Forgiveness for Sins is Not Enough

When we think about forgiveness, we usually think about three areas for which we need forgiveness: our thoughts, our words, and our actions. And each of these three areas can be viewed in terms of sins of commission and sins of omission, what we have done and what we have not done, and so on.

But even if God forgave us for all these sins, it’s not enough forgiveness to save us. We need forgiveness not just for what we have or have not done, but for what we are. We need forgiveness not just for our thinking/saying/doing but for our being. Even if I managed never to sin in thought, word, or deed, by omission or by commission, I would still need forgiveness for what I am.

To illustrate, imagine your sinful nature like a witch’s cauldron; a seething, swirling pot of disgusting, poisonous, and noxious mixture. When it heats up, it boils over now and again, and the contents of the cauldron spew out, spill onto the floor, and splatter anyone nearby. That’s what happens when we sin, our sinful nature boils over, and sin breaks out, injuring us and anyone else in the vicinity.  

But what about when the cauldron is not boiling over, when sin is not being seen, felt, or smelled by us or others. The cauldron is still there; it’s still there before God; and it’s still offending Him and provoking Him to anger.

One of the things that happens in Christian conversion, is that we come to realize that our biggest problem is not our sins but our sinfulness, not the frequent or infrequent spillovers but the constant presence of a swirling, seething sinful nature in our hearts that revolts and offends a holy God. That’s what the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 7v7-14.

The Cauldron was Hidden

Paul says, “I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said ‘You shall not covet’” (v. 7). He’s saying, “When I look back, I realize that for most of my life I never realized my sinfulness. I had no idea that I had a corrupt human nature. I never saw or sensed the inner cauldron that was constantly bubbling away, thickening but never evaporating.”

The Cauldron was Stirred

There came a time, though, when Paul’s cauldron was stirred by the law of God, and then he came to see and smell his sinfulness. “Sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire” (v. 8). When the law stirred his cauldron, He began to see sin in a way he had never seen before. “Apart from the law sin was dead” (v. 8) but “when the commandment came, sin revived (v. 9).

The Cauldron Boiled Over

“Sin revived.” Sin came to life. As the law plunged into Paul’s heart and started stirring his cauldron, he began to sin all the more and he became more and more aware of his sinfulness (v. 11)

The Cauldron Killed

“The commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (v. 9). The law brought death (v. 10). When the law showed Paul his sinfulness, showed him all that he was, he came to see he was spiritually dead and under sentence of death. The law showed him that despite all his doing and not doing, his greatest problem was his being, what he was, his sinfulness more than his sins.

The Cauldron was Revealed

But all this is good. Better to know about such a cauldron inside us, is it not? It was a painful but profitable discovery. 

“Has then what is good become death to me?” Paul asks. Should I blame the law, the stirrer? No, the law is good. But “sin that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good” (v. 13). When something so good can produce such a bad reaction it demonstrates the seriousness of my sinfulness. The ultimate purpose was to show not just his sins but his sinfulness. “So that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful” (v. 14).

So next time you pray, “Forgive me my sins,” why not tag on “and my sinfulness?” As the Heidelberg catechism’s summary of the Bible’s teaching puts it:

“God, for the sake of Christ's satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long; but will graciously impute to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never be condemned before the tribunal of God.” (Answer 56)


Dr. David Murray