From a Christian perspective, God’s salvation plan for mankind begins and ends with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, during His time on earth, Jesus spoke candidly to His disciples about the reasons He was brought into the world and prepared them to carry on His gospel after His crucifixion. A cornerstone of His message was that He alone could forgive the sins of all people who seek salvation. For the last two-thousand years churches have taught billions of believers about the redemptive power of Jesus and His ability to forgive people of all backgrounds, no matter how bad of a past they may have come from. However, far too often, this message has failed to reach those in most need of His love and mercy, leaving many to ask, “can Jesus forgive me?”
Yes, Jesus can forgive your sins. In fact, Jesus has already forgiven the sins of all those who seek Him, but it’s up to each believer to accept the terms of repentance. In this article, we will focus on the concept of forgiveness and what the Gospels say about the atonement of sins.
Jesus and forgiveness
Throughout the New Testament of the Bible, while traveling through the region of Judea, Jesus encountered many people whom society and the Church itself had written-off as being unworthy of God’s mercy. Whether it was dealing with prostitutes, cheaters, murderers, the demon-possessed, or the handicapped, Jesus was far more comfortable in the presence of these people than He was around the Jewish religious leaders.
In fact, when questioned by the Jewish leaders about why He was spending most of His time in the presence of known sinners, He replied in Mark 2:17 that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” One of the many examples that are seen in the Bible displaying this concept is in Luke 7:44-48 when a woman with a bad reputation heard that Jesus was in town and came to see Him:
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The act of forgiveness is the foundation of Jesus’s message to all those who seek Him. As in the times of Jesus, and still true today, society or religious institutions can often push people away who seek help with their problems. The historical accounts of Jesus’s ministry show us that He fiercely embraced those who society ignored, regardless of their background or religious affiliation. However, what precisely does it mean to be forgiven for your sins? Let’s first take a look at the topic of sin, what it is, and why it’s important to know.
What is Sin and why it matters
The Book of Genesis introduced Adam and Eve, who were the first humans created by God. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, where God allowed them to eat any fruit except the ones from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam that eating fruit from this tree will result in death; however, Satan, disguised as a serpent convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve then shared the fruit with Adam. The disobedience to God’s rule by Adam and Eve is the first sin recounted in the Bible.
When analyzing the scriptures, sin means disobeying God’s laws, which leads a believer to separate from God. Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 document the Ten Commandments, which God gave to Moses at the top of Mount Sinai after God rescued Moses and the Israelites from Egypt’s slavery. The Ten Commandments provided spiritual and moral guidelines for the Israelites’ to fulfill God’s plan for them to be the holy and pure nation. However, the Israelites became restless while waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain and pleaded with Moses’ brother to construct them an altar that they could worship. When Moses returned to the campgrounds, he became angry when he saw the people committing the sin of idolatry.
All throughout the Old Testament, the atonement of sins involved a High Priest from the family line of Aaron offering various forms of sacrifices, such as animal sacrifices, in which the animal’s sinless blood could atone for the sin of a single person or an entire Israelite community. In the New Testament, the death of Jesus Christ during His crucifixion was the final blood sacrifice to be made to atone for the sins of humanity. After this, there would never again be a required sacrifice of blood to atone for the sins of mankind. We see this in John 1:29 (NIV),
29 “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Now that we know the death of Jesus on the cross atoned for all sins for the rest of eternity, many people can’t also help but wonder, is there such a thing as an unforgivable sin?
Can all Sins be forgiven?
A sin punishable by death is a transgression we find in the Book of Leviticus. The Old Testament story tells us how an Israelite son blasphemed God’s name while fighting with an Egyptian man. Upon hearing the incident, God instructed Moses that the blasphemer must be stoned until his death. However, what does blasphemy mean, and why does God consider this act an unforgivable sin?
The unforgivable sin
From the Bible, we gather that the term blasphemy implies disobeying or disrespecting the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Matthew 12: 32 (NIV) provides more insight into the consequences of blasphemy,
32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
Thus, purposely mocking the divinity of Jesus Christ or scorning God is an unforgivable sin and taken quite seriously even by Jesus’s own admission. Now that we have the history of sins let’s explore the biblical definition of forgiveness.
The Biblical definition of forgiveness
Frequently in the Bible, Jesus talks about how we should forgive others because He and God have forgiven us. Jesus profoundly demonstrates the act of forgiveness in the story of the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, wherein a man owed a debt which was dismissed by his master. Yet, the man didn’t forgive a debt that another man owed him.
The definition of the forgiveness of sins over the centuries has often become blurred for believers and simply confusing for many people who are entirely new to the Christian faith. Romans 12:18-19 (NIV) describes forgiveness by:
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV) also describes forgiveness,
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
As we see in the Bible, forgiveness means having peaceful relations and forgiving others in the same way Jesus forgave us. However, does this mean that we must meet certain conditions before we receive Jesus’ forgiveness?
How Jesus provides forgiveness
In the Bible when Jesus taught about the principles of forgiveness, He also discussed the criteria that needed to be met before a person is truly forgiven. These criteria include repentance, the forgiveness of others, and the confession of sins. Let’s discuss the biblical definition of each condition below.
Repentance, according to The New Testament, means turning around. Hence, the act refers to being firm in deciding to turn away from sin and walking a godly path of righteousness and purity. Jesus frequently references the concept of repentance as seen in Matthew 4:17 (NIV),
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.
Forgiveness requires genuine remorse. If a sinner seeks forgiveness but intends to repeat the sin at a future date, that person didn’t really accomplish repentance.
2) Forgiveness of others
Jesus always instills to His disciples that there shall be no bounds in forgiveness. As Jesus and God were able to forgive us, we should be willing to forgive others who sinned against us. Jesus discusses this in Matthew 6:14-15,
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
As seen in the Bible, holding on to anger and resentment can prevent the forgiveness of sins.
Integral to repentance is the act of confession, which means to verbalize the admission of sins. John 1:8-9 (NIV) tells us why confessing our sins is important,
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Confessing to Jesus is vital in attaining atonement from sins. One of the many titles for Jesus in the Bible is that He is our “High-Priest”. Thus, this divine position allows believers to confess to Him directly, even in the privacy of their own homes.
Can Jesus forgive me?
When one truly desires mercy, Jesus Christ is ready to impart His forgiveness. Yes, Jesus can forgive your sins. To attain His pardon, one must sincerely repent, forgive others, and confess their sins. However, while Jesus can forgive certain misdeeds, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin. Remember, Jesus’s mission is to save His people from their sins. As faithful believers, it is up to us to seek Christ’s mercy and give honor to God.