How do you think of God’s forgiveness?
The book of Colossians mentions forgiveness in three places. Conveniently it’s in chapter 1:13f; 2:13 and 3:13.
Let’s work our way backwards. In 3:13 Paul says:
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
We are to ungoingly forgive others in the present because the Lord has once and for all forgiven us in the past. Forgiveness from the Lord Jesus is an event. When did it happen? Colossians 2:13 tells us:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
Even as we were uncircumcised sinners we were forgiven. When? As Christ was crucified. On Good Friday, all that stood against us was permanently taken away. God has forgiven me. It’s not something that hangs in the balance. It has already happened. Christ dying was God forgiving.
Forgiveness is not an act behind the cross. It’s not as though the cross clears the way so that now God can forgive me. The cross was God forgiving me. It all happened right there at Calvary. In Christ, me and my sin and my guilt and every accusation against me was put to death. Decisively. Irreversibly.
How am I meant to think of my forgiveness now? That’s where Colossians 1:13 comes in:
For [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
Forgiveness is the essence of our redemption. Like the Exodus of old, it is the promised land to which we’ve been delivered. Our new Moses has taken us out of the dark Egypt of sin into a new Kingdom. But in this new Exodus, Christ is not just the new Moses. He’s also the destination. The very essence of the Kingdom is Jesus.
Therefore the Christian has been transferred from sin and into the Father’s dearly loved Son. This Father has been proclaiming “Behold My Son!” for all eternity and now we have come in on Him. We are not merely forgiven. We have been brought into Jesus in Whom we have forgiveness. Not just an event, but an ongoing status.
And since the Red Sea was one-way traffic, so now our forgiveness is an unloseable reality. We do not fall in and out of forgiveness. We have forgiveness because Jesus has us. And He’s not letting go.
Is this how you think of God’s forgiveness?
In our preaching and liturgy I think it’s easy to give a different impression. I’m always thinking of forgiveness as “God wiping the slate clean” (and me filling it back up again!) But the Apostle Paul puts the emphasis where it should be. It was an event accomplished at the cross. And it’s a present status, enjoyed forever in Jesus.
Henry Lyte (reflecting on Psalm 103) gets it just right – it’s a past tense doing that is also an ongoing declaration:
Ransomed, Healed, Restored, Forgiven