A Question I Was Asked:



Does God Keep His Promise of Psalm 103:11-12?






The Question:

Ten years ago I became a Christian. I wanted God to wipe away all my sins just like it says in Psalm 103:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14).

But although I have changed a lot in those ten years I am still not free of sin. Yes, some sins have gone but other temptations seem to be as strong as ever. I do try, but I often stumble in my weak areas. The Psalm says, "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us," but it does not always feel that way to me.

Will I ever be free from sin?


UK Apologetics Reply:

Will you, and I - and, indeed, all of us - ever be totally sin-free in this life? In my opinion, no.

You might be confusing God genuinely forgiving us and then removing the responsibility and culpability for our former sins, as well as our ongoing 'stumbling sins,' with an actual completely pristine, stainless and sin-free state, but only Christ ever accomplished that.

Look at it this way: Imagine a pure white bed sheet; it had become somewhat soiled, but in Christ it is washed and made spotless and unblemished - that is something similar to that which Christ offers us. But some are more successful at maintaining such moral 'sheet' cleanliness than others, for we are all different. Moreover, if you look really closely at that pure white sheet you will still see blemishes - it is not entirely perfect. The blemishes come from us. Yet it will remain better than it would have been if Christ had not washed it clean. Also, we will have to work with this same white sheet throughout our physical lives; only in the resurrection is that 'sheet' thrown away for something far, far better.

Protestantism sees our salvation as fully accomplished in Christ - End of story.
Roman Catholicism, however, sees our salvation as accomplished in Christ, plus a 'pious' use of the sacraments, plus various other life-long duties. In this concept, only at the end of time may one be pronounced as 'saved.' To consider oneself "saved" at an earlier point is - to the Catholic - sheer presumption!
In my view, a careful consideration of Paul's words on faith, grace and justification in books such as Romans, Galatians and Ephesians backs up the Protestant view, rather than the Catholic view.


Psalm 103 means exactly what it says, but you have to understand it. If God treated us as we deserve we would all be removed from His plan right now. Let us look at that Psalm again, verses 8-18, and I will make some comments in parentheses as we go along:

8. The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; [God really enjoys forgiving and He hates punishing, His compassion is boundless to those who really want to serve Him!]
10. he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. [He witholds punishment which our failings actually deserve, this applying not only to believers but to the world in general].
11. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12. as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. [Now vs11-12 seem more applicable to true believers. This is a firm promise to us - do we believe this, or not? This is a cast-iron promise!].
13. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14. for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
15. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field;
16. the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
17. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children -
18. with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. [Again, these promises are not directed to everybody upon earth but to God's people].

We have to remember that, at our conversion, an exchange took place between us and Christ. We were not only forgiven, but the Lord Jesus took the full responsibility for our sins upon His own shoulders, and His own righteousness became imputed to us. This was a divine exchange. Christ literally died for our sins - this is no play on words or 'poetic licence,' it means exactly what it says. Now, that did not make us suddenly perfect any more than it made Christ's taking of our sins upon Himself 'sinful.' As John Stott has written,

"This is what is meant by a 'substitutionary' atonement. He took our place, bore our sin, paid our debt and died our death. And if we ask how Christ died our death, we can only point to those three hours of God-forsaken darkness in which Christ tasted the desolation of hell in our place, that we might be spared it." (John Stott. 'Why I Am a Christian,' 2003 paperback. Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press. p 56).

Hell should no longer be a dread for those in Christ because Jesus Christ already went there in our place. So this is the promise which we are given in the pages of the New Testament, and how our imputed righteousness is facilitated. Protestant theologians have called it "imputed righteousness" in contrast to the Catholic concept of "infused righteousness," which leads to their understanding of totally sinless "saints." We Protestants also believe in "saints" but we believe that we all fall under that category and so don't spend many hours of research in looking at the 'sinlessness' of particular individuals who lived long ago. It is a different understanding of 'sainthood,' but it is also a different understanding of what constitutes "righteousness."

So we are now 'under grace,' the penalty of the law no longer stands over us waiting to exact its penalty whenever we sin and stumble. We become the children of God's grace. This is the liberty which we have in Christ which Paul writes about (Galatians 5:1) - the children of Israel did not enjoy this special relationship. For us, it is a matter of faith and grace - not of legalistic requirement; thus we are in the same place as Abraham, not in the same place as Moses and Aaron.

Just in case we might lose heart in our stumblings (since the converted child of Christ truly longs to be perfect), we are given many biblical examples of the recipients of God's grace, His 'Elect' if you will, continuing to stumble, sometimes mildly, sometimes horribly (David's adultery and murderous treatment of Uriah, for example). Both John the Apostle and Paul the Apostle show us that sin can never be expected to be totally absent from our lives - even as converted children of God. Paul wrote a whole chapter about 'sin still residing within us,' (Romans 7), and John makes some interesting points in his First Epistle. I have added parenthetical comments to what he wrote:

6. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. [So this applies to those truly striving to walk with Christ].
7. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. [Note: 'all sin,' not just some of it. But we must be striving to walk with Him].
8. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. [Some very "religious" people claim to have no sin in their lives; I have met them, you have met them. John says that such people are not walking in truth].
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. [Please note: do we have a continuing attitude of a readiness to 'confess' sin? Or do we seek to justify ourselves? But also note: it is a preparedness to 'confess' sin which leads to us being 'purified from all unrighteousness,'].
10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. [Again, John is showing us that it is actually spiritually perilous for us to claim to be sinless. There will be sin in our lives]. (1 John 1:6-10, NIV).

When Paul was continually troubled by a 'thorn in the flesh' (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), by the way, we don't know what it was so there is no point in speculating upon it, Christ told him that His grace was sufficient for him and that He would not drive the problem away. Christ said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Even so with us. This is the path we are expected to tread. In general, the closer we are to God, the less we will stumble! Nevertheless, a careful perusal of the Scriptures reveals that God's elect remain imperfect during this present life.

So, has God 'removed our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west'? Yes, it is already fully accomplished in Christ, but will become clearer when we rise in glory at the resurrection of the dead.

Robin A. Brace. January 27th, 2012.


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