The Law and Forgiveness: Your Sins Are Remembered No More
We have now taken a look at two of the three promises of the new covenant and their effects. The first was that God will write the law on the hearts of all his new covenant people with the effect being that he will be their God and they will be his people. The second is that God would teach each person in the new covenant to “know the Lord” through the Holy Spirit, with the effect being that they will “all” know him. Both of these ideas point directly at regeneration. Not that regeneration is new, but the percentage of people in covenant with God who receive it is far greater.
The last thing promised in the new covenant is truly amazing. In a previous post we said that remembering is part and parcel of covenants. I recently read a great “reminder” from Desiring God Ministries that the reason why people grumble, complain, get angry, hold grudges, get bitter, and other things starts because they forget. Jesus told us, “This is the blood of the covenant, do this in remembrance of me.” How can people who have tasted of this good salvation, who know the cost of their own sin to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who recognize the horrible depravity of their rebellion, even for a single moment act like this?
Because we forget.
We must remember.
Now contrast this with God in the new covenant. The declaration is that he “will be merciful towards our iniquities.” The effect is that he will remember our sins no more.” When we forget, we sin. When God “forgets,” our sins are no longer remembered. Therefore we must remember what he has done. But what does this mean that God will remember our sins no more?
It tells us repeatedly in Hebrews 9-10 that Jesus’ sacrifice is “once for all” (9:12, 26-28; 10:10). This is in contrast to the sacrifices of the old covenant which were repeated. It then ties this in directly to forgiveness. “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Heb 10:18). This implies that under the old covenant, forgiveness was either non-existent or somehow quite different from the new covenant.
The OT does teach us that God forgave his people. So it isn’t that forgiveness as a concept is new. The word used in the Heb 10:18 translated “forgiveness” was used by Jesus at the Last Supper where his blood is poured out for the “forgiveness” or “remission” of sins. However, this word is rarely translated this way in the OT. There, the word is usually rendered as something like “release” (as in the Year of Jubilee) by English LXX versions. Of course, even in a year like Jubilee, while there was release for a time, it always reverted back to the period when debts would recur and “release” would be needed again. This is the same as the sacrifices which were repeated over and over again.
Therefore, the way God forgave the people in the OT was, as the Apostle says in Romans, by “passing over” sins in his “forbearance,” so as to be just and the justifier of those who would have faith in the God-man, Messiah. God’s OT forgiveness was not based on anything that could actually forgive sins. It is a good thing that God knows the future perfectly and is powerful enough to make it come to pass exactly how he wants it to, otherwise his forgiveness was in jeopardy of being unjust.
Jesus’ one-time sacrifice takes away sins once-for-all. This is why God forgets, because he debts we owe are fully forgiven. In the old covenant, God kept remembering, because there was not a sacrifice that truly appeased his wrath. No animal, no matter how pure and spotless, was capable of truly substituting for your sin and mine. But the Lamb of God was. Where sins were once only covered or passed over, the sacrifices had to keep being repeated. But where the One Sacrifice of Christ is, there is no more remembrance of sin.
Of course, it isn’t that God literally forgets. It is that he does not hold our sins against us. He is now merciful towards our iniquities. Nothing we do can ever sever his great love for us in Christ. For, the Father is perfectly satisfied in the obedience of his Son, and the Spirit has united us to the Son in perfect union so that when he looks upon us and our sin, God only sees the Righteousness of Jesus. This is the promise for those in the new covenant!
But you have to be in Christ to be in the new covenant. My friend, trust in this Lord Jesus today. Confess him before men. Bow before him as King. Repent of your dark, secret sins, of those things you have been refusing to bring before his throne. Come to know the gracious benefits of Christ dead and risen. Entered into the blessed covenant that God has now promised to all who trust in the Son today.
In the final installment, we will take a look at a few implications of this study on Jeremiah’s new covenant.
(by: Doug Van Dorn)