The Real Spot Remover: Purification vs. Forgiveness

She was wrong. I was right. She was so un-self-aware! How could she not see it? I just had to tell my other friend about the situation; I knew she would agree! And she did…yet, I felt this emptiness at my core. I was haunted by my words. Why had I felt the need to divulge? Even when I felt a check in my spirit, I kept going. God was saying stop, but I kept sharing. To make matters worse, the next day in church, we heard the words from James 1:26, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” I felt so convicted!

Every now and then in my Christian walk, I get a light bulb moment. Maybe this is obvious to everyone else, but it just now becoming more evident to me: there is a difference between being forgiven and being cleansed/purified.

Many people have the head knowledge that because of Jesus we can be forgiven. I think they understand that because Jesus died and paid the penalty for our sin, God no longer holds our sins against us. The definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary for forgive is: to cease to feel resentment against; pardon. So the way I understand this is that forgiveness is the action of the person who has been wronged. Since all sin is essentially thinking or acting in a way that says we know better than God, He is the one who must ultimately forgive us.

The problem is that many of us continue to carry around the guilty feelings of the wrong we have done. God has forgiven us, but we have not forgiven ourselves. I have seen this over and over in my counseling practice: parents, children, or spouses struggle to let go of the wrong they have done, even when they know God has forgiven them.

I think the piece that many of us are missing is found in 1 John 1:9, which says, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins AND purify us from all unrighteousness. We haven’t moved beyond the forgiveness to the purification/cleansing. We don’t feel whole after an offense. Even though God (who is ultimately the offended party) has forgiven us, we continue to wear around our “tarnished robes.” But this is not how God intends it. God is not like a bitter child or spouse that keeps pouting after He “forgives us.” He no longer sees us as the wrongdoer, because our sins were literally removed from us.

I love the scapegoat demonstration from Leviticus 16: The priest lays his hands on the scapegoat, placing “all the wickedness and rebellion” of the people on the goat and then the goat is sent away into the wilderness. The sins are completely removed from the people. This is what Jesus does for us! Our sins are gone! We don’t need to keep dragging them around with us.  

Hebrews 9:14 says: How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!  Purification is about removing our sins from our conscience. Let’s lighten our load; let’s embrace the cleansing that Jesus came to bring.