When we were in Joel last week, the final verse started me thinking on the subject of God’s power to cleanse sin. We know God forgives sin, but do we believe that He will really forgive us? Our sins have separated us from God (Is. 59:2) — will He really take us back? Or if we don’t think that about ourselves, maybe we think someone else’s sins are too big for God to forgive.
And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” (Luke 7:40-43)
This isn’t to say we should commit sins so we can love God more, but when we have sinned God delights in forgiving those who turn to Him. He wants to turn seemingly impossible situations and seemingly irredeemable people into something good. (As a side note, this is the verse that always pops into my head when I hear people say they doubt God could forgive someone like Hitler).
Invitation to Forgiveness
God’s goal is for all the people He created to repent and be saved. There will be some who out-right reject Him (Rev. 20), and they will be punished, but what he wants is a restored relationship with all men.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword;” for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Is. 1:18-20)
This is an amazing passage. It’s like God is inviting His people to sit down and talk things over with Him. That’s one thing I love about Isaiah — the honesty and genuineness of God revealed in His messages to Israel. He really bares His heart, telling them how much He cares and how much He wants them to come back to Him so He can forgive and bless them.
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins. Put Me in remembrance; let us contend together; state your case, that you may be acquitted.” (Is. 43:25-26)
He doesn’t cleanse us because we deserve it, but because He is love and because He’s in the business of restoration.
Asking For Purity
Probably the most famous prayer for spiritual cleansing is David’s Psalm 51. This records how David asked for forgiveness after he committed adultery and murder, and because of his truly repentant heart God continued working with him even after these horrible sins.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Ps. 51:7)
Hyssop is an interesting herb in the Bible. It’s used ritualistically as a cleansing or purifying symbol (Lev. 14:1-7, 33-53; Num. 19:1-6), likely because it was literally used as a cleaning agent. Today, we’re finding out that hyssop oil has measurable antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties. Perhaps this connection with purification is why it was used at the first Passover.
Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb. And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.” (Ex. 12:21-23)
With the Passover picturing Christ’s death, the hyssop (John 19:29) and blood signify not just “passing over” sins, but also removing them completely. The means by which our “red as scarlet” sins are made “white as snow” is washing in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14).
It makes sense, then, that the only sins we’re told God will not pardon involve rejecting Christ’s sacrifice (Heb. 6:4-6) and blaspheming God’s spiritual, redemptive Power (Matt. 12:31-32). You can’t be forgiven if you reject and hate the way to forgiveness. But that’s the only thing God can’t forgive. All those things we humans think of as the “worst” sins — the kinds of things David did, for example — those God can work with if we repent and ask Him to help us change.