Forgiveness of sin is truly a great Bible truth. Forgiveness is great because of the enormity of sin (that which is forgiven), the one who forgives (in the case of God), the cost of forgiveness, and the unworthiness of the one forgiven. There are three areas involving forgiveness: Gods forgiveness of mans sins, mans forgiveness of mans sins in general, and the one sinned against forgiving the offender.
The enormity of sin. Sin (hamartia) is lawlessness (I Jn. 3: 4, ASV). The enormity of sin is seen in the fact that sin separates man from God: "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isa. 59: 1). James presents the sequential progression which eventuates in mans separation from God, "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (Jas. 1: 14, 15). Sin will cause people to suffer the unimaginable agony of hell for an eternity (Matt. 25: 46).
The blood of Jesus, the means and cost of forgiveness. Animal sacrifices were not efficacious in the permanent remitting of sin. In fact, there continued to be remembrance of sin sin was "continued forward," if you will (Heb. 10: 1-4). However, Jeremiah prophesied that the days would come when God would make a new covenant that would offer "total" forgiveness (Jere. 31: 31-34). The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah and shows its fulfillment is in the new covenant that has Jesus as its eternal sacrifice (Heb. 8: 6-13, 1-5, chs. 7-10).
Jesus said, "For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26: 28). We are sanctified by "the blood of his covenant" (Heb. 10: 29). Moreover, Jesus blood reconciles the estranged (Rom. 5: 10), redeems the enslaved (Eph. 1: 7), and justifies the guilty (Rom. 5: 9). Jesus blood is not only presently effective but his blood flowed backward "for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant" (Heb. 9: 15). Let us now turn our focus to the three areas involving forgiveness.
Gods forgiveness of mans sins. As indicated, man is an unworthy recipient of Gods forgiveness (Rom. 5: 6-9). There was (is) no way man could earn or procure forgiveness through a system of meritorious works (Rom. 11: 6, Tit. 3: 5). We are saved (forgiven) "by grace through faith" (Eph. 2: 8). The word "forgiveness" (aphiemi) means "to send forth, send away to remit " (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine). Peter said, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out " (Acts 3: 19). "Blotted out" is derived from exaleipho which means " to wipe, signifies to wash, or to smear completely" (Vine). Remember, when God forgives he "remembers no more" (Heb. 8: 12). We must also not forget that man has sinned against God and it is mans responsibility to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5: 18-21).
Some believe and teach that Gods forgiveness of mans sin is unconditional. If this be true, all men would be saved because God is not willing that any perish (2 Pet. 3: 9). However, only a few will be saved (Matt. 7: 13, 14). The scriptures also present man in need of reconciling himself to God, as seen; hence, man is not passive in the matter of his forgiveness.
The simple way of arriving at how man procures Gods forgiveness is to observe teaching which mentions how to have "forgiveness" or "remission" of sin. It was prophesied "whosoever believeth in him (Christ, dm) shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10: 43). This belief, however, is not passive or dead (Jas. 2: 19-26). "Believeth" (pisteuonta) is in the accusative case, singular in number, masculine in gender, participle, and present tense (The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 326). The contemplated belief, then, which leads to forgiveness is ongoing and active (see "John 3: 16, A Great Statement," located in the archives). Furthermore, the scriptures enjoin acts in addition to the initial act of belief acts which are "for the remission of sin" (Acts 2: 38, repentance and baptism).
The totality of the teaching of the New Testament regarding how the non-Christian obtains the forgiveness of sin or salvation is: Belief (Jn. 8: 24, Heb. 11: 6), repentance (Acts 2: 38), confession of Jesus deity (Rom. 10: 9, 10), and water baptism (Acts 2: 38, 22: 16, see "Salvation," accessed from the home page). Water baptism is the consummating act which puts one into Jesus Christ, where salvation is enjoyed (Gal. 3: 26, 27, 2 Tim. 2: 10). "I do not agree," one objects. Remember, God is the offended and it is mans responsibility as the offender to humbly comply with Gods terms of forgiveness not argue and substitute his own plans and means!
The scriptures teach that the child of God has forgiveness through Jesus blood by "walking in the light" and "confessing our sins" (I Jn. 1: 7, 9, see addendum).
