Why A Declaration of Forgiveness?
Every week at Redeemer the minister declares God’s forgiveness to the congregation. Formally known as the “absolution,” this is a public declaration of God’s certain forgiveness and favor toward those who truly repent and admit their need of Christ. The minister does not have any inherent power to forgive sins in his person, of course, but he makes this declaration as one who has been authorized by the Church to speak on behalf of God, who most assuredly does. Ordinarily then, the minister will read from a passage of Scripture which speaks clearly of God’s sure forgiveness towards sinners in Christ, and then on that basis declare the absolution. This week, for example, the minister will read Romans 8:34 before the official declaration of forgiveness.
Hearing an official pronouncement of God’s love and forgiveness is something that we need every week. How many of us would be satisfied if the only time our spouse ever declared their love for us was on our wedding day? Would we be at all assured if, after asking our spouse to declare their love, the reply came “I told you when we got married that I loved you, why do you keep asking me to repeat myself?” If this is true with our human relationships, how much more do we need constant reassurance from our Heavenly Father? Because of our sin and constant failure to live in light of God’s commandments we need to hear over and over again that he loves us and will forgive us. Every week our conscious accuses us (rightly) that we have not obeyed a holy God, every week the evil one is lurking to bring condemnation for our failings. As a result, without continual assurance our conscious will accuse us and we will have no feeling of peace with God.
The declaration of God’s forgiveness breaks through the accusations of our conscious, the lies of the Devil, and the pressure of the world, and proclaims the amazing truth of the Gospel to our hearts. God will freely pardon all who truly repent. God’s grace is so free, so unmerited, that no matter what we have done, there is complete forgiveness for all who trust in Christ. This is a message that is hard even for Christians to believe at times, and so we must hear it again and again. As one writer as said, “The gospel is the craziest thing I have ever heard, but it’s true.”
The declaration of forgiveness calls us every week to rest again Christ’s righteousness and not our performance. This declaration: “Reminds me that my righteous standing with God always holds firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine. On our worst days of sin and failure, the gospel encourages me with Gods unrelenting grace. And on my best days of victory and usefulness, the gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus’s righteousness and not our own” (Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer).
We need the declaration ever week, because we need to have continually impressed upon our hearts the wonderful truth so beautifully expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism: “Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.”
Amen and Amen!