Are You Too Bad to Be Forgiven by God?
MILLIONS of persons throughout the world, persons with all kinds of backgrounds, are hearing the good news about God’s kingdom. They are learning about the blessings that it will bring: Elimination of death, sorrow and pain; and every man sitting under his own vine and fig tree, with none to make him afraid. All such promises are held out to those who humbly seek Jehovah and his righteousness.—Isa. 2:4; Zeph. 2:3; Rev. 21:4.
Perhaps, though you too have heard this good news, you feel that these promises are not for you because of your past life. Had you known about God and the blessings of his kingdom earlier, your life might have been different, but that was not the case. Possibly you are one who, because of seeing unjust conditions, felt justified in taking matters into your own hands, even using dishonesty or violence. Then, again, it could be that you, as so many others, were reared in a bad environment and so got involved in various kinds of improper conduct and may even have been following such a course for a number of years. As the Bible says: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.”—1 Cor. 15:33.
Looking back, you may feel that you have built a bad record for yourself. You may wish that you could change, but perhaps you feel that it is of no use, that God could not forgive a person like you. However, the Bible shows that, while Jehovah does not approve of wrongdoing and wrongdoers, he is not a vindictive God, calling persons to full account for all the wrongs that they have ever done.
No, God is not at all like that. As the psalmist long ago expressed it: “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” Rather, he assures us that, if we really leave our bad and harmful ways and turn to him, “he will forgive in a large way.”—Ps. 130:3; Isa. 55:7.
You can be assured of this because the Bible gives us striking examples of God’s forgiving even gross sinners who truly repented. Among these was King Manasseh of Judah. He was one of the wickedest kings that ever ruled in Jerusalem. Because of his gross wickedness God allowed him to be taken captive to Assyria. But when Manasseh repented, humbled himself and earnestly prayed to God, Jehovah heard his prayers and restored him to God’s favor and to his kingdom.—2 Ki. 21:2-16; 2 Chron. 33:2-13.
And the example and teaching of Jesus and his apostles give you like encouragement. Jesus held out hope of forgiveness even to prostitutes and tax collectors (considered among the vilest sinners in his day) who appreciated their need of him and repented of their former course of conduct. As he told his critics: “Persons in health do not need a physician, but the ailing do. . . . I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.” And on another occasion he said: “I tell you that thus there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance.”—Matt. 9:11-13; Luke 15:7.
In particular should Jesus’ beautiful parable of the prodigal son be reassuring to you. The younger of two sons asked his father for that part of the family inheritance due him and then went abroad and “squandered his property by living a debauched life.” Later, on coming to his senses, he repented and humbly returned home to his father, who, far from rejecting him, welcomed him with open arms.—Luke 15:11-32.
Also serving as a basis for comfort and hope are the apostle Paul’s words found at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. For there, after warning the Corinthians about the gross sins that would keep them from inheriting the kingdom of Jehovah God, he goes on to say: “And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean.”
ARE ALL SINS FORGIVABLE?
Does that mean that no matter what kind of sins one commits one can be forgiven? No, not that. Jesus made that plain in his remarks addressed to his hypocritical opposers, saying: “I say to you, Every sort of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven. For example, whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the holy spirit, it will not be forgiven him, no, not in this system of things nor in that to come.”—Matt. 12:31, 32.
What caused Jesus to make these remarks? The context shows that those religious hypocrites saw Jesus, the Son of God, perform all manner of miracles, including the casting out of demons, by means of the power of God’s holy spirit, and yet they willfully and maliciously attributed this power to Satan the Devil.
Others whose sins are not forgivable are those who once came to a knowledge of the truth about Jehovah God, exercised faith in Christ’s shed blood and then repudiated it or turned to a practice of wickedness. But suppose you feel that you may have committed such a sin—is it necessarily true that you did? Not if you have a sincere desire to repent and to do what is right, for that indicates that you may not have gone too far, even as the example of King Manasseh shows.—Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26, 27.
That forgiveness can be granted in spite of one’s past record is based on two assuring and comforting factors. One is Jehovah’s mercy. He delights in being generous, in being forgiving, as his Word assures us: “Who is a God like you, one pardoning error and passing over transgression . . . He will again show us mercy; he will subject our errors. And you will throw into the depths of the sea all their sins.”—Mic. 7:18, 19.
The other factor is extenuating circumstances. King David, although seriously sinning against Jehovah in the matter of Bath-sheba, Uriah’s wife, was forgiven, although not without severe chastisement. Why? Because he was born in sin. Also, he readily admitted his wrongdoing and sincerely repented, as we read at Psalm 51. (2 Sam. 12:1-23) Likewise with the apostle Paul. At one time he persecuted Christians to the death, for which reason he refers to himself as the “foremost” of sinners. But, as he himself says, “Nevertheless, I was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith.” Yes, he was honest and sincere in his opposition to Christianity, although terribly mistaken. He was also shown mercy, as he goes on to say, “that by means of me as the foremost case Christ Jesus might demonstrate all his long-suffering for a sample of those who are going to rest their faith on him for everlasting life.”—1 Tim. 1:13-16; Acts 26:9-18.
Today, as in Bible times, persons who have been very great sinners can repent and gain forgiveness. The facts show this. Thus there was a man sentenced to a maximum-security prison in New York State because of the nature of his crimes. As a result of the informal preaching of one of the prison instructors, a witness of Jehovah, he became conscience-stricken. His former life greatly troubled him. He wondered if God could ever forgive him for the many mistakes and serious crimes that he had committed. But he was assured that if he sincerely repented he could be forgiven. This he did. He completely changed from his course of wrongdoing, dedicated his life to Jehovah God and was baptized. Now he is a most joyful Christian with a clean conscience.
Consider, too, the case of a man who was an extremely dangerous member of the Sicilian Mafia. Upon being apprehended he was given a life sentence. While in prison he came in touch with one of Jehovah’s witnesses who told him about the one true God, about pure worship and the wonderful blessings that God has in store for humankind. While a Mafia member he had been a “good” Catholic but saw no discrepancy between the two roles he was playing. Yet now, upon being convinced as to the truth of the message the Witness was bringing to him from the Bible, he sincerely repented, converted and dedicated himself to do Jehovah God’s will. So outstanding was the change in his life that he was interviewed over one of Italy’s TV stations.
Yes, there is hope that you can gain forgiveness, a clean conscience and God’s approval even though you have made serious mistakes in the past. But more is required than simply saying that you are sorry about your past conduct. You must take in knowledge of Jehovah God, and learn what his righteous requirements are. The Christian witnesses of Jehovah in your neighborhood stand ready to help you by conducting a personal Bible study in your home and by means of their Kingdom Hall meetings.
As you study with them you will be able to prove to yourself what God’s righteous and holy will is for you. (Rom. 12:2) You will be aided to develop hatred for what is wrong, and a genuine love for God’s righteous will. (Ps. 97:10) Not only will you learn to refrain from what is bad, but you will be aided to learn how to do the things that are right in the eyes of God. And, with faith in the sin-atoning value of the sacrifice of Christ, you will be able to do these with a clean conscience, for “the blood of Jesus his [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.”—1 John 1:7.
It is true that as you begin to make over your life in harmony with God’s righteous requirements, quite likely you may slip along the way from time to time. But this is no reason to be discouraged, for the psalmist David comfortingly wrote: “As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us [God] has put our transgressions. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:12, 14) Let that assurance strengthen you to persevere in the right way.
Truly God’s Word is filled with comforting assurances to those who sincerely desire to do what is right, regardless of what their past course of action may have been!