Question: In your article “Forgiveness for past, present, and future sin,” you said, “God does not ‘forget’ anything.” Two verses seem to contract your statement: Jeremiah 31:34 (“and will remember their sins no more”) and Isaiah 43:25 (“and will not remember thy sins”).
The answer to your question lies in understanding two things: God’s omniscience and the Hebrew word remember.
In modern English, the word remember has several meanings. The most common are
- to recall to the mind by an act or effort of memory,
- to retain in the memory, and
- to have (something) come into the mind again.
If we understand remember in Jeremiah 31:34 and Isaiah 43:25 in any of these ways, God would not be omniscient. If God knows all things, as He says He does (1 John 3:20; Psa. 147:5), then He must know the sins we have committed, even though He has forgiven them.
The Hebrew word remember can mean “to take into account when dealing with.” This is how I understand Ezekiel 3:20: “When a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity …his righteousness which he has done will not be remembered.” God doesn’t mean He has no knowledge of his previous righteous deeds. God means that He does not take into account the righteous deeds of the one who turns away from Him in unrepentant sin. His former righteous acts are no longer “on the record.” Only his sins remain “on the record.”
In the same way, when God forgives our sins, they are no longer “on the record.” God still knows the sins we have committed, but he does not take them into account when dealing with us (see Ezek. 18:21-22). The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) supports this conclusion.
God still knows the sins we have committed, but he does not take them into account when dealing with us.
Jesus says to his audience that if they do not forgive their neighbor from their hearts, God will treat them just like the King treated the unforgiving servant: fully reinstating their debt. If God truly has no memory or knowledge of sins He forgives, then He could not reinstate our old sin-debt if we are unforgiving. Since God says He is omniscient and He can reinstate our sin-debt, I conclude that God still has knowledge of our past sins.
This has significant implications for our forgiveness of other people. When a person sins against us and then repents, we must forgive them. However, God does not expect us to forget that they have sinned against us. The commonly repeated line, “Forgive and forget,” is normally used to mean a person should lose complete memory of wrongs done to him. Not only is this unbiblical, it is also impractical. We don’t have full control over what our minds remember.
Biblical forgiveness is choosing to remove the record of others’ debt to us and to restore our relationship with them as far as the consequences of their sin will allow. By “remove the record of others’ debt to us,” I mean that we no longer regard that offense as an outstanding issue that still needs to be dealt with. (Remember, we are responsible to initiate reconciliation with a brother who sins against us [Matt. 18:15-7].)
By “restore our relationship with them as far as the consequences of their sin will allow,” I mean that forgiveness pursues restored relationship, but some sins damage trust sufficiently that it may take a long period of rebuilding trust to restore the relationship. In some cases, the relationship may never be restored in this life.
So, my understanding of “I will remember your sins no more” in Jeremiah 31:34 and Isaiah 43:25 is that God will no longer to take our sins into account when dealing with us. They have been dealt with in His Son. As we abide in Christ, we share in His righteousness, thereby finding full acceptance with God. Praise the Lord for forgiveness full and free!
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.