“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)
If you’ve ever wondered about the crippling effects of guilt, just read Crime and Punishment. Empowered with feelings of elitism and superiority, Raskolnikov commits murder and truly believes he will escape not only punishment from society, but the psychological ramifications of his crime. What follows is an intense exploration of a mind tormented with guilt, fear, and doubts; self-imposed isolation from others; and the delirium that drives him to confess.
While many see the protagonist as a Christ-like figure, I’ll skip those comparisons in favor of something simpler: our need for the forgiveness and complete removal of our sins. God, in His omniscience and compassion, accounted for both. He knew that forgiveness of sins wasn’t enough because, although payment was made for their penalty, a solution for the power of sin and guilt needed to be provided.
Nowhere is Christ’s provision for our sins more beautifully pictured than in the mandated sacrifices offered by the Israelites on the Day of Atonement:
“And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:21-22)
Now read it again. I don’t know about you, but every time I read this passage, I am more awestruck by the full weight of what this means for us. When the Israelites saw that goat running off into the wilderness, carrying their sins, they could visualize the complete and final removal of their transgressions. The price had not only been paid, but their sins would never return again. This powerful reminder of God’s perfect forgiveness reveals three truths that should inspire every child of God to live more freely and fully in the present.
God’s forgiveness is complete. It is not partial or temporary. Jesus’ sacrificial and atoning death paid the penalty for every single sin we have committed and will ever commit. It was enough to cover the smallest white lie and the most heinous, vile crime you can imagine.
When we place our trust in what Christ did on the cross, our past is wiped clean and we become the righteousness of God. Micah marveled at God’s tremendous compassion toward the Israelites in “cast[ing] all their sins into the depths of the sea.” Once they repented and properly atoned for their iniquities, God thought no more of their wrongdoings, but extended complete forgiveness. David, who was deeply aware of his own sin, penned one of the most eloquent descriptions of God’s forgiveness:
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:11-12)
Have you ever stopped and thought about how far this actually is? So far, they would never meet. If you started going east, you would always be heading east, and vice versa. God has removed our transgressions so far from us that there is no chance we can ever find them again. We could search and search, but we would find nothing.
Is there something from your past that you just can’t seem to shake? If you have confessed your sin, take some time to consider God’s promise. If He has forgotten our sins, who are we to remember them? If He has paid the penalty for our sins and given us new life, who are we to give them power over us?
God’s forgiveness is continuous. Through Jesus Christ, there is a neverending supply of forgiveness for our sins. In fact, if you are a child of God, all of your sins (past and future) are already forgiven.
In the Old Testament, God’s people were under the law and had to regularly offer sacrifices to atone for their sins. When the Israelites offered sacrifices, the blood of the innocent animal took their place and paid the penalty for their transgressions, for “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). While this temporarily satisfied God’s requirement for propitiation, it never provided a final solution. Even Aaron, the high priest, had to atone for his own sins first before those of the people.
The most important purpose of the law and the sacrificial ceremonies surrounding it was to point forward to Jesus Christ, the great High Priest. Only He—the perfect, sinless Son of God—was an acceptable substitution. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). This is significant. Christ sat down because it was finished. There was no more work to be done. That’s unbelievable news for us, because it means there is nothing we can do that will add or take away from Christ’s finished work on the cross. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. What’s more, because of Christ’s perfect provision, we can look forward to an eternity with Him!
The knowledge that God has forgiven all of our sins should allow us to come to Him in repentance and then move on. That means we can live for Him more fully, rather than buried under the weight of our past mistakes and failures.
God’s forgiveness is compelling. When we truly grasp the extent and scope of God’s forgiveness, we should feel compelled to extend that same forgiveness to others. There are no biblical grounds for withholding forgiveness. If we truly understand our sinful condition and the abundant grace God has bestowed on us, we should freely offer forgiveness to anyone who wrongs us. If we don’t, how can we expect God to forgive us? “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). Forgive and forget, friends. C.S. Lewis echoed this sentiment:
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
If you could actually see your sins being carried away into the wilderness, would it help you to let them go? We have that and so much more in Christ! Colossians tells us that He canceled our record of debt and nailed it to the cross, so we are no longer slaves to sin, but are set free.
Here’s to letting go (of sin) and living in light of that reality.
Is there something you’re holding against a friend or family member, or even that person who always seems to say and do the wrong thing? Maybe it’s time to extend the grace you’ve so freely been given and find reconciliation.
Here’s to moving on and living more fully in the here and now.