Are Our Sins Gone as though They Never Happened? In One Sense–No

Justified! It is a wonderful truth that we are justified by Jesus: Some believers celebrate it with this homonym: ‘It is just if I’d never sinned!’ It’s cute and it’s catchy. But is it true? Are our sins gone as though they never happened?

This delightful confidence is inspired partly by Psalm 103, a poem that celebrates the joy of the Psalmist’s heart over the love and compassion of God:

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Micah 7 says:

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob.

And Hebrews 8 quotes a passage from Jeremiah 31 that speaks of a new covenant with Israel in which the Lord says:

I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

Actually, these Old Testament passage have nothing to do with the forgiveness Jesus provides us. They are speaking of God’s relationship with Israel but, nevertheless, I still think they are wonderful, poetic ways for us to think about God’s forgiveness.

But are our sins really gone?

In the depths of the sea...

Into the Depths of the Sea. By Joe Boyd (Grey Reef Sharks) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Are Our Sins Gone as though They Never Happened?

In my church circles years ago we loved to sing the song, Praise God My Sins are Gone. The chorus goes like this:

They’re underneath the blood on the cross of Calvary, As far removed as darkness is from dawn; In the sea of God’s forgetfulness, that’s good enough for me, Praise God, my sins are gone!

In the Old Testament, sin was usually thought of as transgression against God’s law, whether by the Nation of Israel or by individuals. But in the New Testament we begin to see much less emphasis on religious rules and more on the ethics of treating people right. Jesus agrees that the entire law is summed up in our loving God and other people.

In either case, when we are forgiven I think our sins are gone. I think it proper to say that God remembers them against us no more. In that sense we might say that it is as though they never happened. We are reconciled in our relationship with God and no longer carry the burden and guilt of those offenses.

But in a very practical sense they are not gone at all. The consequences of our actions continue, even after God forgives us, we forgive ourselves, and others forgive us. If we have hurt someone, they are still hurt. If we killed someone, they are still dead. If we bullied or abused someone, they are still emotionally scarred. The wounds, scars, and damage continue; it is NOT as though our offenses never happened.

Our Response to Our Offenses

So what do we do about it? Here is my opinion.

God forgives our offenses and we let go of our guilt, but that is not the end of it. We can’t just forget what we did to other people and its continuing physical, emotional, and economic consequences. The damage is still there. Though we no longer carry the guilt of those offenses, we should still have sorrow and remorse for what we have done to others. This is part of our empathy, compassion, and care that comes from loving others.

I don’t think remorse should ever go away. It shouldn’t consume us, but it should never go away. The damage is still there and relationships are alienated. It’s not like what we did no longer matters.

We should do what we can to make things right with people. At the very least we should acknowledge our offenses, and try to correct them where we can. We can express our regret and apologize for our actions. If there is some way we can reverse the damage, we should try to do so. We should offer restitution where possible and attempt reconciliation if there is alienation.

This might cost us time, effort, and money, but if we are truly sorry for our offenses we should do something about them.

We will not be able to address every wrong. We might have lost contact with some we have hurt. We might not be well received by others. Our bringing up the issue could make things worse, so perhaps we should consider whether or not to contact some people; our objective is not to relieve our conscience but to right a wrong we have done—we don’t want to make it worse.

We cannot fix every situation, but neither can we pretend that it is ‘just as though our offenses never happened’. They did happen and people continue to experience the consequences.

Restitution and reconciliation. This is our part in setting our offenses right with other people—because we are called upon to treat them right.

Series on Sin and Forgiveness

This is the last post in my series on sin and forgiveness; it is the longest series I have ever written. I said many things I really wanted to say, though there are other important things to be said. But right now I am tired of sin, and perhaps you are as well (even though the numbers continue to be strong). So for the next few weeks we will do something new—a miscellany of topics; we will not begin a new series right away.

I hope you will like the change of pace!

Articles in this series: Sin and Forgiveness

The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV)
What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?
Addressing Sin in the Old Testament
The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way
What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much!
The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’
What does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us?
How Substitutionary Atonement Fails

Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18?
Are Sins Primarily Sins against God?
“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”
Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer
What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin?
We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam
Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness?
Who Does God Refuse to Forgive?

See also:

What Does Jesus Think of Sinners Today?

*****

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20 Responses to Are Our Sins Gone as though They Never Happened? In One Sense–No

  1. tonycutty says:

    I recognise some of your thought patterns here from a comment you made on one of my posts on a similar subject! 🙂

    Regarding the bit at the end about making restitution, this fits very well with Romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”. And this is key too, because at the end of the day the people we have hurt should not in their turn have the power to hold our sins against us. Sure, we’ve hurt them, but we ourselves need to allow ourselves to forgive ourselves irrespective of whether those we have hurt forgive us. Hence, ‘as far as it depends on you’.

