8: The Remission of Sins

  What do you do with your guilt?  Do you see God's remedy for it?  If you have not repented of your sins and turned to follow Christ, then why not?  What will you do in the end?
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This is a review of How Can I Be Right With God by R.C. Sproul with study questions added to turn them into lessons. These lessons are part of a wider study on Sanctification which has as its goal the fulfillment of Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  
I’ve set these studies up in a specific order so that all may easily build on the foundation of Christ with the finest materials - gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Cor 3:10-13). God has gifted the Church with amazing evangelists, pastors, and teachers to help us in this building project (Eph 4:11-16). Although I am not one of these gifts to the Church, I do seek to organize their material in such a way as to help you become all that God wants you to be. I invite you to study along with me. 

You can see an overview of the complete study on Sanctification here. To go to the start of this current series click here. 

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

8: The Remission of Sins

I used to teach systematic theology and apologetics at seminary. People would often ask me, “What is apologetics?” Briefly stated, apologetics is the science of providing an intellectual and rational defense for the truth claims of Christianity. That necessitates dealing with competing philosophies of the ages. I’ve been in countless discussions with people, particularly skeptics, trying to give honest answers to their questions and dealing with objections that they raise against Christianity. Often these questions are abstract and philosophical, but I have found that, as these discussions progress, it is virtually inevitable that it comes around to more personal matters. At some point, I ask,

“What do you do with your guilt?”

Very often when I ask that question, there is a noticeable change in the atmosphere. Not that there’s a response of hostility or anger; that hardly ever happens. But there’s a sudden soberness that descends, and it’s almost palpable.

The Universal Nature of Guilt

This is because of the way I ask that question. I don’t say, “Do you have guilt?” I don’t waste time trying to establish the reality of guilt, because guilt is something of which we are all aware. Guilt is one of the most paralyzing and debilitating forces that attacks humanity, and we try to do all kinds of things about it. One of the most common is denial, but denial cannot work over the long term because no matter how much we deny our guilt, we still have to live with it. We may try to transfer it by shifting the blame to someone else, or we’ll seek to rationalize it, putting our sins or guilt in the best possible light.

If I have to answer that question, I only know of one solution to guilt: to have it forgiven. I can’t make up for it, deny it, or escape it. My guilt is real, and it’s pressing on my life. This is a predicament that we all experience.

Remission of Guilt

This predicament leads us to the most simple and poignant application of justification. The sixteenth-century Reformer John Calvin made this comment: “Now let us examine how true that statement is which is spoken in the definition, that the righteousness of faith is reconciliation with God, which consists solely in the forgiveness of sins.” Later in the same paragraph, Calvin concluded, “It is obvious, therefore, that those whom God embraces are made righteous solely by the fact that they are purified when their spots are washed away by forgiveness of sins. Consequently, such righteousness can be called, in a word, ‘remission of sins.’”[1] In this brief paragraph, Calvin says that the way we are made righteous or justified before God is through having our sins forgiven, which ultimately consists solely in this: the remission of sins.

One context where we hear the term remission used is the medical world. Those who have been afflicted with cancer, having undergone surgery or treatment, then rejoice to hear the good news that their malignancy is “in remission.” Another context where we encounter the term is related to bills: if you owe money to a store, for example, they’ll state at the bottom of the bill, “Please remit payment with this return envelope.” When you send in your money to pay your bill, you’ve engaged in the remission of funds.

These may seem to be quite different uses of the term remission, but there is a point of contact between the two. Cancer that has gone into remission has, at least for the time being, gone away. When you pay your bills, you send your money away as you remit it. Taking those usages from common language and applying them over to the realm of theology, we already get a sense of what is meant when we talk about the remission of sins. The remission of sins in our justification occurs when God sends our guilt away; He removes it from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12).

In the first chapter of Isaiah, God makes an appeal through the prophet:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD” (v. 18).

He was inviting His people to come near. For what purpose? To reason together, to apply their minds to have an understanding of the problem. It is the people’s guilt that precipitates the invitation. He added this to this invitation:

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Scarlet is an exceedingly deep and rich shade of the color red. Sin is like a stain that no amount of scrubbing can remove, yet God promises to get it cleaner than we can imagine, so clean that you’d never know the stain was there.

When my daughter became a Christian, we were at a Presbyterian church in Ohio, and she was just in grade school. At one evening service, we had a guest minister, and my daughter went to a special program they offered for children. At the end of this service, the minister made an invitation for those who wanted to commit their lives to Christ to come forward—an unusual procedure in Presbyterian churches, but they did this once a year at this particular church. I was standing in the chancel and watching the adults moving forward when, to my utter astonishment, I saw my own daughter parading down the center of the aisle. I thought, “She’s too young to be doing this; this is just an emotional thing.” I was concerned, so afterward I asked her what moved her to come forward. “Daddy, I had to,” she said. “I just couldn’t sit still.” I asked, “How do you feel about it?” She said, “I just feel clean, like a newborn baby.” I thought that was a remarkable understanding of the experience of forgiveness for a six-year-old girl.

One of the most famous sermons in the New Testament was delivered by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. In the second chapter of Acts, we read this account:

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day…. Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:14–15, 22–24).

Often the objection is raised against the resurrection of Christ that it’s simply impossible. One thing that we know for sure is that, when a person dies, he stays dead; it’s just not credible to put your confidence in the resurrection, because a resurrection is impossible. Yet Peter declared that it was not possible for Christ to stay dead—He was a sinless man, and death is the punishment for sin. It was not possible for death to hold Christ in its grip for any length of time. He concluded the sermon this way:

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:36–39)

Five thousand people or so were added to the church on that day, and we are told that when Peter gave this message, the response of the people was one of acute awareness of guilt. “What shall we do?” they asked. Maybe you’ve experienced that excruciating stabbing of the conscience. Peter answered the question saying, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Do you see the sequence? Repentance, then remission. It’s as true today as it was then: the essence of justification, the only relief for those who are burdened by the reality of guilt, is the remission of sins—and that remission is available, and will be received instantly to all who genuinely repent.

Perhaps these things, in the providence of God, were specifically for your benefit. I don’t know who reads these books, but I know that all of us face the problem of relief from guilt; if there’s anything that applies to all of us, it is the need for the remission of our sins. Just like David, when he was brought to a state of contrition and repentance as he wrote in Psalm 51, cried out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (v. 1). What was he saying? “O God, send them away! Erase them from Your record.”

Questions & Notes

What do you do with your guilt?

Do you see God’s remedy for it?

If you have not repented of your sins and turned to follow Christ then why not?

What will you do in the end?

Here is a Bible tract that was instrumental in turning my life around. I had been reading my Bible. I had recently heard the Gospel. I carried a heavy load of guilt. I was trying to sort things out. I needed something to pull it all together. This helped: This Was Your Life!

  1. Institutes 3.11.21.

Click on the "How Can I Be Right with God” tag below to see all the posts in this series. To go to the start of this series click here

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