God does not forget anything; Indeed, He knows everything (cf. Isa 41:26; God knows the end before it begins). He does, however, forgive. When God says He will remember your sins no more, He does not mean that He forgets, but that He will not bring them to mind anymore so that they stand as a barrier to a relationship.
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.
For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jer 31:34)
The only reason God will be known by anyone is that He forgives sin—graciously allowing people into His presence. Forgiving sin is synonymous to remembering sin no more (cf. Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling, 187). In other words, when God forgives He commits not to bring up again (in the future to the offender, to others, or to himself) any past transgressions. In contrast, when God “remembers” sins He intends to leave the offense as a barrier and thus bring punishment.
Now he will remember their iniquity
and punish their sins;
they shall return to Egypt. (Hos 8:13; cf. 9:9)
Thus, remembering means to punish; forgetting means to forgive (not necessarily forget).
When God forgives, He:
- Vows to never remind the sinner of the forgiven sin
- Vows not to tell others of the forgiven sin, and
- Vows not to dwell, Himself, upon the forgiven sin
The standard by which we must forgive is God. We must forgive as we have been forgiven in Christ Jesus (Eph 4:32; cf. Matt 18:23-35; BTW: biblical forgiveness presupposes confession and repentance on the part of the offender. God only forgives the repentant; we can do no less). Thus, we must commit to not bringing up past sins—it is a promise (Adams, A Theology, 228).
Forgiveness does not happen in a vacuum. There must be an offense to be forgiven; therefore it cannot be literally (and completely) forgotten at that moment (cf. Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, 64-65). BUT…in time, those sins (offenses) that are forgiven biblically (see vows above) will tend to be forgotten–even horrible sins.
Forgiving sin (not rehashing old hurts), however, will cause the pain to fade as well (cf. Adams, A Theology, 223). The Bible teaches that “we must forgive in order to forget. Whoever makes and keeps those three promises [to not bring up offense to offender, other, or self] will forget” (Adams, Manual, 229).
10,000 Blessing in The Wonderful Counselor,
Rod and Staff Ministries
(Adapted from Semester One: Principles of Biblical Counseling. 2nd edition. Lesson 10.)