I’ve Been Forgiven. Now What?
Christians believe that God has forgiven their sins. But what difference does this actually make in the day-to-day? What difference should it make?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1–2 CSB).
This is how we know we’re under no condemnation: We see a new law in us, leading us away from sin and death.
Now, don’t let Paul’s use of the word “law” throw you. Elsewhere in Romans, Paul has been critical of “the law,” meaning the ways we justify ourselves through rule-keeping. That’s not what he’s talking about here. We should read “law” here more like the word “pattern” or “principle.”
We used to operate according to the old principle that we would only be accepted if we kept the law well enough. The problem was, that law couldn’t change our hearts and, if anything, it just made us more fearful and sinful.
Now, there is a new principle—a new law—at work in our hearts: the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. God now says, “I’ll produce righteous behavior in you through the power of my Spirit.”
The necessary complement to forgiveness of sin is a release from the power of sin. It’s the other side of the salvation coin: If you are forgiven, you’ll be changed. If Jesus’ death releases you from the penalty of sin, then his resurrection life starts to release you from the power of sin. The two always go together.
This was illustrated in some of Jesus’ miracles. For instance, he told the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven … [now] get up, take your stretcher, and go home” (Matthew 9:2, 6). It’s kind of an odd coupling when you think about it. The paralytic wasn’t coming to Jesus for forgiveness. But Jesus wanted his miracles to illustrate the way of salvation. When he forgives your sins, you rise up and begin to walk spiritually.
If that is not happening in our lives today, then it’s doubtful he has forgiven us, either. So, it’s awesome that our sins have been forgiven, but are we walking in the Spirit? Have we turned over every part of our lives to him?
The question we often use to determine if someone is saved—“If you died tonight, do you know for sure God would let you into heaven?”—is a good one, and we should have the right answer for it.
But an equally important question is, “If you get up tomorrow, will your life be different because the Spirit of Jesus is inside you?”
In John 8, a woman was brought to Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. It’s important to notice not just that Jesus forgives her but also the order of his response to her: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11 ESV).
Most of us would reverse those two statements. But Jesus put them in that order because forgiveness fuels change, not the other way around.
Jesus assured her of his acceptance before he gave her the command to change. He said, “What your soul is craving is not in him. It can only be found in me.”
In the same way, we find the power to change only in the assurance of Jesus’ acceptance. God’s acceptance is the power that liberates us from sin, not the reward for us having liberated ourselves.
God’s acceptance is the power that liberates us from sin, not the reward for us having liberated ourselves.
The gospel message is not, “Stop sinning,” because that would be impossible. The gospel is, “Behold the love and acceptance of your God—and then you’ll have the power to change.”