Let me give you an important principle for believers: Definition is a prerequisite to recovery. In other words, if you can define a problem, you can usually deal with it. Vague anxiety without definition of its source will simply wipe you out. It’s important to define the problem before you do anything else. Let’s define forgiveness based on Hebrews 10:1-18. Is true forgiveness even possible?
The Requirement for Forgiveness
To receive forgiveness, we must be sanctified, set apart to God. A lot of people try to make Christian principles work before they become Christians. When Jesus spoke to his disciples, one provision always followed upon the heels of his counsel: You must be a disciple of Jesus in order to reap the benefits of discipleship.
When Jesus said, “My peace I give to you,” “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you,” “Though he die, yet shall he live” or “I am with you always,” he was only talking to a certain kind of person. Those are not universal statements applicable to everyone; they are meant only for his everlasting family. So, a word of caution: Forgiveness is only for those who have gone to the only One who can forgive, Jesus Christ.
The Reality of Forgiveness
The forgiveness Christ offers is the real thing; it’s not a mere shadow or a copy. Let me illustrate what I mean. If I am really thirsty, one of the most arresting pictures I can see is a picture of a glass of cold water. The picture may be beautiful, it may make me think or daydream about a glass of water, but it is not a real glass of cold water. No matter how nice or realistic the picture, it is just that, a picture. In the same way, Christ’s forgiveness really makes you clean and free. You are forgiven. That is reality.
The Remedy Toward Forgiveness
Forgiveness doesn’t come cheap; it never has and it never will. If I punch you in the nose and you decide to forgive me, that forgiveness costs something—a hurting, damaged nose. There’s a sense in which all forgiveness is vicarious, substitutionary, one for another. Forgiveness always costs somebody something. In the case of the forgiveness offered by God, it cost him his Son. Christ took your place. His death means that you don’t have to die. Remember the cost.
The Reliability of Forgiveness
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). Forgiveness is a fact because the One in authority, even Jesus Christ, says it is a fact. No data, no situation, no tragedy, no governmental decree, no military effort…nothing can ever change it.
There was once a doctor in a mining town who had many patients who simply couldn’t pay their bills. When they couldn’t pay, the doctor wrote “Canceled” beside their debts in his books. Years later, when the physician died, his widow tried to collect on those debts by taking the past debtors to court. But the court replied, “If your husband said that their debt is canceled, it is canceled and can never be claimed again.” Likewise, the King who rules has declared you “Forgiven.” No one can change that fact.
The Reach of Forgiveness
The reach of forgiveness is vast, “once for all” (verse 10). Jesus forgave every sin you have ever committed, every sin you are committing, and every sin you will ever commit. How about that? Corrie ten Boom described it, “Jesus takes your sin, past, present and future, dumps it in the ocean and puts up a sign that reads ‘No Fishing.’” That is so true. Christ has given forgiveness as far into the future as our lives will reach. And he has given forgiveness into the past as far back as our lives have been lived. We really are free.
I know what you’re thinking: Well, does that mean I can do anything I want and I’m already forgiven? Yes, that’s what it means. In that case, I’m going out right now to really sin, since it’s forgiven anyway. You may do that, but if you do, you haven’t understood the motivation of love. I don’t try to be obedient because he will zap me if I’m not. I try to be obedient because he loved me when I wasn’t. I’m constrained by his love, not by his judgment.
The Reminder of Forgiveness
In Hebrews 10:17 God says, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
There was a bishop who was a confessor for a nun. One day the nun told him that Christ had revealed himself to her in person. The bishop, understandably doubtful about her vision, said to her, “I have some instructions for you. The next time Christ appears to you, I want you to ask him about the sins of the archbishop.” The nun said, “Of course.”
So the next time, in a period of confession, the bishop said to the nun, “Well, did you ask Christ about the sins of the archbishop?” She said, “Yes, I did.” He replied, “What did he say?” The nun answered, “He said, ‘I’ve forgotten.’”
The living sacrifice of Jesus Christ has not only wiped your slate clean…it has broken your slate into a million pieces across crossbeams. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). God has forgiven your sin on the cross. Christ’s death reminds us.
You may be on a guilt trip. I want you to think for a moment about the most horrible sin you have ever committed. Think about that which if I revealed it to your friends and family, would make you want to crawl into a hole in the ground. It may be a sin you’ve hidden for years, the one thing that nobody knows and about which you’re never going to tell anyone because you’re so ashamed.
Now hold it, in all of its blackness, before the light of Christ. Remember God’s Word in Hebrews 10. He says this to you: “You remember your forgiveness and I’ll forget your sin. You are free!” That’s real. That’s secure. That’s yours—forever.
Time to Draw Away
Read Psalm 103 & Ephesians 2:1-7
Although you know you’re forgiven in Christ, you may still feel guilty. During those times, you may need a reminder of the forgiveness that’s already yours in him. Write down and memorize Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Allow it to sink in deep…as deep as God’s love for you. You really are free of your sin—past, present and future. Nothing is held against you anymore. Not one single sin.