“I believe in … the forgiveness of sins”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we come to Article 10 of the Apostles’ Creed—I believe … in the forgiveness of sins, we’re still in what we take to be the third section of the Creed, where the focus is on the person and work of God the Holy Spirit. It might strike us as odd that the forgiveness of sins is placed in this section. After all, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus assumes that we will make our requests for pardon to our Heavenly Father (Matt 6:12). Meanwhile, the Apostle Paul tells us that it was Christ the Son who purchased forgiveness for us in His cross work (Eph 1:7). Nonetheless, we also remember that the Spirit’s ministry is to prove the world of sinners wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). In God’s application of salvation to sinners, we can say that the Spirit makes the first move necessary for us to receive forgiveness. So, what is it that we confess when we declare, I believe in … the forgiveness of sins?

To unpack this article we’ll start with this question: do we share God’s view of sin? In Scripture, of course, God talks about sin and condemns it as failure to conform to His nature and moral law in our actions, attitudes, affections, and nature. In briefer terms, sin is failure to be or do as God requires. Sin is also described as a debt. In the Lord’s Prayer, the forgiveness of sins is the forgiveness of debts. We should know why our sins are debts. It’s because we owe God obedience; that is, we have a debt of obedience to Him, particularly when we disobey. Our disobedience, in truth, expresses hatred of and indifference to God and His requirements, quite the opposite of what we owe Him. Recognizing the reality of personal sin, then, is affirming that we aren’t what God requires us to be, and we don’t do what He requires us to do. In fact, we can’t be or do good as He requires (Eph 2:1-3; Rom 3:23; 5:18-19). Yet, as recently as 2020, almost two-thirds of people surveyed believe that most people are good by nature. Friends, if this survey is accurate, deception about human nature is rampant. The Apostle John is clear: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. … If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar and His word is not in us (1 John 1:8, 10). The Apostle Paul is blunt: none is righteous, no, not one; … no one does good, not even one (Rom 3:10, 12). The point? Only by affirming God’s view of sin can we also rightly affirm the forgiveness of sins as we confess it in the Creed’s tenth article.

When, therefore, the God of the Bible is said to forgive sins, what does that statement mean? It means that God releases us from paying the debt we owe for our sins. It means that He does not count our sins against us (Rom 4:7-8), in that He declares our debt for breaking His law satisfied. On what basis does God forgive us? It is based on the fact that Christ has paid the debt we owe and could never repay. In saying our debt is paid, we’re not to think that forgiven sinners are like convicts who have paid their debt to society and are released from prison, but without the full rights of citizenship. No, forgiven sinners receive back the full rights of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. God restores to friendship those who were once His enemies. He washes defiled sinners clean from all the unrighteousness of their sins. He does these things because He has seen to it that His justice is satisfied. Thus, He shows His kindness to wrongdoers who deserve only His wrath, and He renews the relationship that the offender’s sin had ruined. Yes, the God of the Bible is a forgiving God, and in Article 10 of the Creed, we bear witness to this astounding truth.

Remarkably, to bear witness to God’s forgiveness of sins is, at the same time, to bear witness to God’s justification of the ungodly. The God who forgives sinners is the God who justifies the ungodly. Thus, in the Creed’s tenth article, we do indeed confess justification by grace alone through faith alone. How so? As follows, in what has been called ‘the great exchange.’ Having transferred our sins to the Lamb of God (Isa 53:6) so that, as our substitute, the Lamb paid the penalty for our sins, God declared, “Penalty paid in full,” forgiving the debt we owed. Moreover, completing ‘the great exchange,’ God credited Christ’s righteousness to our account and accepted us as righteous (not merely as innocent) in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). It’s the same for us as it was for Abraham and David (Rom 4:3-6). God counted sinful Abraham to be righteous, though Abraham himself was not. He counted unfaithful David to be faithful, though David himself was not. God counted Abraham and David as having met His demands, though neither had done so. In effect, God the Son says of those like Abraham and David to God the Father, “She has done Us wrong, and she cannot make it right. He owes Us a debt, and he cannot repay it. Charge their wrongdoing to Me and their debt to My account, and then reckon My righteousness to their account.” Little wonder that the testimony of Abraham and David can be heard in words like these: I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10; cf. Ps 32:1-2).

Evidently, in our day, too many don’t share God’s view of sin. Instead, they insist that they’re good by nature and can earn God’s acceptance, having no need to seek from Him the forgiveness of sins. The truth is, however, that we sinners have a debt to God that we cannot pay. As such, our only hope is in God Himself, who graciously credits the full payment of debt to all who receive and rest on Christ alone. Wrapped in the robe of righteousness that He provides, we exult in our God, confessing as one, I believe … in the forgiveness of sins.

We consider the Creed’s eleventh article on the resurrection of the body here.

2 Comments

  1. July 12, 2022 at 3:52 pm

    […] We take up Article 10 on the forgiveness of sins here. […]

  2. July 26, 2022 at 11:03 pm

    […] Read More […]


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