If sin isn’t real, what’s to forgive?

April 14th, 2023

Two friends of mine, Ty who is a Christian Scientist and Vi who is a biblical Christian, were sparring over why forgiveness isn’t more prominently emphasized in the teachings of Christian Science. I wrote to Ty, remarking that it seems to me the differing perspectives on forgiveness stem from one’s view of what is or is not real, and thus whether we need a Savior or can save ourselves.

I invited him to consider four examples from Scripture:

(1) When Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to ask, “Forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12), is he saying that we all have a huge unpayable debt of sin, offensive in the sight of God? It certainly appears so to me.

Yet when Mrs. Eddy renders that same line as “Love is reflected in love” (SH 18), isn’t she saying the whole problem of debts and debtors goes away when we get the metaphysics right?

(2) Likewise when Jesus on the cross prays, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34), is he treating the horror of his impending death as something real—or as merely a false belief, equally unreal for those who inflicted it and for him who is about to die?

I’d say it’s the former. Whereas the Christian Scientist would disagree, denying any reality to sin or to death.

(3) Or again, what’s going on when Jesus tells the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2)? Had the man actually somehow disobeyed or disregarded God, thus displeasing him and incurring bad consequences, right up to the moment when the Son of God graciously granted him pardon?

Or was there never any actual sin committed, any real breach between the man and his Maker, and thus no forgiveness needed, but merely a “”correction of thought,” as Mrs. Eddy would have it?

(4) And one more: when Jesus rescues the woman taken in adultery (John 8:3), is it merely the “seeming” of mortal mind that must be dealt with?

Or was there really illicit sex committed, really a defilement of the woman’s body and soul, really a heartbreak to her husband and children, really an infraction of the 7th Commandment which gravely offended God?

I know what I think it was, Ty. What do you think it was? Why would Jesus tell her to go and sin no more, if she had only “seemed” to sin in the first place?

It happened to be Easter weekend, and so I asked my friend: What better time than this holy season of Crucifixion Friday and Resurrection Sunday to wrestle with such questions as these?

If sin is but a seeming, not a reality, if everything can be set right by thinking differently, then the Cross was unnecessary and self-salvation is ours.

On the other hand, if sin and death and evil and Satan are real and powerful—but the triune God is more powerful and gets the victory on our behalf—then that means then we can’t save ourselves; we need Him to forgive us, to settle our debt, and thus to gloriously save us.

All this is not just abstract theological speculation.  It has consequences for where we spend eternity. The surest way to miss out on God’s forgiveness is to insist stubbornly and proudly that we don’t need it.

My crisis of horrid self-awareness—after I blew up my marriage—led to the grim realization that I need forgiveness every day of my life, always and forever.  I need it from the people around me whom I’ve let down, and from a holy God who expects better of me.

That in turn led me out of Christian Science and up the hill of Calvary to the foot of the Cross, where Jesus patiently awaited my coming.

So, yes, owning our need of forgiveness is a question of eternal import. But it’s also a matter of daily life in the here and now.

To know oneself as a forgiven sinner is to live more meekly and kindly with others. It warms our world. It gentles things in a beautiful way.

To doggedly assert that one is God’s perfect child, by contrast, is to choose a bloodless, denialist way of life where hearts harden, relationships wither, people get damaged.

Those are the stakes, I told my friend Ty. Those and nothing less. The choice is yours.





The author can be reached at andrewsjk@aol.com

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