When we are forgiven for our sins, there are two aspects to it. First we are delivered, definitively, all at once, from the penalty of sin. You need to think of this as though the angel of the Lord Himself was appointed as the foreman of your jury, and he entered the heavenly courtroom and read out the verdict. Pointing to the altar where Jesus sprinkled His own blood, he says, in a bright clear voice that the whole cosmos hears, “not guilty.” This is forgiveness proper.
But we are also delivered from the power of sin. There is a stark break with what might be called reigning sin (Gal. 5:24), which is followed by a progressive and unrelenting campaign against all remaining sin (Col. 3:5; Rom. 8:13).
Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lordhath spoken it (Is. 1:10-20).
Summary of the Text
The message I have entrusted to deliver to you is a message of free grace, radical grace, nothing but grace. The message of the cross of Jesus, and the resurrection of the Christ, is a message of everlasting and undeserved kindness. That being the case, and because our thought processes are so corrupted by sin, we have a hard time getting our minds around what God is offering us.
Either we say that God is the only lifeguard, and so He must be saving us from drowning by leaving us on the bottom of the pool, or we acknowledge that we must be saved from drowning by getting out of the pool, and concluding that we must by our own efforts help the lifeguard to save us. Being saved by grace means being saved by grace from sin (Rom. 6:14). Being under law means being under condemnation for those sins that have you in bondage. Being under grace means you are liberated from that.
Consider how the prophet Isaiah presents this glorious reality. First, he addresses the Jews under the figure of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 10). He asks the first what their intentions were in bringing Him sacrifices (v. 11). He asks them (sarcastically) who required you to show up here in my courts (v. 12). He tells them to pack up all their liturgical gear, and get out (v. 13). Solemn meetings and iniquity do not go together. God hates their religiosity (v. 14). When they spread out their hands in a pious gesture, God turns away. Their hands are covered with blood (v. 15). Repent, turn away, learn a different way (vv. 16-17). And then comes the glorious promise—a promise that only God could fulfill (v. 18). God makes them a most reasonable offer. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though their sins be like crimson, they shall be like wool. The sins are blood red; the salvation is blood red; the forgiveness is pure white.
If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land (v. 19). If you are stubborn and kick, then you will be destroyed (v. 20).
Forgiven Means Forgiving
A sheep bleats because it is a sheep. But you don’t become a sheep bybleating. An apple tree produces apples because it is an apple tree. But a bramble bush can’t become an apple tree bygrowing apples. A person rescued from the bottom of the pool will be dried off, but we don’t hand him a towel on the bottom of the pool.
And forgiven people forgive. That is just what happens.
“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 be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even asGod for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).
This is how absolute forgiveness is simultaneously absolute grace, free grace, and at the same time is morally rigorous. This is because God does not just give us cleansing from the defilement of sin, but also from the power of sin to defile. He gives us more, not less.
What It Is Like
“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord” (Is. 54:17).
“I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressionsfor mine own sake, and will not rememberthy sins. Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: Declare thou, that thou mayest be justified” (Is. 43:25–26).
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, And passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, Because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; And thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18–19).
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressionsfrom us” (Ps. 103:12).