Acts 2:38 - Repent - Be Baptized - In the Name of Jesus Christ - For the Remission of Sins - Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit
It was July 1942. Thousands of Jews were beginning to arrive at the German concentration camp at Auschwitz. Reichsfiihrer Heinrich Himmler had arrived to inspect the operation.
Himmler was not happy with what he saw in Auschwitz. "To a former teacher of mathematics," wrote Rudolph Vrba, who was one of the prisoners, "the whole business was just too haphazard for words."
In the wake of his visit, Himmler "gave orders for the greatest, most efficient extermination factory the world has ever known. For the modem concrete gas chambers and the vast crematoria that could absorb as many as 12,000 bodies in twenty-four hours, and, in fact, did so. For the machinery that sucked in 2,500,000 men, women and children in three years and puffed them out in harmless black smoke" (I Cannot Forgive, pp. 9-10).
Just six months later, Himmler again visited Auschwitz. A special consignment of 3,000 Polish Jews had been brought in for the occasion. It was the inauguration of new mass-extermination gas chambers and ovens, Auschwitz's contribution to the "Final Solution."
Vrba described Himmler's reaction to what he saw: "Having waited for a while so that the poison would have circulated properly, Hoess courteously invited his guest to have another peep through the observation window. For some minutes, Himmler peered into the death chamber, obviously impressed, and then turned with new interest to his Commandant.... What he had seen seemed to have satisfied him and put him in good humour."
Himmler was just one of thousands who were responsible for the most organized atrocities that history has ever witnessed. He was one of many who lost no sleep over the monstrous murdering of millions of helpless victims!
The Bible commands: "Thou shalt not murder" (Jewish Publication Society translation). These men did not break that commandment in one momentary fit of anger. They were not provoked. They coolly, calmly, calculatedly authorized the greatest slaughter machine ever assembled.
History records no greater concentrated, systematic genocide.
A lifetime will never erase the understandable bitterness toward these men — human forgiveness is impossible.
And yet so great is the mercy of God that even these men, whom many cannot forgive, could have received absolute pardon from their Creator!
Does that seem unbelievable? Is it beyond our ability to comprehend? What about the words of Isaiah who reports God as saying, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool"? (Isa. 1:18.) Does this include the sins of these men?
Sin is the transgression of God's righteous law (I John 3:4). The Bible reveals that the entire human race has sinned, and that every human being who has ever lived has come under the penalty of sin — death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).
Perhaps we may not consider that we have done very much wrong during our lifetime. Certainly we couldn't be classed with war criminals like Himmler! Why, haven't we always lived a basically "good" life?
But "good" as we might think we are, if only one of us ever lived — if there had been no other members of the human race — Jesus Christ would still have had to die for our salvation to be possible!
Human beings classify and categorize sin. What Rimmler did was unbelievably evil. We can all recognize that. But somehow what many of us have done doesn't seem as serious.
But the same penalty must be exacted for our sins as must be exacted for the sins of those who were responsible for the deaths of millions under Nazi Germany. Any sin required the death of our Maker if there is to be forgiveness. Sin is just that serious!
God says that if we have broken one of His laws, as far as the forfeiting of eternal life goes, we may as well have broken them all. "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all," the Apostle James tells us (James 2:10).
Can we begin to understand why no sin is beyond the realm of God's power to forgive? We look upon some sins as "unforgivable" because we don't grasp. the enormity of any degree of sin.
One evening centuries ago, a king took a walk on the roof of his palace. He saw a very beautiful woman, and subsequently succumbed to heavy temptation.
To cover up his sin of adultery, King David of Israel stooped to cold-blooded, plotted murder! He purposely arranged for the death of the woman's husband in battle.
What David did angered God — especially Uriah's murder, for David had "despised the commandment of the Lord." It wasn't done in temporary weakness under great temptation. It was deliberate sin.
When the Prophet Nathan came to David to deliver God's judgment, David's heart smote him. "And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die" (II Sam. 12:13).
David's repentance is recorded in Psalm 51. He saw what he had done as a crime against the great God and came to bitterly loathe himself for his sin. And when he repented, God forgave.
But in God's forgiveness of David's sin we learn a tremendous lesson. God didn't "forgive" in the way that we humans so often do. He didn't begrudgingly allow David's life to be spared. David didn't get off by the "skin of his teeth," barely remaining alive. No, God forgave to the extent that David not only continued in office as a physical king, but he actually qualified to be king over all Israel in the coming Kingdom of God (Ezek. 37:24).
