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"Gather My saints together unto Me; those that have made a covenant with

Me by sacrifice" (Psalm 50:5)

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"Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy word is truth" (John 17:17)

Does Being Forgiven Make You a Christian?

One of the drawbacks of the English language Bible is its failure to differentiate between Greek words with similar meanings. For example, most Bibles translate the two different Greek words phileo and agape with the same English word love. This single English word fails to distinguish between brotherly love and the unconditional love of God. Another example is the difference between hades and gehenna. The King James Bible translates both of these words as hell. It fails to distinguish between the place where unsaved souls go until judgment and the place of eternal damnation. Depending on the words we are translating, the ramifications on our salvation can become enormous.


One of those cases is the use of the words forgive and forgiveness. There are two primary Greek words that are translated in the various forms of forgive/forgiveness: aphiemi and aphesis. Although they are forms of the same Greek word, their meanings are very different as they relate to our salvation.


The first word, aphiemi, is a verb with the primary meaning of: to send forth as in to cry, forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let alone, allow, omit, put away, remit, suffer, or yield up. Throughout the New Testament we find aphiemi translated as permit, allow, left, leave, let, send away, neglect, forsake, yield, lay aside, let go, let alone, cry, divorce, put away, and forgive. When looked at in the context of its usage concerning sin, it is closely related to repentance. Repent means to think differently about something; have a change of mind or direction; or to forsake. When a person repents of their sin the result is forgiveness.


The second word, aphesis, is a noun with the primary meaning of freedom. It has to do with liberty and deliverance. In the New Testament we find aphesis translated variously as remission, forgiveness, and liberty. When looked at in context, its primary usage concerning sin is that of remission. As remission of sin it means abatement, alleviation, release, interruption, discharge, or cancellation. When cancer goes into remission it means that the symptoms disappear or it is no longer actively working its destruction on the body. In the same way, when there is remission of sin, a person is delivered or liberated from sin, the symptoms of sin disappear and sin no longer has power over an individual.


The word aphiemi is used 156 times in the New Testament. When we put all of these passages together and look at them from the various meanings of aphiemi together with their contextual usage, we discover that they portray forgiveness as a judicial act of God whereby He forgives or pardons us for our acts of transgression. It is basically a legal transaction which deals with our guilt and removes the penalty for our acts of sin. This is why I said earlier, this forgiveness is directly tied in with repentance. When we are convicted of our acts of sin, repentance leads us to a place of confessing our sins, forsaking our sins, and changing our minds about sin. God responds by judicially forgiving us of our sins, removing our guilt, and rescinding the penalty. We see this process in Acts 8:22: “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). Our acts of sin are remitted in the sense of being put away in the sight of God and not charged against us. This is accomplished based on the blood of Christ poured on the heavenly altar for our atonement


The word aphesis is used 17 times in the New Testament. When we put all of these passages together and look at them from the various meanings of aphesis together with their contextual usage, we discover that they portray forgiveness as a remission of sin meaning sin has been removed from the heart of man along with the defilement of that sin. It results in a deliverance from the power of sin resulting in our liberty as the children of God. This remission of sin is associated not with repentance but rather with the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:38) and has to do with a cleansing or purifying from from sin and its defilement. Hebrews tells us, “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission (aphesis)” (Hebrews 9:22). Notice in this verse that remission is clearly defined in terms of purification from sin and not forgiveness for sin. Forgiveness (aphiemi ) has to do with pardon of sins through repentance while remission has to do with purification of sin by the blood of Christ. We see both ideas together in the following: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47); and “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness (remission - aphesis ) of sins” (Acts 5:31). Notice in both of these passages that Jesus came to bring both repentance (forgiveness) and remission of sins. He provides both forgiveness and purification. Let me give you a simple analogy of this.


The Brady family was getting ready for church one Sunday morning. Before starting her own preparations, Mrs. Brady helped eight year old Mary get dressed up in her brand new pink dress. Mary was a very active little girl and didn’t really like sitting around waiting for her parents to get ready. So she began asking her mother if she go outside and play while she waited. Her persistence paid off and her mother finally gave in and gave her permission to go outside but with a strong admonition: “don’t get your new dress dirty!” Well, Mary went outside and being an eight year old, it wasn’t long before she got mud all over her new dress. When she realized what she had done, she sheepishly went back into the house already close to tears with expectation of her mother’s wrath. She immediately began telling her mother how sorry she was. As soon as Mrs. Brady saw Mary’s dirty new dress, she began yelling at Mary who then burst out in tears and sobs of sorrow. Mrs. Brady, being the good mother she is, calmed herself down, embraced Mary, and told her she forgave her.


