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     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: God’s forgiveness of man’s sins, man’s forgiveness of man’s 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 man’s 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.

     God’s forgiveness of man’s sins. As indicated, man is an unworthy recipient of God’s 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 man’s responsibility to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5: 18-21).

     Some believe and teach that God’s forgiveness of man’s 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 God’s 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 man’s responsibility as the offender to humbly comply with God’s 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).

     Man’s forgiveness of man’s 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 God’s forgiveness of man’s sins, the forgiveness was conditional – the sinner had repented (2 Cor. 2: 6).

     Man’s 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 – God’s forgiveness of man, man’s forgiveness of man’s sins in general, and man’s 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.

     At the core of an understanding of this subject is the teaching of John found in I John 1: 1-9. The issuance of these truths is seen in the setting of Docetic and Cerinthian Gnosticism, often containing tenets that compromised sin. The passage reads as follows:

     "7: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10: If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

     There are a number of glorious and encouraging truths resident in the foregoing passage. Jesus' blood is forefront, along with its wondrous accomplishments. Jesus' blood cleanses and cleanses from all sin, John emphatically declared. Of special interest is the term "cleanseth." "Cleanseth" is from the Greek verb Katharizo. Vine comments thus on katharizo:

akin to A, signifies (1) "to make clean, to cleanse" (a) from physical stains and dirt, as in the case of utensils, Matt. 23:25 (figuratively in Matt. 23:26); from disease, as of leprosy, Matt. 8:2; (b) in a moral sense, from the defilement of sin, Acts 15:9; 2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 9:14; Jas. 4:8, "cleanse" from the guilt of sin, Eph. 5:26; 1 John 1:7; (2) "to pronounce clean in a Levitical sense," Mark 7:19, RV; Acts 10:15; 11:9; "to consecrate by cleansings," Heb. 9:22,23; 10:2. See PURGE, PURIFY."  (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.)

     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.

     What Psalm 19: 12 is not teaching: (1) Sin in general can not be discerned and defined (David did identify sin in his life, Ps. 51: 2,3ff), (2) sin generally viewed does not have to be recognized and confessed to God (Ps. 32: 5, I Jn. 1: 6-10), (3) and there are never resultant reparations for the sin we commit (some argue "we can not identify sin; hence, we have no restoration duties, cf. Matt. 5: 23, 24).

     Psalm 19: 12 must be viewed in light of verses seven through eleven and verse thirteen. God's law is ideal, absolute, and definitive (vs. 7-11). Compared to the august law of God, man is shadowed and minimized! However, there are sins which are deliberate and high-handed, sins of presumption (vs. 13). The "errors" and "faults" of verse twelve are, therefore, on a high plain and certainly not sins which we deliberately and repeatedly commit (see I Jn. 3: 8-10).

     It has been contended that the "secret faults" are sins which David knew of but concealed from others. However, this view fosters hypocrisy. It also ignores "who can understand his errors?"

     Much space and many carefully chosen words would be needed to exhaust this subject. In an effort to be succinct, I am persuaded Psalm 19: 12 is teaching that on a high plain, I can not over emphasize this point (not referring to obviously moral matters such as adultery, lying, stealing, etc.., David was not justified in his adultery - while he "could not see it," 2 Sam. 12, Ps. 51), man is challenged and handicapped in seeing and understanding his sins as God (God's law) sees them. When we apply Psalms 19: 12 in general and not on a graduated level, we create a situation of inevitable collision and contradiction (I Jn. 1: 6-10). Sins of ignorance, normally considered, are condemning (Acts 17: 30, 31). I equate "secret sins" with statements such as "and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you" (Phili. 3: 15).