Do I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins?

I believe in the forgiveness of sins.

The other day I was praying Morning Prayer and came to the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. As is often the case with those regular and well-known words, something jumped out at me: “I believe… in the forgiveness of sins.”

But do I? So many of us assent to this verbally but live something very different practically

On the one hand, many of us continue to struggle with guilt and shame about actions in the past. Quite often I have heard statements like, “I know that God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself.” First, I am not sure that the Scriptures have much to say about forgiving ourselves. What the Lord reminds us, through St. John, is that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

That is fairly direct and to the point. To be frank, on the Day of Judgment, the question of whether I have forgiven myself is not the pertinent question. It might not even come up in the conversation. “Has God forgiven me?” is the question at hand. And if we confess our sins, the answer is “Yes.” When we struggle with the internal conflict of not forgiving ourselves, the creedal assertion, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” is there to silence the debate. 

That has everything to do with our own sin. But there is another way in which we seem not to believe in the forgiveness of sin. When someone hurts or offends us, or crosses some legitimate line, we are taken to holding a grudge. It is as old as Cain and Abel and has found fresh expression in cancel culture. “You’ve done something bad—I’ll write you off.”

The sweet grace of knowing there is forgiveness of sins for me also means there is forgiveness of sins for the offender who did this or that to me. The dreadful reality of saying, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” is that I cannot write said offender off forever. If I can be forgiven in my repentance—perhaps to my disappointment—so can they.

There are complexities in these things. Reconciliation with someone who has sinned against me will require repentance on the part of all sinners involved. Sometimes the repentance doesn’t happen, so reconciliation cannot, either. Nonetheless, I believe in the forgiveness of sins. If the cross of Jesus is sufficient for my sin, it is sufficient for the sins of others. This is part of what we mean when we say, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” No grudges for me.