When does a person know they are forgiven by God?
One of the most heartening things we can ever hear from God is “you are forgiven”. That instantly relieves us of the heavy burden of guilt. It assures us that Heavenly Father accepts us. It brings brightness where there was gloom. It instills hope where there was fear. It changes our lives.
But when does God forgive? On what basis does he forgive? Scripture’s exciting message is that God doesn’t base his forgiveness on what we do. It hinges 100% on what Jesus has already done for us.
Scripture’s message is not so much believe and God will forgive you. Rather it’s God has forgiven you, believe it! That God has forgiven you is not a pious wish – it is a divine fact.
It’s like a teen who went on a rampage, trashing his parent’s house and stealing all their valuables. Once he came to his senses, he realized how terribly he had sinned against them. He couldn’t bring himself to face them. So he ran away. His parents were hurt and devastated. But they talked it out and decided to forgive him. The only problem was that they didn’t know where he was.
The parents searched desperately for him but to no avail. Then they learned that his best friend knew where he was. Even though this friend had promised their son not to tell his parents where he was, he agreed to take a message to him. They wrote it out so that their son would know that it came from them. They told him that they had forgiven him and pleaded with him to come home. When the teen heard this he couldn’t believe it. He thought that it was too good to be true. He felt that he must win back their acceptance. So he remained in hiding.
Does his unbelief nullify the fact that his parents had already forgiven him? No. But his unbelief does keep him estranged from them. His unbelief results in his not enjoying any of the blessings of being at home with his parents. What a needless tragedy.
The same situation exists, but to a much greater degree, in many individuals’ relationship with God. They can’t believe that God has already forgiven them. They know Jesus paid for their sins but they still think that they have to do something to earn God’s forgiveness. They can’t believe that forgiveness is his gift to them. They live each day needlessly burdened with guilt. They wonder if they have done enough to be forgiven. They are uncertain about where they stand with God especially when they realize that they still sin.
God doesn’t like seeing people burdened with guilt. Therefore, God tells us in a number of different ways that he has already forgiven us.
God initiates reconciliation
As Jesus’ suffering on the cross was drawing to a close, he declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). In the original Greek, this consists of one word (tetelestai) – a word that was commonly used to mark bills paid in full. By using that word, Jesus was showing that with his death he had paid our debt of sin – in full.
Because Jesus did that, Scripture says that we are now forgiven.
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) What an extremely comforting passage! No one is excluded. God reconciled the world to himself. He didn’t wait for mankind to act. Just like the parents in the story he took the initiative to repair the relationship. He did that “in Christ”. He sent his beloved Son to pay our debt. As Jesus himself proclaimed from the cross, that is exactly what he did. Therefore, as this passage states, God now does not impute or charge their trespasses against them. We have forgiveness through Jesus blood. (Ephesians 1:7)
God forgives and forgets
Not only does God forgive our sins, he also forgets them! Scripture never indicates that Jesus is now our creditor and we have to pay him back in order to be forgiven. It emphasizes the direct opposite. It says that God’s forgiveness is so complete that he no longer even remembers the sins. “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17) What God forgives, he also forgets.
In fact, Scripture goes even further. “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). This doesn’t mean that we don’t have to make an offering or payment for sin. It’s stronger than that. It means that the very category, “offering for sin”, no longer exists! There is no longer any such thing as an offering for sin. In other words, we can’t make any offering for sin – even if we wanted to – because such an offering no longer exists.
Jesus’ payment not only wiped out sin’s debt, it also made obsolete and useless any future attempts to pay for sin. When people’s entire debt – past, present, and future – is already taken care of, debt payments no longer exist.
Heavenly Father forgives us because Jesus has already paid the debt. That is the consistent message of Scripture.
But that is a difficult message to believe.
“We humans do not take easily to forgiveness. The concept flies against reason. We are prepared for anything but this: a God who strikes hard bargains, yes, but not One who lets us off scot-free.” (Dr. Paul Brand)
(A common response to the message that forgiveness is God’s gift is that this then gives people the opportunity to sin all the more. Click here for an article that addresses this concern.)
A Life of Happiness
Guilt is a heavy burden to bear. And it’s one that is difficult to put down. No matter how hard people try to ignore it, it rears its ugly head. In the still of the night, it often weighs the heaviest. In the privacy of one’s thoughts, it painfully persists. It pricks consciences and calls to mind sinful thoughts and acts. It never is satisfied. It never relents.
The only thing that effectively removes guilt is the knowledge that Jesus has broken its power by taking full responsibility for our sins and paying our debt to God’s justice. It’s the knowledge that the Lord has separated us from our transgressions as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and has drowned them in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Knowing that breaks guilt’s stranglehold and replaces it with the great joy of being worthy and acceptable to God. Even when we sin and guilt tries to make us miserable again, we can nip it in the bud by pointing to Jesus’ completed sacrifice for us. That is one thing that guilt can’t stand against. Confronted by Jesus’ sacrifice for us it must retreat with its tail between its legs.
It can’t even make us fear Judgment Day. Knowing that God has already forgiven us on the basis of Jesus’ work for us, we can eagerly look forward to Judgment Day. We can view it as our day in court where we will be vindicated and welcomed into the Father’s presence for all eternity – not because of anything we have done, but entirely because of everything Jesus did for us.
God wants you to be happy. God wants you to have great joy. He wants you to be confident that you will live with him for all eternity. That is why his message to you is “Forgiven!”
Believe that and experience a life of happiness.
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