Summary: Forgiveness is a central tenent of the Christian faith.
This We Believe—“…in the forgiveness of sins,”
Forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the central virtues of the Christian faith. We proclaim, every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. The statement, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” almost seems to be added as an afterthought in the Creed. After all, we have covered so much territory when we talk about the work of God the Father, the work of God the Son, and the work of God the Holy Spirit. We have surveyed the deep subject of the work of Christ, and the depths of understanding what it means for the church to one holy catholic, church. Deep subjects all, so by the time we get to these closing statements our minds have almost disengaged from the thoughts contained in the Creed. But the early church fathers included this idea because the doctrine of forgiveness is central to understanding our relationship with God, and it is central to maintaining our relationship with one another. So what do we mean when we say, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”?
First, it means that we believe in the reality of sin. It is the confession both of original sin, and sin in our individual lives. The idea of original sin is simply that because of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, humanity is tainted with the stain of sin. The Apostle Paul says it this way: Romans 5:12
When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.
Does that mean that I am guilty because of what Adam did? In a way, yes, but more to the point, it means that what Adam did, every one of us would have done had we been in his place. Sin is a fact of life. Regardless of culture or country, age or generation, sin is one of the chief and enduring characteristics of earthly existence. History books and news reports recount for us the undeniable testimony of human depravity. Death, disease, abuse, neglect, robberies, murders, envy, jealousy, division, war, famine, human rights atrocities all stand as testimony of the sinfulness of the world and the people in it. Even in our more noble moments, ulterior motives often taint the desire to do good.
This bothers us, but probably not as much as it should. We know there is a line between right and wrong, and we often know when that line has been crossed.
But what is sin? In the Bible, sin has many meanings. It means variously, missing the target, stumbling, falling, breaking the law, disobedience, ignoring Commandments, and moral debt. However the word sin is used in the Bible, it can be reduced to this: Sin is whatever is contrary to the righteous will of God.
And we know that we are all guilty in some way. Humanity is a fallen race. Sin is the condition borne into every human soul. The Bible confirms the point for us: Romans 3:23
For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
So confessing that we believe in the forgiveness of sins is at one and the same time our confession that we believe we have sinned. But it is also our confession that we believe God has dealt with sin, both in our lives and in His creation. And God has dealt with sin. How? Because God is holy, and completely pure, He must deal with sin in a way that overcomes it once and for all. Sin must be dealt with in one of two ways. God must punish sin, or He must forgive it. We say, with our confession, that we believe we need forgiveness.