As we draw closer to the commemoration of Jesus' death and resurrection, I would like to turn our attention to what we believe when we say "I believe ... the forgiveness of sins".
This statement comes from The Apostles' Creed. It, as with all the statements in the creed, is foundational to understanding what it means to have "true faith" in God. But what does it mean?
According to the Heidelberg Catechism it means, "I believe that God, because of Christ's atonement, will never hold against me any of my sins nor my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life. Rather, in His grace, God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment."
(See Q&A 56; Psalm 103:3-4, Micah 7:18-19, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; I John 1:7, 2:2; Romans 7:21-25; John 3:17-18; Romans 8:1-2)
Let's take this statement one piece at a time, and then I want to look at one of the above scriptures as well.
Notice that the reason God can forgive is only "because of Christ's atonement". Christ's atonement is "the act by which God restores to harmony and unity the relationship between Himself and human beings". (definition from Nelson's Bible Dictionary) The act of course is Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Only by that act can we be forgiven.
In light of that act, let's look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; especially verse 21. "God made Him who had no sin to be sin (or a sin offering) for us, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God."
In order to understand this verse, we need to consider our definition for sin. If sin is primarily behavior; i.e. if sin is the bad things we do, then this verse makes no sense. How could Jesus become "sin" or even a "sin offering" if He never did anything wrong. Jesus could not become bad behavior. However, if sin is separation from God, then we can understand this verse and Jesus' words from the cross more clearly. On the cross, Jesus cried out (quoting from Psalm 22:1), "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" If sin is separation from God, and Jesus became sin for us, then we can understand that on the cross Jesus became separated from God for us.
In that act of becoming separate from God, Jesus took on God's wrath against all sin (all who are separated from God). So that when Jesus rose from the dead, He conquered sin, and forever restored the relationship between God and human beings; i.e. made us righteous or forever "right" with God.
Now all who believe in Jesus (that His life, death, and resurrection were for them), receive "forgiveness of sins"; i.e. eternal life a.k.a. freedom from judgment.
So "forgiveness of sins" is eternal in Christ because in Jesus we are reunited to God. For those in Christ there is no more condemnation (see Romans 8:1) because Jesus has removed our separation from God, so that we now belong to Him for all eternity, and He will never leave us or forsake us!
This is good news! This is gospel! This is what we are called to proclaim to the nations!
So let's discuss. If sin is not primarily behavior; i.e. bad things we do, but is separation from God, then how does this affect the way we witness and practice discipleship today?