But I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all the day,
for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. (Psalm 71:14-16 ESV)
David, the inspired psalmist, is caught between his enemies and his failures but he lifts up his eyes to his God, his Rock, “Be to me a Rock of refuge to which I may continually come” (Psa. 71:3). He leans heavily upon the salvation of God, realizing that it is greater than he could ever know.
Whatever is revealed to us of God’s salvation, whether it is biblical truth — what His word says — or personal experience — our sins that we know and deliverances from our personal circumstances — in all of this, God’s salvation is greater than we know. God’s graces to us are innumerable.
You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told. (Psalm 40:5)
As God’s graces to us have a past tense — in Christ Jesus, He has forgiven my sins of the past, a present tense — in Christ Jesus, God is protecting me today, and a future tense — in Christ Jesus, God will watch over me for all eternity, so our knowledge in each of these tenses is incomplete, both of our need and of His grace to us. We may simply rejoice and say, as Paul said, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20).
My confession of my sins has never been complete. It is a humbling thought to realize that I have never known my sin fully. I have only confessed my sin as the Spirit has convicted me (John 16:8-11 and 1 John 1:9-10). If my salvation depended on me bringing all my individual sins — unholy thoughts, careless words, undisciplined choices — I could never attain it. The same is true for you and as much as we may try to confess all our sins, we will fall short.
However, less I be misunderstood here, we ought to try to confess them to God. As the Spirit convicts, we ought to confess individual sins to God – specific thoughts, words, acts, etc. The bland blanket confession, “forgive us our sins,” may be uttered merely out of habit or routine, and have no meaning behind it at all. Until the idea of sin is attached to something specific that you and I have thought or done or said, we have not even begun to understand that we are sinners in need of God’s grace.
But God’s grace has always been complete toward me. His grace always exceeds our sins, always goes beyond what we could think of, or remember.
The Sacrifice of Two Goats: There is a very clear and picturesque description in Leviticus 16 of how God, through His grace, forgives us both of the sins we know and the sins we do not know in our lives.
In Leviticus 16 is a description of the Day of Atonement. On that day the high priest was to sacrifice two goats for the sins of the people. The first goat, after it was killed, he was to take the blood into the Holy of Holies, “behind the curtain” (Lev. 16:15), and sprinkle it seven times over the “mercy seat” of the Ark of the Covenant. This was to forgive all sins, even those unknown of by Israel.
In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. (Lev. 16:16 NIV)
The NIV uses the phrase “whatever their sins have been,” and several other translations use the phrase “all their sins,” but the meaning is the same. This was a sacrifice for all sins, known or unknown.
And this sin offering prefigured Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary and the spiritual altar in heaven before which He presented Himself as the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12 NIV)
Again, we see the emphasis on a timeless and limitless redemption. Repenting of our sin and trusting in Christ brings His grace to us that completely covers our sins, known and unknown by us, and covers them forever.
The second goat was the scapegoat, as both Tyndale (1530) and the King James Version (1611) interpreted it in Leviticus 16:26, thus coining the word in English of someone who bears the blame for another. The passage reads:
And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22 KJV)
The scapegoat carried away known sins, because the high priest confessed the sins of the people, the sins that he knew of. And the scapegoat was let go in the wilderness.
There is meaningful imagery for us in this of forgiveness existing both on the spiritual or divine plane and on the physical or human plane. The first goat whose blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain, symbolizes forgiveness on the divine plane. The sin unknown by us is atoned for in the presence of Holy God, and it is entirely covered by the blood of Christ. That is forgiveness on the divine plane and it is mystical, complete, and goes beyond what we could ever envision. This is grace greater than our sins.
The forgiveness on the human plane, however, is symbolized by the scapegoat. And the goat was taken out into the wilderness but he was also known to wander back into the camp. The sins that we know do that in our lives. We confess it to God and feel the forgiveness, then after a while the goat wanders back into the camp, and we wonder if God ever truly forgave us.
If we have full forgiveness in Christ over the sins that we do not know we committed then surely God is also able to forgive us of the sins that we know we have committed — and I suspect there are many, many more of the unknown sins in our lives than there are of the ones we do know we have committed. When we are doubting that God has truly forgiven us for the sins we know about, be encouraged that God who knows infinitely more about both sin and our own lives, says to us:
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)