Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar.
Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus.
Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin—and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy.
Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus.
The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ugliness of the human being. And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner.
The psychologist must first search my heart, and yet can never probe its innermost recesses. Another Christian recognizes just this: here comes a sinner like myself, a godless person who wants to confess and longs for God’s forgiveness.
The psychologist views me as if there were no God. Another believer views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ.
When we are so pitiful and incapable of hearing the confession of one another, it is not due to a lack of psychological knowledge, but a lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ.
The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for man.
The offense of the cross is this — that I am so condemned and so lost and so hopeless that if He, Jesus Christ, had not died for me, I would never know God, and I could never be forgiven. And that hurts; that annoys; that tells me I am hopeless, that I am vile, that I am useless; and as a natural man I do not like it.
The cross … is that divine grace and power which crosses the carnal wills of men, and gives a contradiction to their corrupt affections, and that constantly opposes itself to the inordinate and fleshly appetite of their minds, and so may be justly termed the instrument of man’s holy dying to the world, and being made conformable to the will of God. For nothing else can mortify sin, or make it easy for us to submit to the divine will, in things otherwise contrary to our own.
Let the great army of your sins pass before you in review, each one like a son of Anak (Numbers 13.33) armed to the hilt for your destruction. They have gone down into the depths, and the red sea of Christ’s blood has drowned them. Thus, He has gained a complete victory over all the guilt of sin.
When we call a person to forgive another who has offended him or her, we are not asking the offended person to minimize the extent to which the offender is responsible for his or her sin (“Well, everyone sins”) or to minimize the offense (“It was nothing”). True forgiveness is when the offended looks upon the offender and see the offender’s sin as justly deserving the wrath of God in light of God’s great holiness.
Christian forgiveness, then is granted from a position not of weakness but of true moral strength and clarity of vision. Because biblical forgiveness alone recognizes the heinousness of sin against a holy God, it alone understands the immensity of the gift given in uttering the words, “I forgive you.”
This gift, of course, is full payment for sin, which is exactly what the gospel declares that Christ has given us! The forgiveness that is won by Christ comes at the price of his death for real offense, for true guilt.
Christ has not dismissed sin; instead, he has paid its price in full.
original emphasis, Alfred Poirier, The Peacemaking Pastor (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 147.