Small Group Tools
Contemporary Comments 2010
Scripture: Roman 3:19-28.
According to Wikipedia, a pardon is defined as “the forgiveness of a crime and the penalty associated with it. It is granted by a head of state, such as a monarch or president, or by a competent church authority.” 1 This definition doesn’t imply that a person didn’t commit a crime and is innocent. Nor does it state that a person shouldn’t have paid the penalty. But it does say that all-important word: forgiveness.
Different countries have different rules surrounding their pardons. In America, the President of the United Sates has pardon power for federal crimes under the Constitution. If you wish to be pardoned, you must apply for it. Usually the Office of the Pardon Attorney (an official of the United States Department of Justice) refers the applications for review and recommendation. The Department of Justice recommends that a person wait five years after their conviction or release from prison before receiving a pardon. That person must also have demonstrated that he or she has led a responsible and productive life since their conviction or release from prison. All petitions are sent to the President, but not all applicants are granted their wish. The President has the power to grant or deny. Should he grant a pardon, with the acceptance must come an admission of guilt. So in reality, the convicted isn’t saying, “I’m innocent and deserve to be pardoned.” He or she is admitting, “I’m guilty and desire pardon.”
Presidential pardons date back to George Washington. On his final day in office, he granted the first high-profile pardon when he declared it for leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion. Many other pardons have also been controversial. Critics who have argued against a particular pardon usually do so on the basis that they believe it was more for the sake of political benefit—not to actually correct a judicial mistake. A famous pardon still talked about is that of President Richard Nixon by President Gerald Ford in 1974 for the Watergate Scandal. It wasn’t a popular decision by any means. Most Americans, feeling “had” by Nixon’s actions, disapproved. It sent Ford’s public-approval ratings spiraling downward. Other unpopular pardons included Jimmy Carter’s granting amnesty to Vietnam-era draft dodgers; George H. W. Bush’s pardons of 75 people which included six of Regan’s Administration who were accused or convicted in the Iran-Contra affair; and Bill Clinton’s pardon of 140 people in his last day of office, including billionaire fugitive Marc Rich.
Although receiving a presidential pardon does restore various rights of the formerly condemned, it does not erase or obliterate the record of the conviction. It’s still there as a reminder that the person disobeyed the law. Because of this, those pardoned must always disclose their conviction on any form which requires information about their past. Though they can state that they have indeed been pardoned, they must always divulge the offense. So in a sense, it’s never really gone. In addition most lose the right to vote and hold state public office—another reminder that they once disobeyed the law.
So pardons are not easy to come by. There are papers to be filled out, a review to go through before it even gets to the President, a five year wait, and an admission of guilt. And still, the record of the offense is kept—never to be erased.
Thankfully, as Christians, our pardon declared by God is much easier to obtain. Sure, we need to admit that we are guilty, because we are. But there is no review before we come to God—no five-year waiting period. And unlike a federal pardon, the answer is always “Yes!” when we repent and ask. And the best part? No record of our sins is kept! When we are pardoned, we are free from our past. God has forgotten, so we should let go of self-condemnation. And, unlike a federal pardon that limits what a former convict can participate in, we have full access to the same rites that all Christians have.
All of this is because of Jesus. As the memory text says, we are “justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). Although we obey God’s laws because we love God and know that they are actually for our good, we cannot possible keep them well enough to deserve Heaven. Jesus knew that, so He died in our place. We are justified by faith—faith in Him as our substitute. Faith in His pardon—a pardon we will never deserve and could never repay.