    Our ‘victims’ should not be allowed to have the power of unforgiveness over us, because in the end it hurst them too; they too need to forgive, otherwise it will really eat them up from the inside. This is a very real power that unforgiveness has; indeed, it does the unforgiving person actually more harm than the unforgiven.

    So in a very real sensewe need to forgive ourselves irrespective of whether our victim has forgiven us. But at the same time learn not to hurt people like that again.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, you make a very good point!: ‘Our ‘victims’ should not be allowed to have the power of unforgiveness over us’. We should express our regret to those we have hurt (intentionally or unintentionally), but their response is up to them. If they choose to hold a grudge and retain resentment, then it WILL eat at them; they should not be allowed control over our emotions.

      If we cannot satisfy them with our attempt to make things right, then we should allow them their resentment and understand their need for it, but it should not burden our life. We have done all we can do.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. sheila0405 says:

    Hi, Tim. One thing I would add: in moving through the process of restoration & reconciliation, we also can learn from our mistakes. Hopefully we won’t repeat them.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sheila, you are absolutely right. We must take reconciliation seriously, and that means trying to avoid hurt and alienation in the future.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. “Restitution and reconciliation. This is our part in setting our offenses right with other people—because we are called upon to treat them right.”

    I so agree with this! I am currently reading “Healing the Wounded Heart” by Dan Allender and it has some great information about reconciliation and living authentically through the pain of our past, but it never recommends that we just forget the past and ignore what we have done.

    It’s sad the very grace of God which gives us hope and the chance to rethink our mistakes would be used as an excuse to brush off responsibility for our actions. This is why I love the healing model of salvation–to see sin as a sickness that we need healing from. The greek word sozo means healing as well as salvation. We all need forgiveness, but God wants to give us more than forgiveness–he wants to heal us from our selfishness so we can be loving and kind people to spend eternity with. Its the contrast of our past with our new life in Christ that reveals our healing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Wow, Cherilyn! You said this so very well, and I agree! I particularly like: “It’s sad the very grace of God which gives us hope and the chance to rethink our mistakes would be used as an excuse to brush off responsibility for our actions.’ Brushing off responsibility for our actions is the opposite of kingdom living.

      Reconciliation is a very important factor in following Jesus, and that sometimes requires the accountability of restitution. And selfishness has no part.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lana says:

    It’s worth adding that I don’t think one will stop feeling guilty as long as he/she does not take responsibility for the hurt he/she caused. and if one goes on as if it’s no big deal, without any remorse, it makes me wonder if she/he really recognized the heart caused in the first place. Of course, we all have been morally blind spotted at some point, but of course, our theology should encourage us to see reconciliation with the other.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Perry says:

    Re your post today, “Are Our Sins Gone as though They Never Happened?–Not Really!”
    Very profound stuff; appreciate it. I’ll share this, too, if I may. I was talking a few years ago with a Christian counselor, and he said some of the most scarred people he deals with are those who had a grievous action or even crime committed against them years ago. In the depth of their despair, their past teachings or some well-meaning person have told them they have to forgive the perpetrator. He said they are, in fact, often made to feel guilty for not forgiving the perp. So, the victim tries & pretends to forgive the perp, stuffing their feelings inside. The counselor said his opinion is that it’s only the victim’s job to reach the point of being ready to forgive. He said that if the Bible’s to be believed, even God requires we confess our sin and ask for forgiveness before God forgives. So, it would be unfair to expect humans to be even more generous than God. Thought that was an interesting take on our duty to forgive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Perry, feel free to share it.

      Regarding people being forced to forgive others. I agree that we should forgive others, but that doesn’t mean we should allow them to hurt us again. This often comes up in abusive relationships. Perpetrators and patriarchal pastors frequently tell female victims they must forgive their abuser and act as if the abuse is in the past and forgotten. This, in itself, furthers the abuse by putting the burden on the victim. The abuse happens again almost 100% of the time.

      This is not a good concept of forgiveness. One can forgive an abuser at a distance, with a restraining order, and with notifying the police. The victim is the one who should be protected. This is far to common in fundamentalist, patriarchal churches. And its a crying shame. I could say so much about it, but that would require more space, which I will do some day in a series on today’s extreme fundamentalism.

