I had the privilege of preaching yesterday at The Town Church, a new church in my neck of the woods, planted by my good friend Nate Downey. I spoke on the theme of remembering that is replete in Scripture, and encouraged the church to engage often in the spiritual discipline/practice of remembering who God is and what God has done. All of us have a case of spiritual forgetfulness, a kind of spiritual Alzheimer’s, that we have to daily confront with remembering.
This theme is all over the place in the Old Testament, and also found throughout the New Testament, but one of the most beautiful things about the new covenant is that God no longer remembers our sins. We get the joy of remembering that God does not remember our sins. Hebrews 8 makes this clear when the writer, quoting the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, states,
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (8:12)
In the Old Testament God’s people were under the old covenant and constantly had a daily reminder of sins because the sacrifices were always being repeated. They sinned (unintentionally and intentionally) and they sacrificed, they sinned and they sacrificed–over and over again. But now Israel’s Messiah has come and the new covenant is “more excellent than the old as the covenant [Christ] mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (Heb. 8:6). Therefore sins are no longer in need of new sacrifices because Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice has completely forgiven sin, and since there is no need for sacrifice we no longer need to be gripped by incessant reminders of our sins. In view of this, we need to be more mindful of God’s grace than our sin.
New Testament scholar Peter T. Obrien, commenting on this theme, writes,
…under the old sacrificial system there was ‘an annual reminder of sins (Heb. 10:3). No such calling of sins to mind operates under the new covenant, for God says that he will remember their sins no more. His grace has determined to forgive them because of Christ’s sacrifice offered once for all on the cross (7:27)….
By Christ’s perfecting work the ‘perfection’ of his people is able to be realized. The Levitical sacrifices could only remind the people of their sin (10:1-4), while the Day of Atonement ritual ‘in the old covenant’ (Lev 16) enables Hebrews to present Christ’s death as the sacrifice that fulfills the new covenant‘. Unlike the old covenant, the new cannot be broken. ‘Sin cannot imperil the divine-human relationships guaranteed by this new covenant, for sin will not be brought into account: God will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more‘. For these reasons, one must conclude that the new covenant is radically new. And with the fulfilment of its divine promises new meaning is given to the covenant formula, ‘I will be their God, and they shall be my people’. [The Letter to the Hebrews, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 301, 302.]
A daily practice of the Christian then is to remember that the newness of the new covenant removes the sin-reminders that go off in our hearts regarding past sin and enables us to experience the sacrifice-reminder of Jesus’ sin-forgetting work on the cross that he has accomplished on our behalf. Remind yourself of that sacrifice every-single day.