I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins.

In an old Clint Eastwood movie, he played a retired gunfighter who returned to kill for a large reward. A young man who claimed to have killed many men joined the old gunfighter, but as the young man pulled the trigger to end the life of one of the men with the bounty on his head, the young man was traumatized. After the killing, he nervously spoke with the old gunfighter, trying to assure and justify himself. “I guess he had it coming, didn’t he, Will?” After a knowing pause, the old gunfighter said, “Kid, we’ve all got it coming.” This exchange was important to the writer of the movie, because the film was titled Unforgiven.

Unforgiven. If we understand what it means, we might say that there is no more terrible word. Any honest heart will acknowledge its debt of sin before a righteous God. If that sin will not be forgiven, we take the guilt and stain of it from this life into the next, where it must be paid for eternally. Yet as Christians, as those who agree with this creed, we proclaim: I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins. But what forgives our sins?

Some people think that God’s kindness forgives sin. God sees our sin, and He knows it well – but is just kind to His children and excuses their bad behavior. This thinking goes against the Biblical understanding of who God is. He is kind; but He is also just. A too-nice judge who excuses every criminal isn’t a good judge at all, and God is good in everything He does.

Some people think that time forgives sin. They think, “I know that I sinned in some terrible ways, but that was a long time ago.” Yet God is the God of eternity. Our sin is ever before Him. What seems like a long time ago to us is half the blink of an eye to our God. Time may make us forget our sin, but it doesn’t make God forgive it.

Some people think that we earn forgiveness through our good and religious works. “I know I had a wild Saturday night, but I’ll go to church on Sunday.” But the Bible teaches that we can’t atone for our own sin. Even our good works are not acceptable to God as payment for our bad works. Isaiah 64:6 says, But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags (click here for more on this passage). It’s good when we do good things, but it doesn’t cover up bad we have done.

The Bible tells us only one way we are forgiven: through the work of Jesus on the cross for us. The guilt and punishment we deserve was put upon Jesus in a real, powerful spiritual transaction, glorious and horrific all at the same time. Jesus stood in our place, and God the Father treated Him as if He were a guilty sinner. He took the punishment we deserved, and we are invited to believe, receive, and trust in what He did for us instead of what we can do for ourselves.

In this simple way we are transformed from Unforgiven to Forgiven. Thank Jesus for His great forgiveness today, and ask Him to empower you by the Holy Spirit to live as a radically forgiven person.