For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:11–14—NKJV)

For most people, forgiveness amounts to nothing more than a desire to escape from the consequences of sinful actions at the lowest possible price. This is true in relation to God as well as to their fellow man. While many sins are loathsome to most individuals and are regularly shunned, there tend to be other sins that appear less egregious, less public, less destructive, less influential to others, or less offensive because they were driven by a “good” motive. Such sinfulness has deep roots in the soil of the soul and requires diligent measures to remove. In these “private” matters, desired forgiveness most often takes on the form of desiring to “wipe the slate clean.” Personal distance from that sin and shunning sinful actions may not enter the request for forgiveness.

The English dictionary definition of forgiveness follows a similar track: “to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with, pardon; to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense), overlook; to cancel or remit (a debt).” Psalm 130:3–4 expresses the truth upon which our real definition must rest all its weight: “If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” God’s is the power to forgive, not to be presumed upon. Such divine forgiveness is dispensed only to those with true-hearted craving to be spared and to be pardoned.

Scofield’s Reference Bible has a helpful note on the subject: “Three Hebrew words are translated forgive, forgiven: kaphar, to cover; nasa, to lift away; salach, to send away (cf. Lev. 16:21, 22), the fundamental O.T. idea of forgiveness being not the remission of penalty, but the separation of the sinner from his sin. Psalm 103:12 expresses this.” This is the plan of God that is illustrated in the Old Testament offerings and is realized in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary, bearing a believer’s sin away.

Jeremiah 50:20 reads, “In those days and in that time, says the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought, but there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, but they shall not be found; for I will pardon those whom I preserve.” Jeremiah also states, in 31:34, “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” It is this work of God that Isaiah declares as:

  • Stain cleansing in 1:18: “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’”
  • Casting sin behind the back of God in 38:17: “but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.”
  • Removing your record of sin in 43:25: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”
  • Redeeming removal of sin in 44:22: “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”

The New Testament declares the reason why a holy God can so magnanimously forgive: it is purely on the basis of the substitutionary death of Christ. Ephesians 1:7: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” And 4:32: “…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Tonight, when you are confessing your sins according to 1 John 1:9, be sure to cultivate a heart craving to be pardoned and separated from your sin and your desire to pursue it. That is the complete work Christ came to do in you. Trust and obey.