How do you know your sins are taken away? Are you sure you are forgiven? Many people seek forgiveness, but they often don’t feel it. God really wants us to know that we are forgiven though. Last week I mentioned the doctrine of justification. The apostle Paul said we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24). Justified is a big fancy word, but it is actually a legal term used to describe what God does for us through His Son Jesus. Justification is God’s work through the cross of Christ allowing guilty sinners to have their sins taken away and their guilt removed legally by God. In this same moment, God declares the sinner to be righteous before God by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone.

When you truly understand the doctrine of justification, then you know that by faith you can place your sin upon Jesus Christ and trust that He will take it away. He can take your guilt away because of the blood that He shed for our sin. There are times I imagine myself placing my sins upon Christ. I picture Him taking my sin upon himself, and then giving His righteousness to me. This is the great exchange of the Christian faith. I can exchange my sin for Christ’s righteousness based upon his death and resurrection. Now that is a trade you cannot refuse. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has the power to fully deal with our sin and cleanse us. He wants us to be able to own this as Christians so we do not walk around in guilt and unworthiness.

So we can know that forgiveness is completely a work of God. It is not based upon something I can do or whether God is in a forgiving mood today. The cross of Christ assures us that God is always in a forgiving mood. The doctrine of justification assures me that Jesus has paid the full price for my sin, and I have a legal guarantee from God that He will forgive me when I truly confess and repent.

The Old Testament contains one of the greatest pictures of this concept. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest of Israel would take two goats. One would be sacrificed for the sin of the people. The innocent goat would die for the sin of the guilty people. The priest would take the blood of the goat into the temple before God’s presence. The Lord would see the blood of the innocent animal sacrificed for the sin of the guilty people and he would accept the sacrifice and have mercy upon the people.

The other goat was called the scapegoat. It would be taken in front of the people while the priest would confess the sins of the nation. Then he would lay his hands upon the goat. This gesture symbolized a transfer of guilt from the people on to the goat. The people could literally visualize this goat taking their sin away and onto itself. Then the goat would be led out of town. People would watch the goat be taken to the edge of the city gates, and then taken off into the farthest country side. It was a picture God wanted them to have. Their sins were removed. Their guilt was literally taken away from them, and removed from their presence by God’s grace. The scapegoat was a visible picture of grace. The truth is, however, that no animal could fully do what Jesus came to do.

Like the goat, Jesus took our sin and guilt upon him. He was led out of town (the same town of Jerusalem), and outside of town he was placed upon a cross. He was the scapegoat. He is the scapegoat. He can take the guilt of our sin away, and we can know that we are forgiven — and righteous in the sight of God. Let him take your sin away. And that’s the Word.

The Rev. David Yarborough is pastor of St. Simons Community Church. Contact him at david@sscommunitychurch.com or 912-634-2960.

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