QUESTION: What is the difference between forgiveness of sins and being justified? Both of these terms are mentioned in Acts 13:38,39, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
ANSWER: It is a wonderful thing to know that when we accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour that all of our sins — past, present and future—have been forgiven. They are all under the blood of Christ, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). But not only are we forgiven, we are also justified, meaning that we are cleared of every charge that could be brought against us.
I offer an example that has helped me to see the difference. Suppose I have been found guilty of stealing some of my neighbor’s expensive tools over a period of time. I have resold them and am unable to repay him. He is going to sue me and bring charges against me. I go to him and confess my guilt and ask for his forgiveness as I could never afford to repay him. He has pity upon me and forgives me.
A good friend comes along and when he hears my sad story he asks me what the tools were worth. I give him an estimate of what it would cost to purchase them. My friend then makes out a check to my neighbor for more than they are worth and gives it to him. He gets a receipt from him and it is marked “Paid In Full.” Not only have I been forgiven by my neighbor, but should he ever decide to press charges against me I have a receipt that shows that all his claims against me have been satisfied. I am not only forgiven; I am justified, cleared of any or all charges that he may bring against me.
The believer’s sins have all been forgiven. The Saviour died for all of them. What is our proof of that? Romans 4:25 answers that question. Jesus “was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.” I deserved death and judgment for my sins. Jesus died in my place and bore my sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). What is my proof that my sins can never be brought against me any more? His resurrection from the dead. A living Saviour at God’s right hand is the believer’s proof that all his sins are gone. My sins can never be brought against me. I am not only forgiven, but justified. There can never be any condemnation (Romans 8:1). I am thus cleared of every charge that could ever be brought against me.
—John D. McNeil
Forgiveness assures us of immunity from everlasting punishment.
Justification, which goes further, assures us of an indefeasible title to be in God’s holy presence. —C.E. Stuart
Forgiveness is the removal of the penalty of our sins.
Justification is the removal of the very charge of guilt that once lay at our door. —H.P. Barker
Only God can both forgive and justify a man at the same time. This He does for the believing sinner on the basis of the cross. —H.A. Ironside