Our Question Box

Rev. VandenEinde is pastor of the Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Question – From a Michigan reader: “On the one hand the Bible states repeatedly and unmistakably that God will bring into judgment every act with every secret sin—of everyone of us and at the same time, also repeatedly and unmistakably, there are promises, many of them, that God will cast all our sins in the sea of everlasting forgetfulness, and will remember them no more. It must be one or the other. I cannot enjoy true peace of soul until God will let me forget the first and hold to the other.”

Answer – I appreciate the question, because this is a difficulty with which many people wrestle. God’s justice in judgment and God’s love in forgiveness seem to be such opposites in our minds, that we cannot understand how they both can be true at the same time. That leads us to a conclusion such as you have made above, “It must be one or the other.” But such a choice we need not make.

I assume your question is based on such Scripture passages as II Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all be made manifest before the judgmentseat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad;” and Hebrews 8:12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more.” There are other verses of Scripture to which we could point, but these serve to illustrate the contrast to which you point in your question.

It is true that we will “all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ.” Philip E. Hughes, in his commentary on II Corinthians, says this means that we shall “be laid bare, stripped of every outward facade of respectability, and openly revealed in the full and true reality of one’s character. All our hypocrisies and concealments, all our secret, intimate sins of thought and deed, will be open to the scrutiny of Christ—a clear indication, incidentally, of the absolute Deity of the Redeemer, for it is only the divine gaze which penetrates to the very essence of our personality: ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (I Sam. 16:7).”

But how does that square with those Bible passages that speak of God as remembering our sins no more? If we are going to be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ, and “laid bare,” as it were, then what does it mean to say that God remembers them no more?

The word “remember,” like all other words, is a human word. It is a word that is connected with time, and only has meaning because we are creatures of time who live with the possibility of “forgetting.” In that sense, it cannot apply to God, for He is eternal, not subject to the same laws of time as we are. So too with the word “forget.” Can God “forget” since He is eternal?

The message which the Bible seeks to convey to us, therefore, with the use of these words “remembers not” or “forgets” as applied to God’s attitude towards our sin, is that He doesn’t “remember” them in terms of condemnation. He doesn’t continue to “hold them against us” in terms of guilt. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus{ (Rom. 8:1). Of course not! Christ Jesus has paid for the guilt of our sin, and we do not stand before His seat of judgment to determine whether or not the price paid by Christ was sufficient to perfectly justify us. But we stand there as those who have been redeemed, for an assessment of our worth so that our rewards may be determined.

So, true peace of soul as far as your salvation for Jesus’ sake is concerned? Yes, you can have that with absoluteness as a child of God! But let the knowledge of the fact that we shall be manifest before the of Christ be for us an incentive for grateful Christian living. Surely, ours is a high calling, as those who are no longer under condemnation, to “present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, well-pleasing unto God” (Rom. 12:1).