Expunged—what a word. I heard that word for the first time a couple of years ago. My teenage son and his friend tossed a water balloon at a car and got into a lot of trouble for it. No one was hurt and nothing was damaged. Two very energetic boys gave in to a foolish impulse and learned quite the life lesson as a result!
As we walked with Michael through the process of paying his fines and doing community service we learned about the concept of expungement—or wiping his record clean. Even though he had been arrested, fingerprinted, and appeared before a judge, the official record of this experience could, at some point in the future, disappear. Even though he paid several hundred dollars in fines and did 50 hours of community service, the lapse in judgment that got him into this mess could be forgotten. As if it never happened—gone! Two years after his arrest we could file the necessary paperwork, pay the required fees, and hope for the best. If the powers-that-be saw fit, they would expunge Michael’s records—not just the conviction, but the arrest records, too. All evidence of anything gone wrong would vanish.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “to expunge” as, “to blot out; to efface designedly; to obliterate; to strike out wholly.” Which is exactly what happened. We filled out the forms—in detail, multiple copies, with much assistance from legal minds who knew what they were doing. We paid the fees and filed all the papers in the proper places, with the appropriate people, who had the official required date stamps. And then we waited. And we waited. And, did I mention that we waited?
Oh, and there is one other important thing in this story. Michael is a “good kid.” Like I said, he was an energetic boy who had a momentary lapse in judgment and made a foolish mistake. A typical red-blooded American teenager. Never been in trouble before, a good church-going kid. I say all this because it matters. They don’t just give expungements out to anyone who wants them, files the necessary paperwork and pays the required fees. You have to be a good kid and keep your nose clean. Michael is, and he did. So, in the end, his record was expunged. A big manila envelope came in the mail one day, containing the official Order to Expunge, stamped FILED and signed by the judge. The envelope also contained the original citation and Arrest Card—complete with fingerprints and incident details. All identifying information for Michael had been blacked out completely. “Blotted out; effaced; obliterated.”
It feels a little like forgiveness—but not really. We all still remember the water balloon incident. I’ve got the papers right in front of me. Legally it’s gone. But it’s not quite forgotten.
The forgiveness God offers is different. God forgets our sin. He’s not looking at our paperwork and simply blacking out our names.
I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Isaiah 43:25
He remembers our sins no more! In other words, he forgets them. Another verse describes God’s forgiveness this way:
In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back. Isaiah 38:17b
If our sins are behind God’s back, that means he can’t even see them, right?
Here’s another difference. What do I have to do to know God’s forgiveness? Acknowledge who I am (a flawed human being who sins), acknowledge what I’ve done (sinned against the One true and holy God), and ask. Yes, just ask. No waiting period. No detailed paperwork. No fines to pay or hoops to jump through. God himself has already taken care of all the requirements on my behalf! I just have to ask and receive. God offers complete and total forgiveness. Not just a record that’s been wiped clean, but also a soul that’s been washed clean. Can you feel the difference? God does not just forgive what we have done, he changes who we are. He redefines our very identity from the convicted to the righteous, from the guilty to the justified, from the imprisoned to the redeemed.
Have you experienced the forgiveness of God? If not, why not? He’s waiting.
If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]. 1 John 1:9 AMP