Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:6–7
They were right. In the last analysis, only God can forgive sin! True, there is such a commodity as human forgiveness. Jesus called us to forgive one another—even seventy times seven.
My mother taught me that when I was a boy. She told me that when other kids picked on me, I was to turn the other cheek. But one little bully became my nemesis, always hitting and insulting me and trying to pick a fight.
One day, my mother noticed me putting marks on notepaper. Responding to her inquiry, I said that every time this other kid, Billy, bothered me I was making a mark. When I reached 491, then I had permission from Jesus to hit him back.
My mother must have begun praying harder because in a few days Billy suddenly announced in class that his parents were moving. My count by then was around 250!
I had a very childish view of Jesus’ words, not realizing that “seventy times seven” was Jesus’ way of describing the infinity of forgiveness.
If the Lord tells us to forgive one another seventy times seven, don’t you think He does the same . . . and far more?
Ultimately the forgiveness of all sin—even the sins we do against one another—belongs to God.
After his affair with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah, David admitted in Psalm 51, “Against you, you only have I sinned” (v. 4). What? Hadn’t he sinned against them too? Why this statement to God, “Against you only . . .”?
All sin ultimately is a sin against God. Sin involves: (1) falling short of God’s will and ideal, (2) stepping across the line of His commandment into forbidden thought or conduct, or (3) intentionally rebelling against Him or negligently failing to do His will.
David knew he had failed in all these respects. His stain was deeper than human forgiveness could reach. Thus, he cried, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).
Even when another forgives you, you still need God’s forgiveness. The forgiveness of another is like erasing a chalkboard—the smudge and tracer effects remain. It takes a wet sponge to wipe the slate clean, and God’s forgiveness does that.
Suppose I were to visit your home and carelessly or intentionally knock to the floor a family heirloom, breaking it, then asked for your forgiveness. When you say unconditionally, “I forgive,” you pick up the tab for what I owe. I am released from payment because you have discharged me of my debt. I have no further obligation.
Through sin, I have caused irreparable damage to my soul. I can try all my life to atone for what I have done wrong, but I can never do enough. I need God to say, “I forgive your sin,” because He alone has the depth of riches to do for me what I can never do for myself.
Jesus knew all that. So did the teachers of the Law. Only God can forgive sin.
A Prayer: I come to You today and ask You for the full remission of all my sins. And You speak to me as You did to Isaiah, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7).
Excerpted from Dr. Wood’s forthcoming book, Fearless: How Jesus Changes Everything, available in September from Vital Resources.