Forgiveness Through Christ
"Easter – it’s personal"
This Easter season, Christians all around the world will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Good Friday tells us that we are forgiven the eternal penalty of our sins, through Christ’s finished work on the cross. Easter Sunday proclaims our reconciliation to our Father God through Christ’s resurrection, and that we are born again to follow our victorious Savior in the power of his grace.
What is forgiveness? Quite simply, forgiveness is to let go of one’s right to hold another’s offence against them. It is a choice to cancel a debt and no longer expect payment for the offence. Paul speaks about forgiveness in his letter to the Corinthians: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV).
The Bible teaches that sin’s bill will certainly come due, and no sin is free. Since every sin has a price, the cost of the sin is paid either by the sinner or by the one who forgives. An illustration may be helpful in understanding this point: if a person steals $1000 from you, you are out a thousand bucks and the thief has a debt against you that he needs to pay back. If you choose to forgive the thief for his theft, you understand that the $1000 will not magically reappear. Instead of the thief paying for his offence, the one who forgives pays for it because he gives up his expectation of ever getting the money back. The debt we owe because of our sin is exponentially larger than $1000. Because our sin is against an eternal holy God, the wages of our sin are impossible to pay back.
When God forgives us, the cost of our sin does not magically disappear. The cost of our sin, God’s holy eternal wrath against sin, was borne and paid for by Christ on the cross. When we are forgiven, God lets go of his right to hold our sins against us, because our offence is paid for by Christ instead of us. The Apostle John writes, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2 NIV).
On Good Friday, over a billion Christians will remember Christ’s willing sacrifice on the cross; it is there where he carried the sins of the world, so that God could stop “counting people’s sins against them” for those who place their trust in Christ. Those who are forgiven can be justified before God, being in right moral standing before God. We are saved and we receive salvation from our sins when we are forgiven. What an amazing gift!
How then is God’s forgiveness given to us? God’s gift of forgiveness is given to all those who receive it through faith. Paul reminds us “that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16a NIV). We cannot earn our forgiveness, rather we can only receive it by accepting it as a gift of grace through faith. This faith is placed in Christ by confessing our sin, asking for forgiveness and accepting that God forgives “all those who call on his name” (Romans 10:13 NIV).
What does this faith look like? Isaiah writes “- Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7 NIV). From this verse we see that to be forgiven by God, we must first repent of our sin; confessing and acknowledging it, and turning from it (let the wicked forsake their ways). Secondly, we must turn to Christ (let them turn to the Lord), accepting his gift of forgiveness by faith and trusting that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is enough to remove all our sin guilt before God (and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon). Throughout Scripture, it is clear that forgiveness is given when a person repents and believes.
Once the relational stain of sin is removed through forgiveness, we can be reconciled to God. Our relationship with God, for which we were created, can be restored. Paul writes “But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (Colossians 1:22 NIV).
God’s forgiveness frees us to live in freedom and confidence.
God’s forgiveness frees us to live in freedom and confidence. Not only does the gospel teach that we can be forgiven, it also proclaims that God’s forgiveness is complete and full. When God forgives our sin, the entire stain of sin is removed. John writes that “he purifies us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9) and we are washed to be “whiter than snow” (Isaiah 1:18). While some of the consequences of our sin remain, the full stain of our sin is removed so that not even a whiff of guilt remains. Furthermore, God removes our sins so that it will never be held against us again. "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25 NIV) and “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12 NIV).
Christian, if you wonder if your sins are forgiven, know that you can confidently trust that God will not hold your sins against you anymore.
The weight of sin has been lifted through forgiveness. In God’s eyes, we are not defined by what we have done but by what Christ has done for us. Because we are “in Christ,” we stand righteous before God. If God sees us as righteous in Christ, we should adjust our view of ourselves to match His. Since we are free from the guilt of our sin, we can live in freedom from the shame that sin brought on us. We are free to be defined by our future and not our past. If God has forgiven us, let us not go back to the shame, guilt and bondage we were released from. “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!” (John 8:36 NIV).
Let this Easter season be a time when the reality of Christ’s forgiveness becomes a personal experience for each of us.
Quentin Unger is an Associate Pastor at Deer Run Church in Leamington Ontario. He and his wife Christina have 4 boys. When he isn’t fishing in his spare time, Quentin enjoys his little hobby farm and other outdoor activities with his family.
This article was originally published in The Recorder, Vol 59 no. 2