The Remission of Sins

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

- Isaiah 1:18

Our focus on the doctrine of justification has made it necessary for us to use a specialized theological vocabulary. Such technical jargon is often necessary in order to make sure that we rightly understand the teaching of Scripture and are able to answer those who misuse and misunderstand the Bible.

Simultaneously, all good technical theology is also good practical theology. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is not a mere abstraction expressed with fancy language. It also answers some of the practical issues and questions of the Christian life.

John Calvin once said that the remission of sins was the heart of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The word “remission” is made up of the word mission and the prefix re-. Mission is taken from the Latin word missio, which means “to send.” The prefix re- means “away” or “again.” Thus, to speak of the remission of sins is to say that our transgressions have been sent away.

In short, being justified has to do with the reality of our guilt. In justification, God declares us righteous based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. In so doing, He also releases us from the penalty our guilt has incurred because in justification, our sins are imputed to Jesus upon whom God poured out the wrath we deserved. Our sins are sent away from us in Christ. Consequently, we are declared righteous in the eyes of our Creator (R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone, p. 96).

This was the hope of every old-covenant believer. As today’s passage notes, the Lord promised that though the sins of His people be as scarlet, He would make them white as snow. The difference between the colors scarlet and white indicates that even the vilest of sins would be forgiven, for just as God can make the darkest stain white, so too can He cleanse and forgive the foulest sinner.

Two thousand years ago, the hope of Israel was fulfilled when Jesus bore the sins of His people on the cross. On that day, the wrath of our Father was poured out upon the God-man, Jesus Christ, so that those who are in Him might be cleansed forever (Rom. 5:6–11). If you are in Christ you have been forgiven of even the most heinous of sins.

Coram Deo

God is holy and must punish sin, which is an affront to His perfect character. Yet He is also gracious and merciful, and true to His covenant to save His people. Our Creator shows His holiness in judging sin on the cross and His grace in placing Jesus there in our place. If you are burdened by the thought that you cannot be forgiven, know that if you trust in Jesus, then all your sins are forgiven. Receive His pardon by faith and then declare His grace to others.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 32:1–2
Matthew 1:20–21

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.