Nothing is more definitely set forth in the  gospel than the fact that its very heart is the  work of Christ. Do we think of the gospel as  the covenant with Abraham concerning everlasting  inheritance of the land promised? Then we find that  Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for  the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto  the fathers (Rom 15:8). He specifically linked his  shed blood with the covenant: “He took the cup, and  gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye  all of it; for this is the blood of the new covenant,  which is shed for many for the remission of sins”  (Matt 26:27, 28). He is the mediator of “the better  covenant”. And since a covenant to be operative  requires death in confirmation, so the new covenant  is established in Christ’s death: “for this cause he  is the mediator of the new covenant, that by means  of death, for the redemption of the transgressions  that were under the first covenant, they which are  called might receive the promise of the eternal  inheritance.”

Do we think of the gospel as a promise of eternal  life? Then that is made possible in Christ’s death.  God gave His only begotten Son that whosoever  believeth in him might not perish, but have  everlasting life. The “giving” involved his death,  that we who are dying might live. “I am the good  shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the  sheep.” “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

When we think of the gospel as an invitation to  turn to God, we find the promise that though sins  be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though  they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.  This amazing transformation, this impossible thing  except by the miracle of divine grace, is inseparably  linked with the blood of Christ. “Unto him that  loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own  blood … to him be glory and dominion for ever and  ever.” For the shepherd was by a splendid paradox  the lamb of God to whom it is said: “Thou wast  slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood  …” So wondrous is the Lamb’s work that angels  and all creation join in praises: “Worthy is the  lamb that was slain to receive power and riches,  and wisdom, and honour, and glory, and blessing”.  “Ye know”, says Peter, “that ye were not redeemed  with corruptible things as silver and gold, from your  vain conversation received by tradition from your  fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of  a lamb without blemish and without spot” … “who  his own self bore our sins in his body to the tree.”

Forgiveness and the death of Christ

The message of salvation is bound up with the death  of Jesus. “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved  Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third  day: and that repentance and remission of sins  should be preached in his name.” Repentance – for  man has a part to play; but remission is essentially  God’s work. “Christ died for all … and all things  are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by  Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry  of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ,  reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing  their trespasses unto them.” And Paul gives by way  of an explanation the divine paradox: “that God hath  made him who knew no sin to be sin for us: that we  might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

How we can resolve this divine paradox? Christ  shared many things with us that have come by sin,  even though – and Paul puts this emphatically first  – he was sinless. Paul had earlier said, “In that he  died for all, then all died”. He shared the death and  the suffering and the shame that have come by sin.  It is the suffering and the shame and the death that  belongs to all of us. Whatever else Paul’s statement  does, it helps us to try and articulate what we cannot  adequately express ourselves; we know what the  horror of sin is when we at last try to see it as God  sees it. We cannot repair the breach between God  and man, for we cannot even define the tragedy  of it. But God has set forth Jesus crucified among  men; and the man who seeks to be justified by  Christ becomes dead to law as the basis of human  achievement, and is “crucified with Christ” to share  his life “by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The one ground of  glorying is that which excludes all human glorying,  and Paul could say: “God forbid that I should glory,  save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom  the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.”

Confession: “Jesus is Lord”

“Remission of sins in his name” inescapably  involves a connection between the repentant man  and Christ. In him God meets the sinner, and there  forgiveness is found. Why God chose this way we  in measure discern as we grow in the scriptures.  The fact that He chose it is unquestionable. That  it involved one who shared the consequences of  sin in partaking of our nature is plainly declared  as a vital truth; that that one must be sinless, too,  in order that he might be the source of resurrection  and life is also evident; and with that one we must  be identified that in his suffering for sin he becomes  our representative. “We die with him and are buried  with him.” What he did becomes our confession  before God, as “in him we have redemption through  his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the  riches of his grace.” Confession is made by the  “word that is nigh thee”, even in heart and mouth.  We confess with the mouth that Jesus is Lord and  believe in our hearts that God hath raised him from  the dead that we may be saved. To confess Jesus  as Lord is to acknowledge that he has bought us;  it is to acknowledge that in the name of the Lord  upon whom we call in faith we may be saved; and  “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”  (Rom 10:10).

