One of the attributes of God is the ability to forgive sins. This is stated explicitly in Exodus:
Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
Furthermore, it is found implicitly in the passages of the Old Testament where God promises to forgive sin:
- 2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
- Jeremiah 31:34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Additionally, it is found implicitly in the passages of the Old Testament where men ask God for forgiveness of sin:
- Psalm 25:15-18
Mine eyes are ever toward the LORD; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.
- Psalm 85:1-4 (To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.)
LORD, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah. Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger. Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.
We also see the same thing implicit the prayer which Christ taught his disciples:
Luke 11:4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
On at least two occasions (and perhaps more than that), Jesus forgave sins. The first occasion that I’ll mention is in the instance of the weeping woman in the Pharisee’s house. Luke provides the following account:
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.”
And Jesus answering said unto him, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.”
And he saith, “Master, say on.”
“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?”
Simon answered and said, “I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.”
And he said unto him, “Thou hast rightly judged.”
And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, ‘Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little’.”
And he said unto her, “Thy sins are forgiven.”
And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, “Who is this that forgiveth sins also?”
And he said to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”
Notice that, in another testimony to Jesus’ divinity, he knew Simon the Pharisee’s heart (see discussion here). In this passage, Jesus forgives the sins of the woman who had faith in Jesus and demonstrated that faith in love by washing his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and anointing his feet with precious oil (perhaps, in view of the account of Matthew 26, we should view this as being that she anointed him from head to foot with the oil). Those who heard this marveled, precisely because they realized that only God can forgive sins.
We see this also illustrated in healing of the bed-ridden man who was sick of the palsy:
And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”
And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, “This man blasphemeth.”
And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee;’ or to say, ‘Arise, and walk?’ But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) ‘Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house’.”
And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.
Notice that here we are given more details about the reaction. Those who knew the Scriptures but considered Jesus to be only a man thought that he was a blasphemer, because he pretended to forgive sins. Jesus, however, knew their hearts (another proof of his divinity, as we mentioned above) and Jesus demonstrated that he was not just pretending to forgive sins by healing the palsied man.
The same or a similar event (there is no requirement that it be the same event) is found in Mark and Luke:
And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.”
But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, “Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?”
And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, “Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee;’ or to say, ‘Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?’ But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, ‘Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house’.”
And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.
And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.”
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”
But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, “What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee;’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk?’ But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, ‘Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house’.”
And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things to day.”
Notice how in these two passages we are told explicitly the reason why Jesus’ words of forgiveness are shocking: only God can forgive sins. Jesus specifically demonstrates his ability to forgive sins by healing palsy. In this way, Jesus provides evidence of his own divinity.
Notice that Jesus does not say, “I will pray that God will forgive your sins,” nor does he say, “I pray that God will heal your palsy.” Instead, Jesus declares the sins to be forgiven and heals the palsied man by command.
The apostles recognized that the forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus Christ. Thus, we see this in the speech of the Apostle Peter and the other apostles:
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said,
“We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.”
As an aside, it is interesting to point out this reference to the Trinity, God (the father), Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.
We see the same thing about forgiveness of sins coming through Jesus Christ in Paul’s speech:
God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, “I will give you the sure mercies of David.” Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, “Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: but he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.
Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
Notice that Paul not only attributes forgiveness of sins to Jesus, but explains that through belief in him one is justified from all the things from which people could not be justified by the law of Moses. You will remember that there was a way for people to obtain forgiveness from God through the sacrificial system that God gave to Israel through Moses:
- Leviticus 4:20 And he shall do with the bullock as he did with the bullock for a sin offering, so shall he do with this: and the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.
- Leviticus 4:26 And he shall burn all his fat upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him.
- Leviticus 4:35 And he shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of the peace offerings; and the priest shall burn them upon the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the LORD: and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him.
- Leviticus 5:10 And he shall offer the second for a burnt offering, according to the manner: and the priest shall make an atonement for him for his sin which he hath sinned, and it shall be forgiven him.
- Leviticus 5:13 And the priest shall make an atonement for him as touching his sin that he hath sinned in one of these, and it shall be forgiven him: and the remnant shall be the priest’s, as a meat offering.
- Leviticus 6:7 And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein.
- Leviticus 19:22 And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.
- Numbers 15:25 And the priest shall make an atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them; for it is ignorance: and they shall bring their offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their ignorance:
- Numbers 15:28 And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
Notice that in these cases there was the opportunity for forgiveness through the mediation of the priest who offered an atonement for the person, and the person’s sin was forgiven. These things foreshadowed Christ. Christ is the sacrifice and priest – more than that he is God. Forgiveness of sins is entirely His. Those for whom he offers atonement – their sins will be forgiven.
We see this confirmed in Jesus’ own words as described by Paul to King Agrippa
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.
Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:
I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
And I said, “Who art thou, Lord?”
And he said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
Notice that Jesus explains that people receive forgiveness of sins through faith in him. And notice as well that Paul explains that he preached repentance (something sadly missing in many professing Christian circles) and turning to God, namely to Christ through whom by faith in Him, men receive forgiveness of sins.
Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians teaches us the same thing:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
Notice the explicit link between the redemption by his blood and the forgiveness of sins. This is one reason we cannot have both hell and universal redemption: those redeemed by Christ’s blood have their sins forgiven.
Likewise, we see the same thing in Colossians:
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Same link between blood redemption and forgiveness, and Christ is the one whose blood provides us this forgiveness.
The same link between forgiveness and Christ is provided yet again in Colossians:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
The link here is specifically to Christ’s death. His death forgives our sins, and it does so forensically: that’s what “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances” means. There’s no way to confuse that with infusion of actual righteousness.
John’s general epistle also teaches the same thing:
1 John 1:1-10
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Notice how John is explicit that Jesus forgives our sins. Even if someone might say that Paul simply treats Jesus as the means to the end of forgiveness, John makes it clear that Jesus himself both forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
Let us praise Him by whom and through whom we are forgiven!