The Forgiveness of Sins
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (v. 18).- Micah 7:18–19
Question and answer 56 of the Heidelberg Catechism continue the catechism’s exposition of the Apostles’ Creed by focusing on the creedal statement that Christians believe in “the forgiveness of sins.” Interestingly, belief in divine forgiveness is confessed in the section of the creed that deals with the Holy Spirit. The writers of the Apostles’ Creed could have placed it under the creed’s section on the Father or the Son. After all, though we may petition any of the persons of the Trinity for forgiveness, Scripture directs us to make our requests for pardon primarily to the Father (Matt. 6:9–13). Moreover, we are forgiven based on the work of the Son (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13–14). Still, the Holy Spirit must regenerate us before we will acknowledge our need of forgiveness and seek God’s pardon in Christ (John 3:5). So, in our subjective experience, the Spirit makes the first move necessary for us to receive divine forgiveness. Thus, it is good and proper for the Apostles’ Creed to discuss forgiveness when setting forth the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
To help us understand divine forgiveness, the Heidelberg Catechism turns to today’s passage, wherein the prophet Micah marvels at the greatness of God’s pardon. Micah 7:18 emphasizes the uniqueness of the Lord’s forgiveness, revealing that no other deity can offer the same kind of pardon that the one true God — the covenant Lord of Israel — offers to His people. In light of the entire Bible, God’s forgiveness is incomparable because He forgives us in Christ Jesus without compromising His holy justice (Rom. 3:21–26). Only the God of Scripture is both just and Justifier. The other gods of this world, who are no gods at all but demons masquerading as gods (Deut. 32:17; 1 Cor. 8:4–6; 10:20), compromise their self-proclaimed righteousness when they “forgive” because they do not demand true atonement for sin.
Micah 7:19 shows us that God casts our sins into the depths of the sea when He forgives us. He puts them so far out of His sight that He never sees them again. Of course, the Lord does not actually forget our sins. If we remember the sins committed against us, how can the omniscient Lord not recall our transgressions of His law? Micah only means that God no longer holds our sins against us when He forgives us. He never again counts them against our standing before Him.
Those whom God forgives are forgiven indeed. He does not actually forget what we have done, but He no longer holds our wickedness against us when we trust in Christ. Through the blood of Christ, He sees us as righteous and acceptable in His sight, and He will not take this status from us. We find it hard not to hold the sins of others against them, but the Lord readily and easily refuses to hold our sins against us if we are in Christ.
Passages for Further Study