The experience of forgiveness

Forgiveness is a vital part of the disciple’s  experience of life in Christ. As a man learns that  all the world is guilty before God, and that means  each individual is guilty before God – as a man  realizes this, not as just an intellectual assent but  with a moral awareness of his real standing before  his Maker – then forgiveness comes as a lifting of  a load which is unbearable. The shame of the past  goes with the conviction that God has cast our sins  behind His back. But the effect of forgiveness is  not only the sense of freedom from the past; it is a  power for the future. Even in human relationships,  that power is evident. When a man or woman has  realized the pain their action has caused, and has  asked the forgiveness for which the price of pain has  been paid, the soul is fortified against a further lapse  when temptation comes. The memory of a mother’s  forgiveness can make a son say, “I can’t do that  again.” It is much more so in divine relations. God  has forgiven, and the price was great; “precious” is  the Bible word. What Paul says follows naturally:  “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we  thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died;  and he died for all, that they which live should no  longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for  their sakes died and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14–15 rv).  There has been a release from the bondage to self,  and a new horizon, as limitless as God Himself, has  been opened up. Self-satisfaction has gone, and its  place is taken by the will to serve God. If the old  life was a bondage, the new life is the freedom of  emancipated men, and the labour of the freed man  is better in soul, in quality, in the joy of service than  that of the slave. The example of Christ inspires,  gratitude to God impels, the fellowship of God  ennobles; forgiveness is a cleansing experience,  for sin in its repulsiveness is no longer paraded  as righteousness. For forgiveness is received by  faith. “Abram believed God, and it was counted  to him for righteousness.” But faith which is the  channel of forgiveness illumines its significance  and its wonder: and it is all one to speak of being  cleansed by forgiveness and of God purifying  hearts by faith. This is behind the thought of John  when he says, “This is that which overcometh the  world, even our faith; and the same apostle testifies  that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just  to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all  unrighteousness.”

Forgiveness through Christ

The forgiveness of God is mediated through His  Son whom God has provided. “If any man sin, we  have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the  righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins: and  not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole  world.” So gracious a provision of the Father could  not fail to find expression in the ministry of the Son.  That he should claim to forgive sins understandably  outraged the religious leaders of Israel, and they  reasoned in their hearts, “Why doth this man speak  blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  The last phrase seems to admit of but one answer.  But Jesus posed a question which also allowed of  one answer only. “Whether is it easier, to say to the  sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to  say, Arise, and take up thy bed and walk?” Judged on the basis of saying, the latter provides a more  direct apparent test, and therefore one more easily  proved. But Jesus linked the two together and used  the healing to demonstrate the forgiveness. “That  you may know that the son of man hath power on  earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the  palsy), Arise and take up thy bed.” And immediately  he arose. Is the linkage merely an arbitrary one –  Jesus saying, Just as I can do this, so I can do that?  Or is it intrinsic and basic? The latter would appear  to be the true answer; for sin produces effects,  and probably the man’s state was due to a life of  self-indulgence. If Jesus was answering the man’s  unspoken question, which was yet apparent to Jesus,  then both he and Jesus were more concerned with  his spiritual life than his physical. Be that as it may,  sorrow and sickness are ultimately part of the sad  toll which sin imposes upon sinners. By removing  the effects, Jesus showed the power to forgive sins.  The healing, like other miracles, was Messianic in  its import, and illustrated an aspect of the work for  which Jesus came.

