All Christians believe that God forgives sins. But how many of us feel, deep down in our bones, that God delights to forgive?
When we consider God’s forgiveness, few of us imagine a bridegroom adorning his bride with jewels and rejoicing over her newfound beauty (Isaiah 62:5), a shepherd singing as he carries his lost sheep home (Luke 15:3–7), or a father running to us, robing us, and dancing till daybreak (Luke 15:20–24).
Images like these stretch the imaginations of sinners like us. They sit on the surface of our souls, while deep down, where roots sink into soil, we wonder if God is really that happy forgiving us. Our suspicions easily replace the Bridegroom’s pleasure with pursed lips, the Shepherd’s song with a lecture, and the Father’s robe with the elder brother’s hand-me-downs.
If we are going to feel and not just confess that God delights to forgive those who come to him through Jesus, we will need to grasp why he forgives.
1. Forgiveness reveals God’s heart.
For many of us, the god of our unredeemed imagination has a small and shriveled heart. If we asked this god to show us his glory, he might pass by and say, “The Lord, the Lord, a God stingy and tightfisted, quick to anger, and abounding in steadfast vengeance.” If this god forgives at all, he does so as a sovereign Scrooge, ever dangling our debts over our heads.
But this is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose heart is broad as the heavens, deep as the seas, kind as the morning sun. If we travel into the inner chambers of God’s heart, we will find the home of everything pleasant: mercy, grace, and enough forgiveness to cover the world twice over. He is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon him” (Psalm 86:5).
To be sure, God also feels righteous wrath toward those who refuse to repent. But love and wrath, forgiveness and vengeance, do not own equal acreage in God’s heart. When God proclaims his name, he leads with mercy and grace, not anger (Exodus 34:6). When he sends calamity on his stiff-necked people, he calls his judgment “strange” and “alien” (Isaiah 28:21). Even when he lands a fatal blow, he reminds us that “he does not afflict from his heart” (Lamentations 3:33). In the end, the wrath of God will stand as the black backdrop accenting the diamonds of his forgiving love (Romans 9:22–23).
The God we meet in Scripture does not hoard his forgiveness like a miser with his money. The storehouses of his heart are always open and stocked with all the grace a sinner will ever need. With God, there is forgiveness (Psalm 130:4) — and not out of reluctance or necessity, but out of the overflow of his broad heart.
2. Forgiveness fulfills God’s mission.
From the moment Adam and Eve left Eden, God has not been content to leave his people in exile, corrupt and condemned. He promised, again and again, that a day would come when the Son of God would leave his Father’s side, travel to rebel lands, and trade the praise of angels for the scorn of men.
And why? For forgiveness. Jesus “will save his people from their sins,” the angel tells Joseph (Matthew 1:21), and then Zechariah tells us how: “in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). When Jesus began his public ministry, he set his face toward sinners (Mark 2:17), forgiving even the worst (Luke 7:47–48). He taught us to pray for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12), and, in his moment of greatest agony, he himself prayed for us: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).
As the hour of his death approached, Jesus told his disciples the meaning of his broken body and spilled blood: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). He took on a back to bear our griefs, shoulders to carry our sorrows, hands to be pierced for our transgressions, and a body to be bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4–5). Then he hung there on the cross, pouring out the kindness of his forgiving heart from the wounds that we created.
Through forgiveness, Jesus fulfills God’s ancient mission. He plunders the domain of darkness while Satan watches, bound (Matthew 12:29), and fills his Father’s house with many sons and daughters (John 14:2; Hebrews 2:10).
You do not need to persuade this Savior to forgive you. Forgiveness is why he came.
3. Forgiveness glorifies God’s Son.
On this side of Calvary, all forgiveness comes through the crucified Christ, who fulfilled every letter of God’s law, paid every cent of our debt, and swallowed up every drop of God’s wrath. Every forgiven sinner stands safe behind the scars of Jesus Christ. And therefore, forgiveness glorifies the name of Christ — it is “for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12).
God’s forgiveness does not mainly emphasize our worth but Jesus’s. When God forgives, he writes the merits of Jesus on a banner across the sky. He leads us behind the Lamb of God in triumphal procession. He taps into the deepest passion of his heart, and fulfills the prayer of the psalmist: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).
Because forgiveness glorifies Christ’s name, he does not forgive half-heartedly. He forgives gladly, zealously — with all of his heart and soul. John Piper writes, “Whenever I am most thirsty and desperate for help, I can encourage my soul not only with the truth that there is a merciful impulse in the heart of God, but also with the truth that the source and power of that impulse is the zeal of God to act for the glory of his own name” (The Pleasures of God, 233–34).
What makes God glad to forgive you? Not your merits, not your vows, and not your future potential, but rather the worth of the Lamb who was slain.
Fields of Forgiveness
Of course, God does not delight to forgive everybody. Millions in our day echo the last words of Heinrich Heine — “Of course God will forgive me; that’s his job” — while feeling no sorrow for sin, no hunger for holiness, no love for Christ. God does not delight to forgive people who take forgiveness for granted.
But when we ask for forgiveness beneath the bright banner of Jesus, from a heart that hates sin, and with a longing to be holy as God is holy, we place ourselves on the path of God’s delight. We become a stage for God to showcase the glories of his heart. We join God in his passion to bring many sons to glory. We display to saints and sinners, angels and demons, that Jesus Christ is a strong Savior.
When you come before God today in the moments after committing some sin, you do not need to stumble through the forests of guilt and self-reproach. Confess your sin, turn to Jesus, and run in the fields of his forgiveness.