When Mary ‘sinned’ by transgressing her mother’s command, it resulted in not just guilt but a dirty dress. And when she ‘repented’ her mother forgave her. But her repentance didn’t make the dress clean again. Even though Mary was forgiven, she still had a dirty dress. The only way to clean the dress was to wash it. This is essentially the difference between forgiveness (aphiemi) and remission (aphesis). Forgiveness can bring us pardon and take away our guilt but it doesn’t remove the ‘dirt’ of our sin. Remission means the dress has been cleaned as well. Whereas the blood of Christ was applied to the altar for our forgiveness of sins, His blood must be applied to our heart, soul, and body for our cleansing or remission from sin.


Jesus shows us the difference between acts of sin and sin itself and therefore the difference between forgiveness and remission of sins: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23).


He tells us three important things about sin in this passage. First, the source of sin is the sinful heart of man. When Jesus says sin proceeds out of man’s heart, he is referring to an indwelling sin, an actual principle of sin within us from the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Paul discovered this truth about himself: “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:20). Paul found that there was a principle of sin dwelling within him. Second, Jesus tells us that out of this source of sin within the heart proceeds acts of sin. In other words, the sinful heart produces acts of sin by way of our members. Thirdly, the result of our acts of sin is the defilement or pollution of our body, soul, and spirit with the stain of sin. Like little Mary, when we play in the mud, it gets on us making us dirty. The word defile means to make unholy or unclean. This is why we need both forgiveness and remission of sins: forgiveness for our acts of sin and remission for the principle of sin and its defilement.


Why is this so important? Because it is essentially the dividing line between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Forgiveness does not make you a Christian without remission of the sin principle. This is why John the Baptist came with a message of repentance and remission: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:76,77). The knowledge of salvation is based on the remission of sins. The church has been focused on a salvation based on repentance and forgiveness of sins which doesn’t produce the fruits of the kingdom. Without the removal of the source of sin, the sin problem is never dealt with and you are still left in a state of being dead in the pollition sin. Paul makes this clear in Colossians: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh” (Colossians 2:15). We are doubly dead in sin and therefore require a double cure: forgiveness and circumcision or remission of sin.


Let’s look at this a little bit and I will show you why. First of all, Israel had forgiveness of sins under the Old Covenant but they didn’t have actual remission. Notice what the Psalmist says: “You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. Selah” (Psalm 85:2). God forgave Israel for their acts of sin but the defilement and source of sin could only be covered, not removed. There was no actual cleansing or purifying of the sin within the heart. There are hundreds of scriptures showing that God forgave Israel over and over again. The problem with the Old Covenant was not forgiveness. The problem was it couldn’t provide remission of sins. Why not? “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Israel did not have the means to cleanse their hearts from the pollution of sin. Forgiveness provided them a judicial discharge from guilt and the penalty of sin under the Old Covenant. But the blood of animals could only provide a ritualistic cleansing from inward sin. This was why the Law was given to Israel: it was an outward means of holiness so that God could at least dwell within their midst but not in their defiled hearts.

We find the same truth in the New Testament Gospels. We must understand that until Jesus died on the cross, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven, nobody could be a Christian. They were still under the Old Covenant in the Gospels. Christian salvation was proclaimed in the Gospels but could not be a reality until Christ’s work was finished. So when we look at forgiveness (aphiemi) in the Gospels, we will see this truth borne out. First of all, Jesus forgave people in the Gospels but it couldn’t make them Christians. For example: “Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you’” (Matthew 9:2). Now, was this man actually forgiven? Absolutely, the Son of God Himself forgave him. And the proof that he was forgiven was that he was also healed. Was he now a Christian? No. Although he was forgiven, he did not have remission of his sins. He still had sin in his heart and he was still defiled by his sin. We can see this more clearly when we see this same forgiveness used in another way: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). The same word, aphiemi (forgive), is used for both man and God. What does this mean? It means that the forgiveness spoken of is a judicious act of pardon whereby we let go of the sins of those who trespass against us. But I have yet to find any scripture that says man has the power to purify sin from someone’s heart! It cannot mean the remission or cleansing of sin. Remission of sins can only be accomplished by God through the blood of Christ. John tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We need forgiveness for our acts of sin and cleansing (remission) for sin itself.


