Jesus said His apostles would first preach His message of salvation on the day of Pentecost (see Luke 24:47). This came to pass as recorded in Acts 2. On that day, the Holy Ghost was poured out, and under that anointing, the apostle Peter gave this prophesied message. Those hearing him asked how they could be saved from the guilt of their sin. He answered them with the Acts 2:38 message of salvation. There is much that can be said about that verse, but for this study our focus is on whether the word “remission” in Acts 2:38 is the same word as “forgiveness.” Some preachers claim these two words do not mean the same thing. They teach that forgiveness means God forgives sin, whereas remission says something more, for they believe it says He forgets those sins too. I can tell you without a doubt these words mean the same thing, and I can guarantee that God does not suffers amnesia whenever He forgives sin. The purpose of this study is to list the biblical evidences for why I say this.
Remission or forgiveness or both?
The first evidence is found in the Greek word aphesis (see Stong’s G859). The King James Version (KJV) translates aphesis as “remission” in Acts 2:38. The KJV also translates aphesis six times as “forgiveness” (See Mark 3:29, Acts 5:31, Acts 13:38, Acts 26:18, Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14). Thus, aphesis means both “remission” and “forgiveness” in the KJV. This same word is also translated as both “deliverance” and “liberty” in Luke 4:18. The reason for these differences is purely due to a translator’s preference when trying to convey the meaning of the context where aphesis is found. Therefore, aphesis can properly be translated as “remission” or as “forgiveness,” which leaves those preachers who say they are different in error.
Another evidence for their similarity is found in the biblical meaning of “remission” and forgiveness.” For this, I offer the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary definitions. Please, pay special attention to the words I underlined.
Forgiveness: 2. The pardon or remission of an offense or crime; as the forgiveness of sin or of injuries.
Did you see that? Remission means forgiveness, and forgiveness means remission. So, Webster’s has these two words carrying the same message.
Now let’s treat God’s supposed amnesia.
An important point needing made here is that Webster’s Dictionary does not say “remission” involves God forgetting sins. This leads to my next proof. To begin this, first ask yourself the following question: if God is omniscient and knows all things, how can He not know about the sins He forgave? This question is quite a dilemma for any preacher who believes God forgets sins while maintaining God also knows all things. First, to confirm of the limitlessness of God’s knowledge, look at these verses:
Psalms 147:5 Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
Hebrews 4:13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
1 John 3:20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
Isaiah 40:28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
These verses clearly state that God is omniscient. Thus, He cannot forget anything—including remitted sins. Also, since God knows all things, He would also know what you are thinking. This ability is established in verses like these:
Psalms 139:2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Matthew 9:4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?
Since God knows your thoughts, for Him to forget your sins, you would need to forget them too. Think about it; without your forgetfulness, any time you remembered any past sin, God would see your thought and remember them too. Of course, the idea you must forget your sins to secure your salvation is a mindless thought.
Another evidence for this is the Bible itself. Remember every verse is said to be written under the inspiration of God. So, every sin and forgiven sin listed in its pages are there because of God. Thus, He remembers forgiven sins. An example of this is Hebrews 11. This chapter is known as the “roll call of the faithful.” In that chapter, we see men like King David, Jacob, and Samson. Each of these men had a time when they failed God and sinned. We know this because their sin is written in the Bible under inspiration of God. Their names being listed in Hebrew 11 as examples of faith would mean that though they sinned, they later found forgiveness—praise God! But, concerning our study, we know about their sin and their restoration because God knew it too. Thus, this is another proof that remission does not involve God being forgetful.
Are there any verses that say God forgets past sin?
Admittedly there are some passages that seem to support the idea God forgets remitted sins. These verses say that God will not “remember” our sins “no more” (see Isaiah 43:25 and Hebrews 10:14-18). Does this testimony mean God gets amnesia every time someone is saved? If so, how could that idea be reconciled with the proclamation He is omniscient? The answer is God “not remembering our sins no more” does not mean He forgets these sins, but rather He overlooks (does not recall) sins that have been forgiven in Jesus’ name. To see an example of this type “overlooking,” look at the following example:
During a fit of anger, a child breaks her mother’s favorite vase. Later the child sees she was wrong and apologizes to her mother for her bad actions. A sincere apology would include her saying she would not do that act again. In response to this plea for mercy, her mother gives her forgiveness. With that, she might also tell her child that things happen but she better never do what she did again. Would this mean the mother no longer remembers the tantrum and the broken vase? Of course, she does, and because of that, her forgiveness involves her overlooking her daughter’s rebellious actions. This does not mean the daughter did no wrong; it does not mean the mother will forget her daughter’s actions; it simply means the wrongs her daughter did will not be recalled because she received mercy when she asked for her mom’s forgiveness. Though God is greater than this example, His forgiveness works similarly, for when one of His children repents of their sin, He gives them His salvation. Through this act of mercy, He still remembers what they did, but He no longer reminds them of their action.
Some might ask what happens to the daughter if she doesn’t learn from her actions and repeats her disobedience. Remember, a sincere apology includes a commitment to not do that wrong again. Therefore, if she does the same wrong she would be breaking her word to her mom. So, if she does fall into this bad behavior again can she still be forgiven? One thing working in her favor is the great amount of love a mother has for her child. That is grace! Therefore, any sincere request for forgiveness will be answered in that love rather than condemnation. However, if that daughter does not repent and make things right, if her mother truly loves her, she will not overlook her daughter’s bad behavior. To do otherwise would not only hurt her child’s opportunity of becoming a good citizen, it would also hinder her from growing into an obedient Christian. To help the daughter see her fault, her mother may remind her of that she forgave her in the past and that she told her then not to do such things again. This is not done to condemn the daughter, but rather to help her remember the horror of her sin. If this does not move her to repentance, the daughter will remain in her guilt.
Similarly, the Bible speaks of those who were forgiven of sin returning to sin. If this happens, it says their sin is recalled and held against them. This is found in the context of Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (see Matthew 18:21-35). First, we see a servant being forgiven a great debt (sin) by his master. After he left that place of mercy, this servant chose to sin against another servant. Upon hearing of this servant’s act of rebellion, the master recalled the debt that was forgiven and placed that debt back on this servant. I believe this parable not only shows us that God does remember our forgiven sins, but it also shows how disobedience can lead a once forgiven person back into God’s judgment. In this story, Jesus does not say the servant asked again for forgiveness. But knowing the great love our Heavenly Father has for His children, we can guess that if the servant had asked, his master probably would have given it. For more on God’s desire to forgive all men and women their sins, see my study entitled “Blasphemy of the Holy Ghost.”
Here’s the point…
The above evidence proves the following points: first, the word “remission” in Acts 2:38 is the same word as “forgiveness.” Second, remission and forgiveness both have the same meaning. Third, neither remission nor forgiveness speaks of God forgetting forgiven sins. These points are important, for they support the truth of God’s omniscience, and they agree with His message of salvation. Any preacher that teaches remission is different than forgiveness is teaching a manmade tradition rather than a biblical truth. Hopefully this study will help show them their error and lead them to correct their message.
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