Little wonder that David later wrote in the 103rd Psalm that God "hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (verses 10-12).
When God forgives sin, it is total forgiveness. He puts sin so far from us that it in no way limits our future potential. We may carry scars and reap temporary penalties to remind us of the awesomeness of sin, but God never again brings that sin up. So complete is His forgiveness that David is even called a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22).
Just how high are the heavens above the earth? How far is east from west?
Too many, not understanding the extent of God's forgiveness, continue to feel guilty for sins committed even years earlier, instead of allowing God to remove them and put them away forever.
Consider. If God can forgive even the most heinous sins, can he not forgive you? If mercy is available to war criminals with countless human murders on their hands, isn't it also available to you?
The very gospel Christ came to proclaim to the world has to do with the "remission of sins." It was at the heart and core of the preaching of John the Baptist and Christ Himself (Mark 1:4; Luke 1:77). It is to be preached "among all nations" (Luke 24:47).
The Greek word translated "remission" in these passages means literally "to dismiss, to release." Christ came proclaiming a release from sin. Even as the prophecy of Isaiah had predicted centuries earlier, He came "to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised" (Luke 4:18; see also Isa. 61:1).
The Bible pictures us as captives to sin, the servants of lawlessness. We are chained in bondage to the way of life to which Satan has held this entire world. But Christ said that the message He brought will make a person free (John 8:32).
Remission of sins does not mean simply the forgiveness of past sins and deliverance from the death penalty we have incurred, though this is a vital part of it. But it involves our release from bondage — the termination of our slavery as servants of a wrong way of life! As the Apostle Paul explained: "Being then made FREE from sin" — having our sins remitted — "ye became the servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:16, 18).
When God grants us remission of sins, we are freed to begin walking His way, keeping His law.
The Apostle Paul explained the full ramification of the remission of sin in Hebrews 10:12-22. Speaking of Christ, he said: "But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.... For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Spirit also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin."
Remission of sin includes forgiveness and turning to righteousness - obedience to God's law! Christ died to free us from bondage to the way of sin, and He remits our sins so that we can now walk in His law.
Notice that where there is remission of sin, "there is no more offering for sin." This doesn't take place immediately — it's a lifelong process. Once we have finally been liberated from sin, so that we no longer sin, there will no longer be a need for forgiveness. Christ's sacrifice not only blots out past sins, but continues to clean us up as we stumble along the way, until finally we are perfect (I John 1:7-9). Not until then is the "remission of sin" complete.
God promises that He will remember our sins no more. "Having therefore [because God no longer remembers our sins], brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus," Paul continues, "... Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb. 10:19, 22).
Faith is absolute confidence in God's promises. When we have this faith — this assurance — we no longer bear feelings of guilt. We don't allow mistakes, even terrible sins, of the past to encumber us. We put all of that behind us.
There's no room for doubt in faith. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen," Paul explains in Hebrews 11:1 (RSV). You don't go around with a guilty conscience about past sin. You know you have been forgiven. You are confident Christ's sacrifice was big enough to forgive every sin.
In this same 10th chapter of Hebrews, Paul explains further this confidence we can have once we have been forgiven. "Cast not away therefore your confidence," he urges. "Now the just [those who are obeying God] shall live by FAITH: But if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (verses 35-39).
Those who are fearful, who carry their past sins with them, will not have the faith to live God's way wholly. But those who have really grasped how total God's forgiveness is, and who are confident in that remission, will press forward boldly in God's way of life. Paul said he was of those who believe to the inheriting of eternal life. God help us to have confidence in His ability to grant the remission of our sins!
The account of the forgiveness of the most evil king who ever lived highlights God's ability to blot out even the most heinous sins.
Manasseh, king of Judah, led the nation into utter idolatry. He caused the people of Judah to commit greater evil than the heathen God had earlier removed from the land so that Israel could possess it. We read that he "shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another" (II Kings 21:16). He even sacrificed his own son to a pagan god (verse 6). Because he did more evil than anyone before him, God actually caused him to be taken captive to Babylon.
But "when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom" (II Chron. 33:12-13).
Even after Manasseh had actually been taken captive, God reversed the penalty of his sin and set him back in his kingdom. All of his murders, his idolatry, and even his black magic were put behind him. He was given a fresh start. God heard Manasseh's prayer of repentance and forgave all his sin! No amount of evil is too great for God to forgive.
If God could forgive Manasseh, he will certainly forgive us. When we recognize our need for God's mercy as did Manasseh, our entire past can be wiped away. God stands ready to offer every one of us the total remission of our sins!
Next: Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit