Jeremy Sarber

What does the Bible say about forgiveness?

We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will. (Ephesians 1:7-9)

The redemption that God’s chosen people have through the blood of Christ results in forgiveness. We owe a debt, but God says the debt is canceled.

Imagine a man who is out of work. He’s months and months behind on his mortgage payments. The interest he owes is piling up, but he can’t afford to pay. He’s about to lose the house. His family will soon be out on the streets. In a last ditch, desperate effort, he goes to the bank to plead for more time. Please, please,” he says to the bank manager, I just need some mercy.”

But to his surprise, the bank manager says, Don’t worry, my friend. You don’t owe us anything. Your debt has been paid in full.”

While that story may seem far too wonderful to ever be a reality, it is a reality for God’s redeemed family. It perfectly captures the conversion of sinners to Christ. Once a sinner comes to terms with the depth of his depravity, there’s nothing else he can do but plead with God for mercy. And God says to him:

Let it be known to you that through Christ, my Son, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39)

When Jesus bought our freedom, he paid our debt in full. There’s nothing left to pay.

On the Old Testament Day of Atonement, the high priest would select two of the best goats. He would kill the first goat, sprinkling its blood on the altar. Then, he would lay his hands on the second goat, symbolically putting the sins of the people on that animal. Finally, he would take the second goat deep into the wilderness. He would lead it so far away that it could never find its way back.

The first goat represented the blood sacrifice of Christ. The second goat represented the way in which Christ’s sacrifice removed our sins so far that they can never return to us.

Psalm 103 expresses it this way:

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)

How far is the east from the west? Start walking east or west—your choice—and tell me when you reach the other. You never will. You’ll always be moving either east or west.

The prophet Micah declared:

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

Even in our day of impressively sophisticated technology, do you realize there are still parts of the oceans we’ve not explored? If that’s where our sins were cast, maybe we never will.

God’s forgiveness through Christ is infinite. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Ro 8:1). In other words, there can never come a day when God says, You know what? I’ve changed my mind. The debt is yours to pay. I no longer forgive you.” No, he could never say that without violating his own will and contradicting his own nature. God himself would—I don’t know—implode, taking all of creation along with him. It simply can’t happen.

But what if we continue to sin? Is it possible that Jesus paid our debt only to a point? Is it possible to sin beyond what he’s paid? The short answer is no. John wrote, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1Jn 1:9). Past, present, and future—every sin was laid on Christ. The debt has been paid in full. We are absolutely and totally forgiven.