When we look more closely at remission of sins (aphesis), we find it is always related to cleansing, purification, baptism, the blood of Christ, etc. The blood of bulls and goats could not bring remission of sins but the blood of Christ can and this is exactly what distinguishes the New Covenant from the Old Covenant: “For by a single offering He has forever completely cleansed {and} perfected those who are consecrated {and} made holy” (Hebrews 10:14 Amplified).


Look at the following passages using the Greek word aphesis:


“For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins”

(Matthew 26:28).  

Remember, there was forgiveness before the blood of Christ was shed. His blood brought more than forgiveness, it provided remission or cleansing of inward sin. His blood made the difference between the Old and New Covenants.


“To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:77).


Without the remission of sins there is no true salvation. God must have a holy habitation within our hearts. Only the remission of sins can make our hearts holy. As Jesus told us in Matthew 7:23, sin coming from the heart defiles or makes us unholy. Until the heart is cleansed from the pollution of sin God cannot dwell within it.


“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).


The word 'liberty' used in this verse is actually 'remission.' Jesus came to deliver us from sin and its power and bring us into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Through our liberation from the power of sin rooted in the heart, we are made 'trees of righteousness' having a new nature of actual righteousness. Forgiveness can remove the penalty of sin but circumcision is necessary to remove the power of sin as sin is actually circumcised from the heart.


“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:46).


Not just repentance, but repentance and remission of sins must be preached in His name. This is the primary reason the church is still filled with sin. It has preached repentance without true remission of sins resulting in a forgiven yet sin-stained church.


“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38).


This is not water baptism he is referring to here. Just look at the context. It is the baptism of the Holy Spirit for “purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). This is what Peter was referring to when he spoke of the waters of Noah: “There is also an antitype which now saves us; baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). It is not the washing of water to remove physical filth from our bodies, but rather the washing of the inner man to give us a pure conscience toward God that saves us. As Hebrews tells us, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14). John came with a ritualistic baptism of water which by washing the physical flesh was symbolic of the actual cleansing of Christ’s blood. That’s why John said he came baptizing with water but Jesus was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. It wasn’t about forgiveness but rather about remission of sin resulting in a pure conscience.


“Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).


Rightly translated this should be remission (aphesis) of sins. Jesus came to bring both forgiveness and remission.


“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).


“In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).


Both of these verses should be translated remission (aphesis) of sins. This remission comes by way of redemption by His blood by grace. It is the sanctifying work of Christ to circumcise the heart from all sin to make us holy. “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate” (Hebrews 13:12).


“And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).


The cleansing or purification of remission can only be brought about by the blood of Jesus Christ. And without this cleansing from sin there is no salvation. “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13,14).


Salvation requires not only forgiveness but holiness which is obtained by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit Who applies the blood of Christ to our hearts to cleanse us from the pollution of sin. Only then can we become the vessels of His glory.

“Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18).


Why is no longer an offering for sin? Because there is no more sin to atone for. When there is remission of sin, it is gone. It is cleansed out of the heart and there is none left. The blood of bulls and goats couldn’t do the trick, but “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).


What we are seeing in today’s church is repentance without remission. Most any Christian will tell you they believe they have been forgiven for their sins. But forgiveness alone will not change the heart, produce a change of lifestyle, or bring forth the fruits of the kingdom. As Jesus said, as long as the heart is steeped in sin, all kinds of sin will proceed out of it defiling the whole man. Now, whether people are never receiving remission in the first place or they are but then are falling from grace makes no difference. Eternal life is the fruit of righteousness. “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21). And again, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:22,23).

Righteousness is the result of remission or removal of sin. Peter warns us of the danger of falling back into a sinful state after having been set free: “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:20-22).


It is time to preach the full Gospel in order to “give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:77). The disciples didn’t go around trying to get people to say a prayer of repentance. The Jews understood their need of remission. They preached the baptism of the Holy Spirit for the remission of sins, the purification of their hearts by the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus then told us to go to all of the nations “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). You need to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins!