Guilt, we have seen, has both an objective and a subjective dimension. Objectively, we are either guilty or we are not. The fact of our guilt is measured against an objective standard, namely, the law of God, and if we have broken that law and have not been covered with the blood of Christ by faith alone, we are guilty whether we feel guilty or not. Subjectively, we often feel guilty when we have broken the law of God. In fact, one of the surest signs of true faith in Christ is that we are quick to feel and admit our transgressions and run to Him for forgiveness (1 John 1:8–9). Our feelings in themselves are no sure guide to whether we are objectively guilty, for it is possible to be guilty without feeling guilty and to be innocent while feeling like we have sinned against God. Nevertheless, when our consciences are rightly formed by the Word of God, our subjective feelings of guilt are strong indicators that actual guilt is present.
Anyone who has felt anything close to the burden of his guilt knows what a release it can be when this burden is lifted. But there is only one way to get rid of our guilt, and that is to enjoy the gift of God’s forgiveness. Scripture teaches us this in many ways, and today’s passage is one of the clearest in the Bible on the freedom and blessing of forgiveness. David rejoices in the forgiveness of his sin and in the truth that God no longer counts his iniquity against him because he has confessed his sin and has turned to the Lord for pardon (Ps. 32). Paul quotes this psalm in Romans 4 to help us understand our justification. Part of our being counted righteous in God’s sight is that God no longer counts our sin against us. Fundamentally, that is what forgiveness entails. Forgiveness does not pretend that the sin never happened; rather, when we forgive sin, we refuse to hold the sins others have committed against them any longer. When God forgives our sin, He does not literally forget our sin, for our omniscient Creator cannot forget anything. Instead, He chooses not to hold our sin against us any longer. He no longer counts it as part of our legal record but instead counts the righteousness of Christ as ours (2 Cor. 5:21).
For our subjective feelings of being forgiven to match reality, they must match the objective truth of forgiveness, which is found in Christ alone. When we realize that all who are in Christ by faith are truly and objectively forgiven, the subjective peace of forgiveness should follow. For when God forgives us, He forgives us forever.