Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42


Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
We confess every LordÕs Day in the Apostolic Confession: ÒI believe the forgiveness of sins.Ó What a rich and profound comfort is contained in this article, for when a sinner is uncovered to his guilt and sin, he stares into the great depths of his corruption. By the grace of the Holy Spirit such a person is led further to gaze into an even greater depth. That is the depth of the forgiveness of sins. Through the cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sinner receives forgiveness of all his guilt and sins. This forgiveness is received by faith in Christ and repentance toward God. The result is: all my sins are forgiven. What profound miracle the forgiveness of sins is!

Many of us have been brought up since our youth with the awareness that we are sinners before God. We know that as a matter of fact. But are we bothered about our sins? Are we ashamed of ourselves in the sight of God? Do we sorrow because we have grieved His Holy Spirit and that God has every right to be angry with us? This concerns not only outward sins, but also the real source of sin. There is a filthy fountain within our heart. It is the grace of God that He forgives sin. The Heidelberg Catechism says in Answer 56 that God will never more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature. That is a great miracle of grace.

This grace is possible because God laid all the sins and corruption of His people upon Christ. He bore the punishment for their sins. Therefore, there is forgiveness of sins in the blood of Christ. We are to flee to this fountain of blood flowing from EmmanuelÕs veins. God has punished His own Son; therefore He forgives. He also gives gifts. He gives the righteousness of His Son and He clothes with the garments of salvation. Therefore, throw your rags away. God invites you, also you, sinner! Your sins may be as crimson, they shall be white as wool (Isaiah 1).

We call this forgiveness of sins justification. Justification is an act of God and is received by the sinner in the way of faith in Christ and repentance toward God. This is justification by faith.

There is also a self-justification. Such a person justifies himself, or at least, tries to make himself appear to be just, but in reality that is impossible. God can only justify us in the way of faith. I can receive justification only because of the finished work of Christ.

How are we to view justification? Does justification make a person inwardly just and righteous? Does justification or forgiveness of sins give a person a clean and pure heart within? No, justification removes the guilt of sin, but not the inner pollution of sin. In sanctification the inward pollution of sin is removed. In justification only the guilt of sin is removed and the sinner is covered with the perfect righteousness of Christ. This is all imputed or accounted to the sinner.

In justification I am not to think that I am now actually righteous in myself as if I would have no sins anymore. No, I am declared righteous or considered just by God while I still have many sins. Luther said: Òsimultaneously GodÕs children are justified and sinners.Ó

My own works do not save me, but only the works of Christ. Paul thought before his conversion that his good works could justify him before God. But on the way to Damascus he found out that this was not the case. Paul preached justification by faith alone as none other.

The following is a definition of justification: justification is the gracious and judicial act of God whereby He acquits a person of all guilt and punishment and grants him the right to everlasting life.

We must see this is over against the Jewish understanding of justification. In Jewish thought justification means that God justifies man based upon his works. This is called nomism. Man merits righteousness granted by God. God declares the sinner guilty and the just He declares innocent. The Scriptural truth, however, is that God justifies the ungodly for the sake of the Lord Jesus and His accomplished work.

Both the Old and the New Testaments condemn nomism. Yet it crept into the church. Roman Catholicism stated that a person had to confess his sins, but he also had to show that he was sincere in his confession and repentance. Therefore, he had to perform good works, which were made conditional for receiving forgiveness of sins.

The Protestant Reformation went right against this idea of Rome: Calvin said: ÒJustification is an acceptance, by which God receives us into His favour, and esteems us as righteous persons; É it consists of remission of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of ChristÓ (Institutes, III,11,2). The efficient cause is the mercy of God. Christ is the substance of our justification and the Word, with faith, is the instrument of justification. Calvin considered justification to be the principal hinge by which religion is supported (III,11,1). He said that whenever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown.

Luther stated that justification is the heart of the Gospel. God has revealed in Christ another righteousness than the law demands of us. Righteousness in GodÕs Word is not a demanded righteousness, but the righteousness that is granted to us is in Christ Jesus. It is not a quality of the soul, but it is the granted and imputed righteousness, which is without the works. We are justified, not because of good works, but unto good works.

The way to receive this righteousness is by faith. This means to trust and believe God at His Word. Through justification we are led into a totally different relationship with God. He is no longer a God Who condemns and a threatening Judge, but a loving Father through Christ Jesus. This is the only way it can be, for God is just and cannot deal with a sinner as if he were not a sinner. Zion is redeemed by justice.

There are many passages in Scripture that refer to forgiveness of sins, such as Hebrews 9:22 (without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness); Romans 4:7; Isaiah 55:7; 1 John 1:9; Matthew 6:12; Romans 1:17 and Romans 3: 21-31. The miracle is that God, in spite of my sins, declares me righteous, while nothing changes in me as such; but God accepts me. That is the miracle of grace.

It takes place by the Holy Spirit Who uncovers the sinner to his lost condition before God. My conscience accuses me and GodÕs Word accuses me. More and more a person sees his sin. Before, you wished to flee from the sense of guilt, soothe your conscience and live thoughtlessly. But now you cannot do so anymore. You are guilty and your guilt presses upon you. You are guilty before God and there is no place to go. You agree with GodÕs just verdict and His judgment is laid upon you. You agree that God ought to cast you away.

Three matters weigh upon you: you have sinned against all GodÕs commandments, you have kept none of them and you are still inclined to all evil. It is as if you are standing before GodÕs judgment throne. You have sinned against all His commandments. There is no perspective for any improvement from your side.

It is, however, in this way that the sinner is convinced that he needs salvation. When the precious person of Christ is displayed in GodÕs Word, He first becomes necessary and then precious. The Holy Spirit awakens faith to embrace the Saviour and the soul finds peace and rest in the Lord. That peace is unspeakable. The soul flows and abounds with love for such salvation, such a Saviour and for such a blessed triune God. The result is a walk in the fear and the love of God. ÒBut there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be fearedÓ (Psalm 130:4).

Brakel writes:

Meditate for a moment upon your lamentable condition if you are still in your sins, and the eternal, unbearable wrath of God hangs above your head. If you are not justified in this life, you will die in your sins and be eternally condemned. You will die and I hereby pronounce your death sentence upon you. ÒAnd as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgmentÓ (Heb.9:27); ÒSet thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not liveÓ (Isa.38:1). I cannot designate a specific moment; maybe it will be today. ÒThis night thy soul shall be required of theeÓ (Luke 12:20). It may be that you will either die suddenly, or suddenly lose your mind; or maybe you will be much troubled by bodily pains and anxietiesÉ

If a person may be justified, however, and in this life may have the assurance of the forgiveness of his sins and of his eternal inheritance, how joyfully will such a person be able to die! How cheerfully one will be able to depart from this life and say with Paul, ÒFor I am persuaded, that neither death ... shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our LordÓ (Rom. 8:38Ð39); ÒI have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness!Ó (2 Tim. 4:7Ð8). This caused David to say, ÒYea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with meÓ (Ps.23:4). Then death is no longer a terror; one can long for it and say with Simeon, ÒLord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvationÓ (Luke 2:29-30)É Since, however, there is nothing which can comfort the soul in life and in death, except for justification, how you ought to strive to be justified! (The ChristianÕs Reasonable Service, Vol.2, Wilhelmus a Brakel, pp. 400-01).

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