After reading Don Clifton’s short post on forgiveness over at Nine Moons, I spent the rest of the day feeling somewhat sad. It sounds like the gentleman in question was well-taught on the subject of sin, but less conversant with respect to forgiveness. That sort of imbalance strikes me as unhealthy.
Forgiveness of sin through Christ is not found explicitly in the uncontested letters of Paul unless perhaps paresis in Rom 3:25 is translated as “remission” rather than “passing over.” Instead, forgiveness appears in Colossians and Ephesians as an extension of Paul’s thoughts on redemption.
Redemption in the authentic letters of Paul may come from either the Greek world, in which case it reflects the manumission of slaves, or from Paul’s OT heritage ,where God is Israel’s go’el, that is, redeemer. Paul never calls Christ “Redeemer,” nor does he ever speak of a ransom (lytron).
Paul does call Christ “our redemption” in 1 Cor 1:30. Paul also says that “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,” men are freed and justified (Rom 3:24). In addition to these now-present effects, there is also an eschatological redemption in the resurrection of the body (Rom 8:23) and in the redemption of the cosmos (Rom 8:19-22).
The author of Ephesians, probably following the author of Colossians, carries Paul’s thoughts on redemption forward, explicitly linking them with forgiveness. For example, in Eph 1:7-8a
In him, we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.
In this verse, as in every occurrence of “redemption,” there is inevitably the question of a ransom. Two ideas suggest that a ransom is not envisioned. First, there is no explicit reference to a ransom. Since the author of Ephesians is following Colossians, in which there is likewise no ransom, it seems unnecessary to read it into the present verse.
Second, the expression “by his blood” is dia tou haimatos autou. The preposition dia with the genitive case has an instrumental force. The import of this construction is that the means by which we are redeemed is the death of Jesus. His death was a costly event by any reckoning, but this is not equivalent to saying Christ’s blood was a ransom.
The key phrase, “the forgiveness of transgressions” is in apposition to “redemption through his blood.” This means that the primary way in which we experience redemption is via forgiveness. The experience of redemption is available now, and immediately restores the sinner to a proper relationship with God.
Finally, we have the expression “in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.” It is important to note among the welter of pronouns that the grammatical subject has shifted back to God. The key concept, however, comes from savoring the words “riches” and “lavished.” Words fail in describing God’s goodness, but the combination of these two does begin to convey the sense of privilege that should inform the response of every believer.
Sometimes I get the impression we teach transgression and punishment vividly, while forgiveness is explained with far less gusto , perhaps in order to stifle the impulse to sin. But when we elaborate on the horror of sin without likewise expounding on the wonders of grace, redemption, and forgiveness we do not make a hedge against sin, we cripple a Christian.
So yes, there is something called the “steps to repentance.” These steps lead upward because it is God, not the bishop, who stands on the top stair. And stairs will always present a challenge to cripples.