Forgiveness of Sins

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Forgiveness of sins is brought before us in different ways in Scripture, for there are different kinds of forgiveness of sins. We may divide them into at least four, perhaps five, categories. The first we may call judicial forgiveness; the next, administrative forgiveness; then restorative and governmental forgiveness, which are linked together. Finally, we have brotherly forgiveness. All have their distinct place in Scripture, but sometimes they are sadly mixed up in the minds of God’s people.
Judicial Forgiveness
Judicial forgiveness is that eternal, absolute and complete forgiveness that we have once and forever when we receive Christ as our Saviour. For example, we read in Ephesians 1:77In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (Ephesians 1:7), “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” When we receive judicial forgiveness from the hand of God, we never have to meet God again about the question of our sins. When that absolute forgiveness is ours, we cease to be sinners in His sight. We are children of God, and nothing can change this. The ground of our forgiveness is the blood of Christ, and the measure of that forgiveness is the riches of His grace. How blessed that this is our eternal standing before God! For the believer, God has judged sins once according to His own estimate in the person of His Son, and on that ground He preaches forgiveness. “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:3838Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: (Acts 13:38)).
Administrative Forgiveness
Now let us consider a few scriptures that bring before us administrative forgiveness — a forgiveness that is placed in the hands of man. God in His wisdom has not committed into man’s hands anything that is vital. He knows him too well for that. In administrative forgiveness there is nothing vital.
However, we see clearly that God has committed this type of forgiveness into the hands of man on the basis of John 20:2323Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:23): “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” The Jews, who stood guilty of crucifying the Lord Jesus, were admitted in this way into the kingdom in Acts 2:3841. They had to repent and be baptized to save themselves from that “untoward generation” which put the Christ to death.
In like manner Ananias told Saul of Tarsus, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:1616And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16)). Saul was identified with those who had crucified the Lord Jesus and who were persecuting believers. Now that he had repented and received judicial forgiveness, he needed to be outwardly identified with those who loved the Lord Jesus. This was administrative forgiveness — administered through baptism by Ananias.
In 2 Corinthians 2, there is a company of people that have forgiveness of sins in their hands. The assembly there had had to bind the sin of one upon him. He was a saved man — judicially forgiven —but he had fallen into sin, and they had bound that sin upon him. After there was real repentance in that man, Paul beseeches them to exercise this forgiveness. “If any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Cor. 2:57).
Again, there is nothing vital in this. There will be those in hell who have been baptized and who also have partaken of the Lord’s supper, while there will be those in heaven who have never been baptized nor taken the Lord’s supper. We will be in heaven only on the basis of God’s judicial forgiveness.
Restorative and Governmental Forgiveness
Now let us consider restorative and governmental forgiveness. Both of these are in the hands of God, not man, and are connected, although not exactly the same. Restorative forgiveness is the restoration to fellowship with God when we confess a particular sin into which we have fallen. This is based on 1 John 1:99That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:9), “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The believer can never lose his eternal salvation, but he can lose his joy and communion with God through sin. How thankful we are that God has made provision for our restoration, through repentance and confession.
Governmental forgiveness comes in when we have fallen under the governmental hand of God in our lives on earth. As God’s children and as being in the house of God, we come under His government if we sin. We read in James 5:1415, “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” In these verses we have governmental forgiveness. The one in question has fallen under God’s government, perhaps because of sin. It may be illness or perhaps other adverse circumstances allowed in one’s life. In this example, God’s government on the man through sickness was removed.
Sometimes God uses others who have not sinned in that way to act in intercession, and so we read, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death” (1 John 5:1616And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. (John 5:16)). Another prayed for the sinning one, just as elders came and prayed for the one who was sick.
In the so-called “Lord’s prayer” it says, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:1212And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)). It is not judicial forgiveness here, but rather governmental forgiveness based on our forgiveness of others.
Brotherly Forgiveness
Finally, we come to brotherly forgiveness, and this is illustrated in the following verses:
“When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:2525And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25)). “Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” (Matt. 18:2121Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (Matthew 18:21)).
We are to have a forgiving spirit towards one another, for if we harbor an unforgiving spirit, we lose the sense of the Father’s forgiveness in the soul. Even if we have a forgiving spirit, we cannot really extend that forgiveness to another until there is repentance and confession. However, if there is true repentance and confession, we are to forgive one another. If we hold on to an unforgiving spirit, God cannot governmentally forgive us, and we are the ones “delivered ... to the tormentors” (Matt. 18:3434And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. (Matthew 18:34)) until we exercise forgiveness.
What a lack there is of brotherly forgiveness! We should cultivate that attitude of “forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:3232And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)). May we enjoy God’s forgiveness in our own hearts and be ready to act in the same way toward others!
W.Potter, adapted from
Gathering Up the Fragments