With presidential pardons in the news this week, it seems a good time to discuss something far, far, better.
While having a sentence commuted, or a pardon, which is essentially high level forgiveness for a known crime, it does not take away the guilt of the offence. It simply takes away the due punishment for the crime. Some may say, and rightly so, sometimes, that the sentence was too harsh for the crime. That is true, sometimes, but should be as expected in unjust man’s “justice” system. When the unjust have rule over justice, how can we really expect justice, but that is a digression, for a real pardon is when it is offered when the sentence really is due. A pardon is never a declaration of “not guilty”.
A search in God’s Word for the term “pardon” yields an interesting result: the word is not found in the “New Testament”. It is found 16 times in the “Old Testament” as the translation for three different Hebrew words — kaphar, calach, and cĕliychah, all with the essential idea of forgiveness¹.
There is also an idea of the sin, or crime, going unpunished. While this is good for the perpetrator of the sin, it does not satisfy righteousness. That is where the propitiation through faith in Christ’s blood for the remissions of sins that are past enters².
In “presidential politics”, the pardon seeks to show the clemency of the state, as summed up in the personage of the president. But God, however, had justice to satisfy as well, for He is righteous, and we know that He said very clearly that He will in no wise clear the guilty³.
When Christ died for our sins, He paid them in full. The sentence was commuted, for sins in the time before He died, for a time, because it would be fully laid on Him. We, however, have something better than a commuted sentence.
He paid for the sins of, not of the model prisoner, nor of the friend, but of His enemies4. Christ died for the ungodly5. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us6; but because He paid them to the uttermost, He is able to save to the uttermost all those who come to God by Him7.
The pardon is an act of mercy, and God is surely rich in mercy8; but look at the way that God’s word through the apostle Paul speaks of the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men in Romans 1:18 through 3:18. This is a world that is God’s enemy and fit for His wrath — and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all this unrighteousness and ungodliness.
It takes an act of God’s justification to deal with mankind’s sin and sinfulness. And we are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus9. It is redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace10. The sin debt is paid, righteousness is established, and the one who has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ has been declared righteous in Him. This is far better than the pardon, for the one who is pardoned still carries the knowledge that he truly is guilty, he just is not paying for it.
But the one who believes on Him that justifies the ungodly, he has faith counted for righteousness11. Now when God justifies, it is done. There is not a voice in heaven or in earth that has anything to say against it:
Romans 8:33 — “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.”
Acts 13:38 – 39 — “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through [Jesus Christ] 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.”
- As an interesting note on the word sometimes translated pardon: In Genesis 6:14, it is translated as the verb “pitch”, which was a covering for the ark. Why was it “pitched”? It was pitched for the same reason that pipefitters use tape or pipe dope, or why when we assemble something that needs to contain a fluid without leaking, we use a gasket between the mating pieces. It is because the surfaces that mate together do not mate together perfectly, and therefore something is needed to fill in the space between them so that they do not leak. The shipbuilder, Noah, was commanded to “pitch” (kaphar) the ark within and without with “pitch” (kopher, a noun form of the same word, also translated, among other ways as “ransom”, or “satisfaction”.) The pitch was put in place to make up for the imperfections in the builder’s work, as well as for imperfections in the wood that was used to build the ark. In the same way, we may talk about something being “forgiving”: in the metal cutting trade, for instance, we can make drills out of several different materials. For drilling hard materials, or drilling soft materials very quickly, we can use carbide, which is harder than steel, stiffer than steel, and can be made sharper than steel. There is, however, a drawback — it is much more brittle than steel, and if the machine tool is not set up perfectly (or as close to perfect as needed), the carbide drill will easily break if required to bend. A high-speed steel drill will be more forgiving. It will allow for the imperfections, to some extent, so if we have a less than perfect set-up, the steel drill can conform more to the imperfections, whereas the very stiff and brittle carbide drill is unforgiving — it will simply break. A pardon, and for that matter, atonement, as used in the Old Testament, is simply that, something that will “cover”, or make allowance for imperfections. The justification that the believer in Jesus Christ has is not simply a pardon. It does not simply make up for imperfections, but gives the believer God’s righteousness — without the law.
- Romans 3:25 – 26 — “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
- Exodus 34:7
- Romans 5:10
- Romans 5:6
- Romans 5:8
- Hebrews 7:25
- Ephesians 2:4
- Romans 3:24
- Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14
- Romans 4:5