He Will by No Means Clear the Guilty
The LORD ... keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty. (Exodus 34:7)
The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. (Nahum 1:3)
Here’s a question: how is it that in the passage from Exodus we read that God forgives “iniquity and transgression and sin”, but also that he will not clear the guilty? Surely if you commit iniquity, or transgress the law, you are guilty of breaking the law. And will not be cleared. It might be, as the verse from Nahum demonstrates, that God is patient but in the end justice will be done.
The answer comes in that word: “forgiving”. Throughout the Bible there is a link between repentance and forgiveness. If you come to God sorry for your actions, acknowledging you have fallen short and desiring to change then God not only forgives, but through his Spirit strengthens your resolve to amend your ways. As the Book of Common Prayer Communion Service puts it:
Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: draw near with faith, and take this holy sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees.
Here is the reason for God’s patience. It is giving time for repentance, something the Apostle Peter understood: “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
The move from iniquity to repentance is a move from guilt to forgiveness. It is a humbling thing, but also a liberating thing. It might not be natural to us, it might even take years, but the Lord is patient.