Mans forgiveness of mans sins in general. The Christians at Corinth were commanded to forgive the member who had been in sin (2 Cor. 2: 7, 6-9, I Cor. 5). The situation at Corinth did not involve a personal infraction against the individual members, as such (I Cor. 5, cf. Matt. 18: 15-17). It will be observed in this scenario, just as in the case regarding Gods forgiveness of mans sins, the forgiveness was conditional the sinner had repented (2 Cor. 2: 6).
Mans forgiveness of man in cases of personal offences. One can personally sin against another (Matt. 18: 15-17). In such cases, there is a prescribed procedure that must be followed (ibid.). This forgiveness, however, is also conditional. "Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him," Jesus teaches (Lk. 17: 3). If there is no repentance, there can be no forgiveness!
Dear reader, before you come to an unjustified conclusion, allow me to say: the absence of forgiveness in the case just mentioned is not tantamount to vengeance or hate (of course, one could be guilty of vengeance and hate). "But Jesus unconditionally forgave those who murdered him," is the common argument (see Lk. 23: 34). Beloved, Jesus exercised a forgiving spirit we must do the same- but these people (a portion) were not forgiven in fact until Acts 2: 36-41. Notice also that the inspired apostle charged them with murder (almost sixty days after Luke 23: 34) in Acts 2: 23-38. In other words, they had not been unconditionally forgiven.
Hence, in all three possible areas of forgiveness Gods forgiveness of man, mans forgiveness of mans sins in general, and mans forgiveness of man in cases of personal offences forgiveness is conditioned and contingent on the sinner complying with God's terms of forgiveness.
In closing, the prophet said, " though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isa. 1: 18). To be forgiven means to be released and free of guilt! "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood" (Rev. 1: 5). (Related reading would be, "Scriptural Baptism for the Remission of Sins")Addendum: Involved in the continuos cleansing issue are such indispensable verses as I John 1: 7-10, Psalms 19: 12, and Philippians 3: 15. Having grown up as a Baptist and attended Baptist seminary, I am very aware of the doctrine of continuos cleansing as presented in the climate of Calvinism. I have witnessed several invasions of this Augustinian influence in the church in my preaching experiences.
In addition to the teaching of moral purity being a reality through Jesus' blood is the truth found in the particular form of the verb use. John used katharizei (3 person, singular in number, present tense, indicative mood, and active voice, The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 206). The present tense in the indicative mood normally suggests ongoing or continuos action. Hence, Jesus' blood keeps on cleansing from all sin. The Gnostics had doctrines that minimized or eliminated sin, so what is different about John's teaching?
Two singular differences in John's inspired teaching about sin and the Gnostics are: (1) sin is a reality, something for which man is responsible and (2) sin is conditionally forgiven. The expression "if we walk in the light" (ean en to photi peripatomen) and "if we confess" (ean omologomen) set forth the requisite conditionality (vs. 7; 9). Also of interest is the grammatical posture of peripatomen (walk) and omologomen (confess). Both "walk" and "confess" are present tense (Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 321; 289). Hence, Jesus' blood continuously cleanses as the Christian continuously walks in the light and confesses his sins.
Those who advocate sin, any sin is automatically cleansed without any requirement on the part of the sinner do not want to use I John 1: 7-9 to teach their doctrines. I John 1: 7-9 is emphasizing conditions to Jesus' continuos forgiveness. Walking in the light suggest a life style of conformity to God's laws and confessing means we agree with God relative to our sin(s). The Gnostics taught one could have "forgiveness" and live after the flesh. John aggressively denies and refutes such a godless teaching (I Jn. 2: 3 ff.). Brethren today who attempt to use I John 1: 7-9 to defend their teaching of the commission of sin without concern and with the assurance they are automatically forgiven are engaging in the height of folly when they use I John 1: 7-9.
The Christian is a law-keeper (I Jn. 2: 3 ff.). Love motivates one to "keep his commandments" (I Jn. 5: 3). Sin is the opposite of keeping God's commandments (I Jn. 3: 4). John, then, never intended that his writings be used to compromise sin. The Christian must ever search his heart and life and seek to be purged of all sin (cp. Ps. 19: 12). The Christian contemplated by John is one who maintains an attitude of submission and ever seeks to be right with God, making whatever adjustments are required (Phili. 3: 15, see context). "What if an immature sincere Christian dies before he comes to realize a particular belief or practice is wrong?" may be a good question to exercise our minds, but it must never be used to minimize sin and impede repentance and growth!Comments on Psalms 19: 12: Psalms 19: 12 has prompted much thought and has also been greatly abused and misapplied. Allow me to begin with a negation.