That there is a distinction between the “forgiveness” of sins, and the “remission” of sins, is a thing that has been very little considered by the majority of ministers, or students of the Holy Scriptures. But the Bible clearly teaches that there is a difference.
In looking through Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, I was astonished to find that the word, remission was not mentioned in the entire book of the Old Testament, while in the New Testament it occurs many times. The forgiveness of sins was a common thing under the old covenant. The blood of bulls and goats was offered for the FORGIVENESS of sins, but it could not “remit” or “take away” their sins. (Hebrews 10:4).
The forgiveness of sins is to “cease to hold the sins against” an offender after he has confessed and acknowledged his wrong; but the “remission of sins” is to TAKE AWAY the sins out of one’s life. Hence, the blood of the lamb under the old covenant only acted in the “forgiveness” of sins, but of Christ, it was said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which TAKETH AWAY the sin of the world.” (John 1:29).
The old method of sacrificing the life of an innocent lamb for the “forgiveness” of sins was to be changed to that of “repentance.” What God desired was not sacrifice (Psa. 40:6, 51:16-17), but, instead, He wanted “broken and contrite hearts.” His purpose in demanding the best to be sacrificed for sins was to get as near the heart of the offender as possible. He wanted them to feel the weight and sting of their sins. But failing to see God’s purpose, Israel began to offer polluted sacrifices, thereby bringing upon them the curse of God (Mal. 1:12-14). It was His desire to “have mercy and not sacrifice.”
The inauguration of repentance as a means of approaching the “new and living way” was committed into the hands of John the Baptist. They were demanded to “confess their sins” before he would baptize them “unto repentance.” A man must acknowledge his sins before he can repent, for God grants repentance (II Tim. 2:25). Until a man acknowledges his wrong he will never repent.
God forgives all who confess and repent of their sins, but it requires the blood of Jesus to obtain the “remission of sins.” The blood of Jesus was shed for both “forgiveness” and “remission” of sins. The blood of goats and bulls was for forgiveness, but the blood of Jesus does that and “much more.” (Heb. 9:13-14). It was for this cause, no doubt, that the apostle wrote these words, “In whom we have redemption (remission) through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Eph. 1:7, Col. 1:14).
We may have our sins forgiven by confession and repentance (Luke 17:3), but the only way the Bible teaches for a man to obtain the “remission,” or “washing away” of his sins, is being baptized in water “in the Name of Jesus Christ.” (See Matt. 26:28, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16). The word of God shows conclusively that this was the apostolic method. If it was so then, why not now? Has God’s original plan lost its power? Has not the “traditions of our fathers” made void the word of God, making it of no effect, as did the elders in the days of Christ? (Mark 7:1-13).
If the Bible is right, then remission of sins is through baptism in Jesus’ Name. Surely the Lord was right when He said, “Straight is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth to life, and FEW there be that find it.” And again, “Many are called, but FEW are chosen.” The Apostle Peter says that in the days of Noah, “FEW, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”