Consequences which remain

While the miracle demonstrates that the forgiveness  of sins involves the removal of the effects of sin –  including both sickness and death – it would be a  mistake to conclude that when a man is justified  by faith he at once finds the consequences of sin  also removed. The early preachers sent forth by  Jesus himself had to preach the gospel and heal  the sick. That power given to them was a share  of the Messianic power of Jesus: it was in Paul’s  phrase a foretaste of the powers of the age to come.  But the miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles,  and while there may be a connection between  faith and health in that faith can create conditions  conducive to health, it must be recognized that  nevertheless sickness and death run their course.  Even in the apostles’ days, Paul suffered a thorn in  the flesh, Timothy had a frequent digestive trouble,  Trophimus had to be left by Paul at Miletus sick.  The order of nature is not altered for our sakes;  mistakes bring their penalties. And the aftermath  of sins is not taken away. A sin can affect the lives of  others for which no reparation is possible. A man can  squander his health and his wealth, and bring poverty  to his family. A well-to-do man may reduce his family  to poverty by gambling; but a change in the man’s  attitude to life, following repentance by him and the  forgiveness of his family, can not bring back what is lost.  There is something that repentance and  forgiveness does effect, however. Even though  the consequences of sin remain, a man’s attitude  is changed. It is possible that the afflictions which  produce cursing in one man as he pursues a godless  evil life, may so act on a man who has found  forgiveness with God that those same difficulties  become a discipline. A man humble and contrite,  awake to the folly of sin, accepts the trials of his life  as a purifying experience, and becomes ennobled  as he patiently seeks to live the life of the new  man in Christ Jesus. Penitence on man’s part and  forgiveness on God’s part can so effectively enable  a man to endure the consequences of sin, that he  uses them as transforming experiences, becoming  thereby more than conqueror in that not only is  sin overcome but its effects are made to serve as  a training in righteousness. As each one’s past has  become a part of himself, by that very continuity  which is part of personality, a man is abidingly  aware of the past. Paul could never forget the  days when he was a persecutor, although he had  found mercy. The past can therefore abide, not  now with the power of habit holding in bondage,  but producing the humble and contrite heart.  The memory of the guilt and the consciousness  of forgiveness are part of the personality. And  as the one disciplines and corrects, so the other  encourages and guides in godliness. The grace of  God is creative – the new creature is a forgiven man  who seeks to walk worthy of God. And when the  new creation is perfected, without spot or wrinkle  or any such things, the effects of sin will all have  been swallowed up in victory – the victory of the  Lamb slain.

Human forgiveness

Human and divine forgiveness are never far apart in  the scriptures. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive  our debtors.” “Forgive us our sins; as we also  forgive everyone that is indebted to us.” The petition  points to the similarity of the act of the Father and  the disciple. As the one forgives, so does the other.

There can be no forgiveness from God for  the unforgiving man. “Judge not, and ye shall  not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be  condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven”  (Luke 6:37). “And when ye stand praying, forgive  if ye have ought against any: that your Father  also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will  your Father which is in heaven forgive your  trespasses.” The unforgiving has enmity in his  heart; he also exercises a judicial attitude which  usurps the prerogatives of God. Jesus puts no limit  to forgiveness, for when Peter asked how often they  should forgive, the answer, “Until seventy times  seven”, virtually removes a limit. Jesus emphasized  his lesson by the story of the man who was forgiven  a tremendous debt by his lord and who immediately  sought to exact a very small debt from a fellow  servant. On hearing of it his lord was wroth with  him: the man was unworthy of forgiveness. Jesus  adds, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also  unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every  one his brother their trespasses.” Here the operative  words are “from your hearts”. They demand of men  understanding, compassion, humility, and a love  that finds its pattern in the love of God.

As the works of the flesh find an outlet in  bitterness, wrath, anger and evil speaking, so  the renewed man which after God is created in  righteousness and holiness of truth, seeks to follow  the divine way: “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted  and forgiving one another, even as God for  Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

There are two follies that men commit. One is  seen in the light cavalier treatment of forgiveness  which says, “Of course God forgives, it is His  business”; and the other is the defiance of the  natural rebelliousness in man expressed by GB  Shaw, “Forgiveness is a beggar’s refuge; we must  pay our debts.” The one fails to recognize the moral  problems of sin and forgiveness, and the other  denies the fundamentals of man’s salvation.