      Perry, you really got me worked up on this. Thanks for your comment and I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      Like

  6. mandibelle16 says:

    Liked this. Jesus forgives us completely but we still owe restitution to people we have hurt in sinning. We still need to change our ways and seek the forgiveness of those we hurt. Continuing along the same path means we’ve learned nothing. You say it when you say it’s important to love are neighbours as ourselves, that’s a part of being forgiven by Jesus. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  7. mark says:

    Having been on both sides ,…giving and receiving offense in life, I can tell you that forgiving others is not a human trait. We want God to simple act like we never did any offense to him yet we can not respond in kind to others that have offended us. Just as when you hit your thumb with a hammer…you remember! The pain will usually go away but the memory is still there, as it should be. By being there in your memory it teaches you and causes you to act in a more responsible way. so as to avoid hitting it again.. That pain is like our school master and we are like kids in nursery school…we have to touch the hot thing or the wet paint or whatever …to learn not to do it again and again thru our life.
    When I have wronged you I NEED to remember it…even if it’s painful, less I repeat the offense again.
    We have been taught to forgive people and just move on….but the offending person needs to know what they have done or they learn nothing.
    Some people seem to forgive others rather easily…without effort it would appear. Or do they?
    When I am wronged I want to lash back out…it’s our Nature to do so. I have to tell GOD that I truly want to forgive a person but am still mad and hurt. I have to ask HIM to change my heart about the matter so I can forgive…truly FORGIVE and not just lip service.
    Too many times we just merely let an offense slide….you know…like water on a duck’s back…but that’s not forgiveness. I have to take my thoughts captive to CHRIST…only HE can change my mind and my heart. Yes the offending person needs to know…but I don’t really need his apology as much as I need my heart changed. Because without that..then we just become Tolerant and accept “anything goes” And that isn’t Kingdom living.
    So does GOD forget? I don’t know but I do know we need to not forget…or nothing about us changes.
    I’m sure what I have said seems contradictory but I’m addressing this point from both sides.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Wow, Mark! So much good stuff here! You seem to really have a grasp of the situation.

      I especially like: “When I have wronged you I NEED to remember it…even if it’s painful, less I repeat the offense again.” This is a great insight.

      Like

  8. Joe says:

    I found your post very interesting. Catholics view penance as filling this role of making things right and taking action in a new path to fellowship.

    Here is blog that talks about penance from a Catholic perspective.

    https://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/PENANCE.HTM

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Chas says:

    Tim, have just got back from vacation and during it found time to read a book that had been left in the place in which we were staying. There is no such thing as coincidence with God, and the book was about a Scottish guy who was in the British army during WWII, and was taken prisoner by the Japanese. Things were not too bad until he and others were involved in making a radio to receive news broadcasts coming from the Allied side through an Indian channel. The Japanese found out about this radio and began to interrogate and then torture those involved. The author of this book suffered terrible beatings and torture, but the one on whom his hatred focused was an interpreter, who had no direct hand in the beating. Having survived, despite spending months in prison under a true starvation diet, he managed to hold his life together, although he suffered from nightmares almost every night, and his marriage disintegrated under the strain. Things came to a head when he retired and had time to research his experiences, because he wanted to pursue the interpreter and have revenge on him. Through a series of links, he was made aware that this interpreter had professed to have had feelings of guilt regarding his involvement in the inhumane philosophy and actions of the Japanese secret police. He had been especially touched by the case of the Scottish man, because he had been subjected to water-boarding and a worse version in which a hosepipe was put into his mouth and turned on. As part of his remorse, had helped the Allies to identify war graves of the prisoners who had died and had worked to have a monument built to their memory. He had embraced a form of Buddhism that required forgiveness of ill-deeds before it was possible to progress in the afterlife and as he had looked at this memorial, he had felt peace come on him. This had not impressed the Scottish guy, as he could not be certain that the Japanese interpreter really meant what he had written. Eventually, his second wife wrote to the interpreter, saying: ‘how can you claim to be forgiven when the man whose suffering so touched you hasn’t forgiven you?’ The interpreter replied at once and expressed his dismay, because his peace had been disrupted by this revelation. After some careful correspondence and the support of a post-war reconciliation organization, they met and, after a cautious initial interchange, eventually became friends and the Scottish man was able to forgive the interpreter. Knowing that this would have to be expressed in a formal way, to satisfy Japanese culture, he presented the interpreter with a written statement in which he stated that, while he could never forget what had happened, he forgave him for his part in his suffering. Both achieved peace and reconciliation.

    What this shows us is that, for true forgiveness, it is best (if possible) for the parties to meet face to face, so that the perpetrator can express his remorse directly to the victim, and the victim can judge the visual evidence of this in the eyes of the perpetrator.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, thanks for this story. It is a very good example of forgiveness and reconciliation; I can’t think of a better one.

      Like

  10. michaeleeast says:

    Truth and Reconciliation.
    Admission of guilt and forgiveness.
    Restorative justice.
    So different from our modern ‘let them rot’ mentality.

    Liked by 1 person

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