Many Christians have a problem with forgiveness and forgetting. They ask God’s forgiveness, but still feel that because of their remembering the sin, they may not have been forgiven. Sometimes, those who obey the Lord in baptism continue to remember their past sins and wonder whether God has truly forgiven them.
There is a difference between being forgiven and forgetting. Saul of Tarsus was forgiven of his sins when he was baptized “to wash away” his sins (Acts 22:16), but he remembered his past sins when he wrote Timothy (1 Tim. 1:13-15). In the Old Testament we read of David being forgiven, yet he remembered his past sins. Nathan said, “God has put away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13), but years later David wrote about his past sins (Psa. 32:1-5). The apostle Peter was pricked in the heart by the crowing of a rooster (Lk. 22:61,62), and obviously repented of his sin. His life afterward shows clearly that he was aware of God’s forgiveness, but no doubt the sound of a rooster crowing sent pains through his heart for a long time after that event.
The Bible records many sins that God had forgiven and did not hold against the forgiven party. Did God remember them? If not, how did He inspire the writers to write about them? Did God forgive the fornicator in Corinth, after he repented? In the second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul said, “Sufficient to such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the many; so that contrariwise ye should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his overmuch sorrow” (2 Cor. 2:6,7). This clearly implies that God had forgiven him, and that they were to do likewise, yet God “remembered” in the sense that he inspired Paul to write about it. There is a difference between forgiving and forgetting.
When a child of God commits sin and asks God’s forgiveness, how does he know that he has been forgiven? The same way that an alien sinner knows that God has forgiven him – by what God said! God said that if “we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). This does not mean that we forget that we committed the sin, but we can be assured that God treats us as though we had never committed it. He does not hold it against us.
Though Paul remembered the terrible persecutions that he had inflicted upon God’s people (1 Tim. 1:12-15), he could still “forget the things that are behind” (Phil. 3:13), in the sense that he did not allow them to hinder his faithfulness to Christ. There was no doubt in Paul’s mind whether God had forgiven him. Neither should there be any in our minds when we conform to the conditions God has revealed. Unless we are plagued with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, mankind can’t forget the events of his life. God never commanded mankind to forget, but he did command him to forgive those who sinned against him (Matt 6:14,15). Even so, God remembers the events of our life (good or bad), but if we obey His gospel, He will forgive us of our sins (2 Cor 5:10,11).