What We Believe

Today, “cancel culture” dominates our media. If a person says or does something that goes against the culture’s prevailing mores, they get “canceled,” criticized, banned from social media, and ostracized. Christian churches, however, must have a very different culture—one in which, instead of canceling people, sins are blotted out. We must choose to not keep record of wrongs.

We do this because our God blots out sins. The Lord declares, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isa. 43:25). God is a sin-blotter, and those who have had their guilt canceled by him should act likewise: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. . . . Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 4:32; 5:1). Clearly, God blots out transgressions through the substitutionary sufferings of Christ (Col. 2:13–14).

God Cancels Our Sin

The language God uses in Isaiah of “blotting out” sin provides a powerful metaphor. Think of signing a contract that turns over everything you have—even giving yourself into slavery, your future wages garnished. But then ink spills over the only copy of the contract, and it is like it never happened.[1] This illustration is inadequate for several reasons, such as that with today’s technology it’s easy to uncover what has been covered. But in Isaiah’s day, blotted out things were gone. There was no trace. The truth is glorious: God put all his peoples’ sins on his beloved and faithful Son; they are covered over by the blood of Christ.

A somewhat more modern illustration of God’s blotting out sin comes in the story of a wealthy Englishman who loved to drive a Rolls Royce.[2] One fateful day, he drove over a pothole, and the rear axle broke. He shipped it to the Rolls factory, where it was quickly repaired and sent back. Knowing his warranty period was past, the man expected to receive a repair bill, but one never came. When he contacted the factory, they responded, “We have thoroughly searched our files and find no record of a Rolls-Royce axle ever breaking.” In other words, they had such a high standard of excellence that they would not permit a flaw to be known. This is like Christ covering over our sins—the excellence of his saving work means he will never let a single one of our flaws be known to the Father. It is as if our sins never happened.

God did not do this because people merited it—God says he blots out for his own sake (Isa. 43:25). Martin Luther called this clause “a great thunderbolt against all merits.”[3] In other words, the Lord does this despite what we have done. His reason is not in us; it is in him. God linked himself to his people (2 Tim. 2:11–13; Acts 9:4–5; Isa. 37:32–35; Ezek. 36:21–23), and if he does not bless his people, it reflects poorly on him (Isa. 48:11). He would be demeaned. So, he hallows his own name by redeeming a people for himself.

Far from being worthy of this, we deserve to be canceled by God. He could rightly ostracize us and blot us out, as the flood judgment illustrated: “So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land’” (Gen. 6:7). Our only hope is God’s grace: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:1–2). This prayer is ours, granted in Christ, along with the promise of Revelation 3:5: our names will never be blotted out of the book of life.

God Canceled Their Sin

This has been the way of God throughout history. Again and again, the Bible records how the major flaws of biblical characters are not held against them. Hebrews 11, for example, lauds many figures we might not think worthy because of their egregious sin—but God’s grace is greater than all our sin:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Heb. 11:32–34)

These characters each had their flaws—major flaws—but these people were not canceled. They were instead honored for what little faith they had. David, likewise, was not defined by his theft of another man’s wife and the murder of his faithful servant Uriah. These sins did not condemn David, who repented, though they continued to impact his life. The way of God is not the way of man, and it runs counter to today’s culture; but God shows us that blot-out grace excels cancel culture.

The Church’s Blot-Out Grace

God’s grace shows us our own path forward. The church imitates God—those who have been forgiven, forgive. For example, David welcomed one of Saul’s own grandchildren into his palace and to his own table, despite Saul’s mistreatment of him and the political threats this potentially posed (2 Sam. 9). He blotted out a history of persecution—weeping even over Saul’s demise (2 Sam. 1:12).

In gratitude to God for our own sins being blotted out, we blot out the sins of others. We do not keep record of their wrongs. Instead of holding on to the sins people have committed against us, we forgive them. This does not undo sin’s consequences—trust takes time to rebuild, and some sins entail precautions to ensure that even a supposedly repentant offender does not continue to hurt themselves or others. But forgiveness means being willing to overlook offenses and to focus on what is good in people (Phil. 4:8).

Jesus taught us to pray for such things:

In the fifth petition (which is, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors), acknowledging that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby become debtors to the justice of God; and that neither we, nor any other creature, can make the least satisfaction for that debt: we pray for ourselves and others, that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, apprehended and applied by faith, acquit us both from the guilt and punishment of sin, accept us in his Beloved; continue his favor and grace to us, pardon our daily failings, and fill us with peace and joy, in giving us daily more and more assurance of forgiveness; which we are the rather emboldened to ask, and encouraged to expect, when we have this testimony in ourselves, that we from the heart forgive others their offenses. (Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 194)

Instead of being like the unmerciful servant of Matthew 18, who demands to be paid what he is owed, God’s people cover over what failings we can. God’s grace in blotting out our sin softens our hearts toward others and enables us to see and love the deep requirements of the ninth commandment—the call not to bear false witness. The church’s blot-out culture includes, according to the Westminster Larger Catechism on the ninth commandment,

a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers . . . studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report. (Q/A 144)

How different our lives would be if we lived this way! Sadly, instead of blotting out the sins of others, we tend to underline them; we tend to highlight them. There is an important challenge here: Have you been highlighting the flaws and sins of others? Maybe it is a spouse in the wrong; or your parent; or your brother. Perhaps it is a friend who slighted you. Instead of giving them the silent treatment, the cold shoulder, or canceling them, would you be gracious to them and blot out the impact and memory of their transgression? Whatever it costs you, it costs you less than it cost Jesus to blot out your sins.

This is one of the most glorious callings we have as God’s children: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11).


[1] Aaron Sironi, “From Your Heart . . . Forgive,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling 26, no. 3 (2012): 46–57.

[2] This illustration is adjusted slightly from Michael P. Green, 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Baker Books, 2000), 154.

[3] Martin Luther, quoted in John F. A. Sawyer, Isaiah Through the Centuries (Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), 255.

Andrew J. Miller is the pastor of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian in Fredericksburg, Virginia. New Horizons, April 2023.

New Horizons: April 2023

The New Creation, the Kingdom of God, and the Church

Also in this issue

The New Creation, the Kingdom of God, and the Church

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