Forgiveness of Sins

by J.D. Watson

Ephesians 1:7-8 declares the fifth of eight great riches we have in Christ: "the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us."

Back in 1981, shortly before his death, former Nazi leader Albert Speer (the architect who built Nuremberg Stadium and other Nazi monuments, and who directed Hitler's war production, using slave labor, as minister of armaments) was interviewed on the Good Morning America program as a promotion for his then new book, Infiltrator. Of the twenty-four war criminals convicted at the Nuremberg Trials, Speer was the only one to admit his guilt. He spent twenty years in Spandau Prison.

The interviewer read a passage from one of Speer's earlier books: "You have said the guilt can never be forgiven or shouldn't be. Do you still feel that way?" A profound look of sorrow came on Speer's face as he responded, "I served a sentence of twenty years, and I could say, I'm a free man, my conscience has been cleared by serving the whole time as punishment. But I can't get rid of it. This new book is part of my atoning, of clearing my conscience." The interviewer pressed the point: "You really don't think you'll be able to clear it totally?" Speer shook his head and said, "I don't think it will be possible."

Tragically, Speer never knew that forgiveness is possible in Jesus Christ. While there certainly would still have been consequences for that sin, even something as horrendous as the Holocaust could be forgiven. The first and foremost result of our redemption in Christ is that our sins are forgiven. Primarily, redemption brings forgiveness.

The Greek word Paul uses here for forgiveness (phesis) literally means "release, pardon, or cancellation." It means "the voluntary release of a person or thing over which one has legal or actual control." Ponder a moment three aspects of our forgiveness:

First, in legal terms, forgiveness is a judicial release from the guilt and punishment of sin, which is death. Primarily, forgiveness is a legal transaction. This is a vitally important point, for we who were under the legal sentence of death according to the Law, are now forgiven by legal transaction. The Law can never save; it can only reveal guilt and condemn us, "for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20), and "no man is justified by the law" (Gal. 3:11). This is, in fact, Paul's thrust throughout the first half of the Epistle to the Romans, to first show man's guilt and then show God's grace.

Second, in ethical terms, forgiveness is a release from the awfulness of sin that affects the conscience. In other words, salvation changes the sinner ethically. The Christian no longer desires the things he or she used to desire.

Third, in personal terms, forgiveness is a cessation of God's intended wrath upon the sinner. A vivid illustration of this is the Old Testament scapegoat in Leviticus 16. The occasion was the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The High Priest chose two unblemished goats. One he killed and sprinkled its blood on the Mercy Seat. Aaron the high priest, then laid "both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess[ed] over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and [sent] him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat [bore] upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited."

That is the thrust of Psalm 103:12, which declares that God has removed our sins from us "as far as the east is from the west," which is, of course, a symbol of infinity. If you travel north, you will eventually round the pole and start going south. But if you travel west, you can continue on forever going west and will never go east.

That is what it means to have forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Watson is pastor-teacher of Grace Bible Church, Meeker, Colorado

His full exposition of Ephesians and other resources are available on-line at


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