Forgiveness and the New Covenant

Pastor Michael Bowman

“For this is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:28)

We’ve seen so far in this series that forgiveness is central to the character of God and how he has revealed himself. As with all other aspects of God’s character, forgiveness is most clearly shown through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God the son. It was at the fullness of time that Jesus was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, being born of the Virgin Mary, in order that he might establish a New Covenant. This covenant was promised and looked forward to throughout the Old Testament, and at the center of the promised covenant was forgiveness. 

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says this, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” 

The Mosaic covenant accomplished what it was intended to but not all that it pointed toward. Moses could lead the people to the border of the promised land, but he couldn’t actually take them in. Joshua had to lead them to take hold of what God had promised. In the same way the covenant given at Sinai pointed toward the new covenant in Christ. Like a guardian it led the people to the border (Gal. 3:24) but could not actually give them the fullness of what was promised. Christ was the greater Joshua, he was the one that had to lead the people into the fullness of the covenant promises. He accomplished this by means of the forgiveness of sins. 

Christ announced to his disciples on the night that he was betrayed that his shed blood was the means by which sins could be forgiven. There is no forgiveness of sins apart from the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22). God’s justice needed to be satisfied, and so it was in Jesus’ death on the cross. All of the sacrifices of the old covenant were pointing toward something greater, a sacrifice that would actually accomplish the forgiveness of the sins of God’s people. Jesus’ death was that final sacrifice, a once for all sacrifice. That’s how Hebrews 10 speaks of the cross. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:11-14). We’re told that the Holy Spirit bears witness to this through the words of Jeremiah quoted above, “I will remember their sin no more.” 

That’s an interesting phrase isn’t it? Before I close out this article, we should talk about what that means. God’s forgiveness means he won’t remember our sins any longer. So does that mean God doesn’t know everything? Does he forget as in he doesn’t even realize that it happened? Some kind of self-imposed short term memory loss? Of course not. When God says he won’t remember your sins any longer he is speaking covenantally. Covenantally speaking, God no longer remembers your sins if you are in Christ. They no longer come into play in your relationship. It is as if they never took place. In Christ, God doesn’t treat you as sinful because Christ was sacrificed once and for all in your place. On the basis of that offering, he perfected you in God’s sight and brought you into the full promises of the New Covenant.