Dear Ann Landers:

A few years ago, I committed a crime (a misdemeanor).  I was arrested and charged.  Since I had never been in trouble before, my lawyer had my record expunged.  Will this show up on a police background check?  I’m looking for a job and want to be sure my prospective employers won’t find out about it. — Apprehensive in Ohio

Dear Ohio:

“Expunged” means obliterated — struck out, removed from the record.  You are home free with a clean slate….

That real letter from Ann Landers’ column a few years ago demonstrates a truth that the brothers of Joseph had trouble grasping — the power and magnitude of forgiveness.

When Jacob, their father died, all their old fears and guilt over their sin against Joseph returned.  “Now that Jacob’s restraining influence is removed,” they thought and believed, “Joseph will pay us back in full!” (v. 15).  Though he had forgiven them years before (cf. 45:4ff), they now felt a renewed sense of guilt.  So three times in Genesis 50 they again identify their sin against him, two times they again ask for forgiveness, and two times (including v. 18), they identify themselves as servants.  Clearly, the magnitude of their sin again weighed heavily on their consciences.

“So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father charged before he died, saying, “Thus you shall say to Joseph, ‘Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.’” And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” (Genesis 50:16-17; NASB)

But their fear was inappropriate, and Joseph told them as much (v. 19).  The message?  He had forgiven them and was done with the sin, and they should be done with it too.

ExpungeNow there is an appropriate place for guilt — it will convict us of sin and keep us from sin when we heed it’s call (Rom. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:5).  Unfortunately, guilt has a way of lingering even when we are forgiven.  It will do that when we don’t understand grace.  And the result is that we become like Joseph’s brothers, attempting to go through life compensating for our sins, rather than accepting God’s forgiveness for the free gift that it is (Rom. 6:23).

Here is freedom from guilt, not that we forgive ourselves, but that God has forgiven us on the basis of Christ’s death — once for all.  Never again will the ledger of our sins be held against us.  The Accuser Satan still comes to make claims against us (Rev. 12:10), but God through Christ answers, “The blood has covered it all!”

Others may not forgive.  God forgives fully.  Accept it.  There is no God but God, and no forgiveness like God’s forgiveness.