism into Christ. It will continue to flow in his life continuously cleansing him of his sins as long as he dedicates himself to godly living in Christ, as he continues fellowship with God’s people, and as he confesses his sins. When he ceases to do any of these things, the continuous cleansing ceases. God’s forgiveness allows the baptized person to have the total confidence that his sins prior to conversion have been destroyed, and it allows him to have the same confidence that his sins after baptism are being destroyed.
Confidence in God’s full forgiveness of sins comitted before baptism and after baptism should be the same confidence. Both forgivenesses are to be accepted and trusted for the same reason: God promised it would happen. Both are empowered by the same source: the blood of Jesus. Both are permanent solutions: any sin forgiven is a sin destroyed. Both acts of forgiveness destroy ALL sin, ALL unrighteousness.
A Matter of Faith
A failure to have confidence in God’s promised
forgiveness is an act of faithlessness. The faith of righteousness trusts the
promise of God. The penitent Christian sincerely devoted to walking in the light
who doubts his full forgiveness is struggling with faithlessness.
When does a Christian trust his forgiveness? When does he know he has placed faith in God’s promise? He has the faith of righteousness when he feels and carries no sense of guilt for forgiven sins. When his forgiven sins are as dead to him as they are to God, he has the faith of righteousness.
The penitent Christian sincerely dedicated to godly living and to the Lord’s family who constantly struggles with an unending burden of guilt does not have a problem with sin; he has a faith problem.
Chapter Eight Questions
Explain why the promise of forgiveness is the
key promise to Christian existence.
Explain the meaning of each of the
following words and how each relates to forgiveness: redemption; sanctification;
justification; atonement; propitiation.
Prove that the primary business of Jesus is
the forgiveness of people by using Matthew 1:21; John 1:29; Luke 24:46, 47;
Titus 4:14; and 1 Timothy 1:15.
If forgiveness has occurred in a Christian’s
life, what responsibility does that Christian have?
Do Christians commonly have more faith in
God’s forgiveness of an alien sinner or God’s forgiveness of a Christian?
Explain your answer.
Why do Christians have so much confidence in
the effectiveness of baptism?
List the basic truths declared about the
Christian in 1 John 1:5-l0
Does “walking in the light” mean “living a
sinless life?” Explain your answer.
How can the imperfect, sinful Christian (all
Christians) live in fellowship with a sinless God?
What is God’s promise to the Christian who
walks in the light, maintains fellowship, and confesses his sins? What is
included in all sin and all unrighteousness?
Explain God’s perfect solution to the
problem of sin in a Christian’s life.
A Christian who does not accept the fact that he is forgiven is having a faith crisis. Explain why.
Have the class discuss reasons for most
Christians being afraid to believe in Christ’s blood continually cleansing their
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