“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God…” 1 Peter 3:18
What a magnificent verse, so packed with Gospel dynamite. Have you wondered just how a holy, righteous God forgives sin?
Suppose someone comes up and punches you in the nose. You decide you’ll be bighearted about it and say, “Even though you punched me, I forgive you.” Suppose he says, “You don’t need to forgive me. I’ve already forgiven myself.” That would be kind of strange, wouldn’t it?
Who is the one who really needs to do the forgiving? The one who got punched in the nose! The one who did the punching is not the one who forgives himself. It is the punch-ee, not the punch-er, who does the forgiving.
If we understand what sin is, we’ll understand why we need God’s forgiveness.
Sin is a moral affront against God; therefore, God is the one who must forgive sin. David said, “Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned.” We have a lot of psychological and theological garbage going around today where people say everyone is supposed to be affirmed: “I affirm you. You’re okay—I’m okay.”
It is God that has been offended. God must forgive us. Friend, without Jesus, we’re not OK, we’re KO’d.
How does an offended God forgive sin? First Peter 3:18 tells us. Through Jesus Christ.
He was a substitutionary sacrifice.
“For Christ hath also once suffered for sins (now notice this phrase), the just for the unjust…”
Here, the word for means “in place of”—as a substitute. Christ actually took our place. He was our substitutionary Savior. We are sinners — by birth, by nature, by choice, by practice. We have morally struck and offended an infinitely holy God. He must punish sin, and we deserve punishment. Yet at the same time God loves us. So if God could have a problem, this would present Him with one: How can He love and forgive the sinner and at the same time punish sin?
The answer is: with a substitutionary sacrifice. Someone who takes that punishment on our behalf. A person who has known no sin Himself, righteous enough, holy enough, good enough, to become our substitute. Someone who can suffer in our stead. The only one who could do that was the Son of God. He is God’s substitutionary sacrifice—and our Savior.
He died not merely for us, He died instead of us. In the Passover we see a picture of Calvary. God provides the Passover Lamb, a substitute to atone for sin. When the blood of the Passover lamb was applied to the lintel and the doorposts of the Jewish home exactly as God instructed, it formed the sign of the cross.
Both the Passover lambs and Christ were sacrificed on Mount Moriah, where God had told Abraham centuries before, “God will provide Himself a lamb.” God did provide Himself a lamb—on the cross Jesus cried, “It is finished!” The Old Testament Levitical system was finished. God’s Lamb fulfilled it all. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the just for the unjust, became our Passover. And now, hallelujah, we can say when the blood is applied to our hearts by faith, God’s angel of judgment passes over us.
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Peter 1:18
God’s Lamb took the sin of the world and suffered as an innocent substitute—the just for the unjust—that He might bring us to God.
“He who knew no sin, God hath made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
And, therefore, God is both just and the justifier of them that believe in Christ.”
God is just because sin is punished. He’s the justifier because we have we a substitute. Mercy and justice meet together in the cross. Thank God for the substitutionary death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the just for the unjust.
He was a suffering sacrifice.
“For Christ also hath once suffered…”
No drama, song, orator, or poet can describe the suffering of Jesus Christ. The only way you can begin to know how Christ suffered is for the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you. Only those in hell can begin to know what Christ suffered on that cross.
If you do not allow Him to become your substitute, you will experience a Calvary of your own. You will have a cross of your own. You will have a hell of your own, because you refuse the One who died in your place and who was your substitute.
As surely as night follows day, suffering and sin are inseparably linked. You will suffer for your sin unless you have a substitute. Either Christ does the suffering for you or you do the suffering for you.
He was our settled sacrifice.
“For Christ also hath once suffered”
“Once” here doesn’t mean “once upon a time.” It means “once, for all.” He suffered, never to suffer again. He died, never to die again. Jesus bowed His head and cried out, “tetelestai!” Three words in the English language, one word in the Greek language, “It is finished!” Paid in full!
In Jesus’ time, when a man was placed in prison, a Certificate of Debt was nailed to his prison door with his crime on one side and the penalty on the other. When he had served his time, written on his Certificate of Debt was tetelestai, “Paid in Full.” It became his proof positive that the demands of the law had been met. He had suffered, not to be brought into double jeopardy for those crimes again.
Friends, you and I have a Certificate of Debt stamped in the crimson blood of the Son of God—“Paid in Full!” You can’t add to it. You can’t take from it. Without Christ, you can do nothing. With Christ, you need do nothing.
“But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 10:12
If you really understood what you have in the Lord Jesus Christ, your salvation by grace and what Christ did upon that cross, you would never stop praising God for saving you.
One sacrifice for sins forever. Hallelujah for the blood of Jesus Christ that pays in full, that saves us and keeps us saved! This is how God can forgive sin.
A version of this article previously appeared on the Love Worth Finding website under the headline, “How Does God Forgive Sin?”
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