Daniel J. Ottinger
The expression, “the remission of sins” means the sending away of sins. It means sending away sins into the realm of utter forgetfulness, to be remembered no more against us by our Father in heaven. One whose sins are remitted will never be brought into judgment for any transgression committed previous to receiving “the remission of sins” (John 5:24). Surely, the sending away of a mortal’s sins by the Immortal God is the sweetest theme ever contemplated by a human being.
The remission of sins is exclusively a New Testament subject. We will examine each of those passages where this phrase is found and note in each instance that to which remission of sins is attributed. It will also be attempted to agree with everyone, as far as possible, who professes reverence for the Bible as God’s Word. If, then, at the last a disagreement must come, this question will be pressed: “Is there Scriptural ground for this difference in viewpoint?” Should not the one differing with God’s Word change his views?
“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). There is no disagreement on the first part of this passage. It is believed that no one professing orthodoxy will deny that Jesus died on the rugged cross for our sins—He died there that all may be forgiven. Blessed thought, and there is unity here.
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Most students will admit that the Jews had to submit to John’s baptism in order to be forgiven. The design of John’s baptism is quite plain to all.
Now let us hear the prophecy of Zacharias. “Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:76-78). Here, the remission of sins is attributed to the mercy of God. None of us is worthy of being saved, hence “tender mercy.” Surely, there is agreement here.
“It is written…that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). It is seen from these words that repentance is a condition of the remission of sins. There is no dispute that moral repentance on a large scale is greatly needed. In another place, Jesus taught that, “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).
“Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). This is delicate language. It is often quoted by Catholic priests to “prove” that they and Peter, within themselves, forgive sins. Well, in the sense intended by this passage, the apostles did forgive sins, but only to the extent that their hearers believed and obeyed their message. The same is true today when a Christian teaches the gospel to sinners. Those who accept the gospel plan of salvation are forgiven, and those who reject it remain in a lost condition.
When the human heart rejects the message of remission of sins it becomes more and more like stone. When it accepts the gospel, it is melted to tears. I believe there is agreement of all the “orthodox” on this.
“To him [Christ] give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). To believe in Christ is to rely upon Him—to trust Him. It is to accept the testimony concerning Him as true, and to act obediently in light of that testimony. There is no disagreement here. All agree that everyone must believe or remain lost (John 8:24).
“Whom (the Saviour) God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Rom. 3:25). The Psalmist declared that all God’s commandments are righteousness (Psa. 119:172). It follows, then, that God’s commandments are for the remission of sins.
“Now where remission of these [sins] is, there is no more offering for sin” (Heb. 10:18). The idea is that since we have a perfect Saviour in Christ, there is no longer a need for more sacrifice. There can be no disagreement here.
“And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). The truth is clearly borne to us that other Saviour than Christ there is none. No apparent disagreement here.
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Surely we will not spoil our interview now by disagreeing. The only obvious meaning of this passage is that both repentance and baptism are necessary for the remission of sins.
Do you insist that “for” in Acts 2:38 has the meaning of “because of”? Do you mean to say they were commanded to be baptized because of salvation and not in order to it? If that is true, then Jesus died on Calvary because we were already saved. Why? Because the phrase, “for the remission of sins” is identical in Matthew 26:28 and in Acts 2:38, in both English and Greek. The two passages stand or fall together. If the blood of Christ which He shed on Calvary is in order to the remission of sins, then repentance and baptism are also.
We conclude, therefore, that the remission of our sins is contingent upon the precious blood of Jesus, and that God’s tender mercy and His righteousness, preachers, teachers, faith, repentance, and baptism are all means of bringing us to the remission of sins.