I’ve been stewing a bit over a little maxim I have formulated (or stolen, or plagiarized…I’m not really sure), and while perhaps not ironclad, I think there is certainly an element of truth to it:
God does not forgive sin. He forgives sinners.
I was reading recently back through the early chapters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship and was struck by his emphasis on the justification of sinner vs. the justification of sin, which is connected to his famous cheap grace/costly grace distinction. Bonhoeffer maintains that too often we rush into the justification of sin, a filthy derivative of a cheap view of grace. We know God that God ultimately forgives sin, so we are secure even in the midst of living in habitual sin.
It is not my desire to challenge the security of the believer (I certainly have no desire to do so) but instead to point out that this “cheap grace” mindset causes us merely to excuse ourselves of our sins, when in fact what we need is for God to forgive us of our sins. And beyond this, we need to bear in mind that God does not simply overlook sins and pretend as though they never happened. God never forgives sins in any such way. No, we know that God is both just and the Justifier. “God presented [Jesus] as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26).” There is no element of “pretending” or forgetfulness about God regarding sin; instead, He took our sins and placed them on Jesus, in no way forgetting or forgiving the offenses but putting them to death with Christ on the cross. Our actions were not forgiven; we were. Our sins received their just punishment; we received the gift of life. What an infinitely wise, gracious, just Creator-Redeemer God we serve.