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?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?