The Bible’s Viewpoint

Does God Forgive Serious Sins?

MERCY is one of God’s foremost qualities. (Psalm 86:15) How extensive is his mercy? A psalmist wrote: “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand? For there is the true forgiveness with you, in order that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:3, 4) Another passage reads: “As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us he has put our transgressions. As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.”—Psalm 103:12-14.

Clearly, Jehovah’s mercy is complete and unstinting, and it takes into account our limitations and imperfections—that we are “dust.” Consider some Bible examples that reveal the extent of God’s mercy.

The apostle Peter denied Christ three times. (Mark 14:66-72) While an unbeliever, the apostle Paul persecuted Christ’s followers. When certain ones of these were to be executed, Paul voted against them. He even approved of the murder of one of them. (Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1, 2, 11; 26:10, 11; Galatians 1:13) Before becoming Christians, certain members of the congregation in Corinth had been drunkards, extortioners, and thieves. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) Yet, all these came to enjoy divine favor. Why did God forgive them?

Three Steps to Gaining God’s Mercy

“I was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith,” wrote Paul. (1 Timothy 1:13) His frank expression brings us to the first step required for gaining God’s forgiveness—lifting the veil of ignorance by getting an accurate knowledge of Jehovah and his standards as outlined in the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) To be sure, we cannot please our Creator if we do not know him well. “This means everlasting life,” said Jesus in prayer to his Father, “their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3.

When honesthearted ones gain that knowledge, they deeply regret their past wrongs and are moved to express heartfelt repentance. That is the second step toward gaining God’s forgiveness. Says Acts 3:19: “Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out.”

That verse also mentions the third step—turning around. To turn around means to abandon one’s old ways and attitudes and to adopt God’s standards and viewpoints. (Acts 26:20) Simply put, a person shows by his new way of life that he really means it when he says to God, “I am sorry.”

God Is Not All-Forgiving

There are some people whose sins God does not forgive. Wrote Paul: “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of [condemnatory] judgment.” (Hebrews 10:26, 27) The words “practice sin willfully” suggest deeply ingrained badness, a truly wicked heart.

Judas Iscariot developed such a heart. “It would have been finer for him if that man had not been born,” said Jesus. (Matthew 26:24, 25) And concerning certain religious leaders of his day, Jesus said: “You are from your father the Devil . . . When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of the lie.” (John 8:44) Like Satan, those men were bad to the core. They were not sorry for what they had done but became even more hardened in their wicked ways.* True, because of imperfection and weakness, even genuine Christians sin, sometimes seriously. But their failings do not reflect an entrenched evil disposition.—Galatians 6:1.

Merciful to the Last

It is not only the sin but also the attitude of the sinner that Jehovah notes. (Isaiah 1:16-19) Reflect for a moment on the two evildoers impaled alongside Jesus. Both had evidently committed serious crimes, for one of the men admitted: “We are receiving in full what we deserve for things we did; but this man [Jesus] did nothing out of the way.” The evildoer’s words indicate that he knew something about Jesus. And that knowledge likely contributed to a wholesome change in his attitude. This is indicated by what he said next, this time imploring Jesus: “Remember me when you get into your kingdom.” How did Christ respond to that heartfelt entreaty? “Truly I tell you today,” he said, “You will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:41-43.

Think about that: Jesus’ final statements as a human included an expression of mercy toward a man who had admitted to deserving the death penalty. How encouraging that is! We can be sure, then, that both Jesus Christ and his Father, Jehovah, will show compassion toward all who manifest true repentance, regardless of their past deeds.—Romans 4:7.

[Footnote]

See the article “Have You Sinned Against the Holy Spirit?” on pages 16-20 of the July 15, 2007, issue of The Watchtower.

HAVE YOU WONDERED?

▪ How would you describe God’s mercy?—Psalm 103:12-14; 130:3, 4.

▪ What steps must one take to gain God’s favor?—John 17:3; Acts 3:19.

▪ What did Jesus promise an impaled evildoer?—Luke 23:43.

[Picture on page 10]

Jesus showed that serious sins can be forgiven