In meditating on the Scripture’s teaching about forgiveness this week, I noticed something: God’s forgiveness in Christ is not described as an intensely individualistic and personal reality, but a reality experienced corporately in the “basics” He has given His Church.
Fellowship: “...if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin...if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7,9).
Praise: “...to the one who...believes in Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks [in Psalm 32:1,2] of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those who lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account’” (Romans 4:5-8). See also Psalm 25:18; 32:5; 85:2; 99:8.
Baptism: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37,38).
The Lord’s Supper: “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:27,28).
- “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:45-47).
- “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One Who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:42,43).
Perhaps those believers who are struggling with their assurance or feelings of guilt need to ask if they are participating in the corporate life of the Church, where forgiveness is proclaimed and awareness of its reality in Christ is driven deep by the Spirit. We pastors should ask if we are being faithful in this regard over the ones “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Are we proclaiming “repentance for forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47)? Are we regularly and faithfully administering the ordinances/sacraments? Does the praise of the Church express repentance and the truth of forgiveness in Christ? If our fellowship is not richly infused with the language of “the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7,8a) and the transfer of the Church “to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14), we should prayerfully lead it back to this truth. We should guard against false, worldly, pop-psychology ideas like repentance-free forgiveness and “forgiving self.” The spiritual, emotional, and psychological health of the congregation depends on this. The Church is the congregation of the forgiven. Unless the forgiveness found only in Christ is a rich part of our gathering, this health will falter.