Subject: How do you know personally you are a Christian?
Luke 1:77 “To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.”
In one of my debates with an atheist organization, a woman in the audience asked one of the atheists how do they deal with sin. His answer was that they do not believe sin has anything to do with God. Sin to them is doing anything that harms the well-being of someone else. So you just need to try to make things right with that person you’ve harmed. Later, that woman came to me and asked me how that could be true, since sin was such a deep part of her life because of things she has not only done to others but because of guilt she carried for doing things she knew were wrong. I told her she made complete sense to me, because we all feel guilt for things we have done, regardless if it was against another person or not.
In another Open Forum Q&A session on a college campus, I asked the audience if everyone has times of feeling a sense of guilt. The audience unanimously said yes. I then asked them, “Where does this feeling of guilt come from?” Greg Koukl, a leading Christian speaker, answers this question simply: “We feel guilty because we are.” In other words, every human being ever born has an internal sense of guilt for breaking God’s laws. Some of us acknowledge this, especially when we read through the 10 Commandments (who hasn’t stolen something? Or lied? Or dishonored their parents? Or lusted to own something that belonged to someone else?). Others of us, like the atheist, go to great lengths to avoid admitting this.
In our verse this week, Zacharias (the father of John the Baptist) is speaking about his son’s future mission while John is still in his mother’s womb. His mission is to warn people to prepare themselves for Someone who will soon arrive after him. And who is the Someone, and what will this Someone do? It is none other than Jesus Christ, who will give everyone who puts their faith in Him for the “remission” of their sins a personal knowledge that they have eternal life – that they are a Christian!
There is no other worldview where you can know without a doubt your guilt has been removed, your sins have been forgiven, and you have eternal life. Only Jesus Christ makes this claim. This is another evidence for why Christianity makes sense to any thinking person – because guilt isn’t something to avoid or pretend isn’t real. We all know, from personal experience, it is very real. Guilt is something to confess. And God has promised that when you approach Jesus Christ honestly, confessing your sins to Him and asking Him to forgive you, He always will. And you will know it personally.
There are actually three different words used in the Bible for forgiveness, and each of them point to an amazing truth of how God has cleansed you from your sin and given you a new life through Jesus Christ. The first word is used in our verse this week, and it’s the word “aphesis”, which means remission. This is where God says He releases you from your guilt by “passing over” your sin. It is the image of the Passover event in Egypt, where God protects those who trust in the Passover Lamb (a picture again of Christ) from the death due them for their sin: “The Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when He sees the blood on the cross piece at the top of your door, 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.’” (Exodus 12:23).
The second word for “forgive” is “aphiēmi”, which means “to send away”. It has two elements. The first is to release you from, and completely cancel, the punishment due your sin. The second element is to have the cause of your offense totally removed (the sin itself is never again brought up). This is the word used by Jesus Christ in Matthew 9:2, when the paralytic is lowered by his friends through the roof of a home where Jesus is, hoping that Jesus would heal him: “They brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are FORGIVEN (‘aphiēmi’) you.’”
And the third word for “forgive” is “charizomai”, which means “bestow unconditional favor” upon the sinner. This word is used in Luke 7:48, when a prostitute crashes the home of a Pharisee named Simon because Jesus is there, to publicly put herself at His mercy because she seeks relief for the guilt she has carried all her life for her sinful lifestyle: “He said to her, ‘Your sins are FORGIVEN (‘chaizomai’).’”
If you are someone like the people in these stories who carries the burden of guilt over what you’ve done, not only does Jesus call you to bring that sin to Him and ask Him to save you from it, but He promises you will be freed from the guilt you’ve been carrying because He completely cancels it from your account, never brings it up again, showers you with His unconditional favor, and you will know you are going to Heaven.