Five Characteristics of Genuinely Forgiven Sinners

by J. C. Ryle

Too many persons presume they are forgiven, who have no evidences to show. Not a few cannot think it possible they are forgiven, who are plainly in the way to heaven, though they may not see it themselves. I would fain raise hope in some, and self-inquiry in others; and to do this let me tell you the leading marks of a forgiven soul.

1.) Forgiven souls hate sin. They can enter most fully into the words of our Communion Service, “the remembrance of sin is grievous unto them, and the burden of it is intolerable.” It is the serpent which bit them: how should they not shrink from it with horror? It is the poison which brought them to the brink of eternal death: how should they not loathe it with a godly disgust? It is the Egyptian enemy which kept them in hard bondage: how should not the very memory of it be bitter to their hearts? It is the disease of which they carry the marks and scars about them, and from which they scarcely recovered: well may they dread it, flee from it, and long to be delivered altogether from its power. Remember how the woman in Simon’s house wept over the feet of Jesus (Luke vii. 38.) Remember how the Ephesians publicly burned their wicked books. (Acts xix. 19.) Remember how Paul mourned over his youthful transgressions, “I am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Cor. xv. 9.) Ah! brethren, if you and sin are friends, you and God are not yet reconciled. You are not meet for heaven, for one main part of heaven’s excellence is the absence of all sin.’

2.) Forgiven souls love Christ. This is that one thing they can say, if they dare say nothing else,—they do love Christ. His person, His office, His work, His name, His cross, His blood, His words, His example, His day, His ordinances, all, all are precious to forgiven souls. The ministry which exalts Him most, is that which they enjoy most. The books which are most full of Him, are most pleasant to their minds. The people on earth they feel most drawn to, are those in whom they see something of Christ. His name is as ointment poured forth, and comes with a peculiar sweetness to their ears. (Cant. i. 3.) They would tell you they cannot help feeling as they do. He is their Redeemer, their Shepherd, their Physician, their King, their strong deliverer, their gracious guide, their hope, their joy, their all. Were it not for Him they would be of all men most miserable. They would as soon consent that you should take the sun out of the sky, as Christ out of their religion. Ah! brethren, those people who talk of “the Lord,” and “the Almighty,” and “the Deity,” and so forth, but have not a word to say about Christ, are in any thing but a right state of mind. What saith the Scripture? “He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him.” (John v. 23.)’ “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.” (1 Cor. xvi. 22.)

3.) Forgiven souls are humble. They cannot forget that they owe all they have and hope for to free grace, and this keeps them lowly. They are brands plucked from the fire, —debtors who could not pay for themselves,—captives who must have remained in prison for ever, but for undeserved mercy,—wandering sheep who were ready to perish when the shepherd found them,—and what right then have they to be proud? I do not deny that there are proud saints. But this I do say, they are of all God’s creatures the most inconsistent,—and of all God’s children, the most likely to stumble and pierce themselves with many sorrows. Forgiveness more often produces the spirit of Jacob :—’I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast shewed unto thy servant ;” (Gen. xxxii. 10.) and of Hezekiah, “I shall go softly all my years ;” (Isaiah xxxviii. 15.) and of the apostle Paul, “I am less than the least of all saints,—chief of sinners” (Ephes. iii. 8 ;—1 Tim. i. 15.) Ah! brethren, when you and I have nothing we can call our own but sin and weakness, there is surely no garment that becomes us so well as humility.

4.) Forgiven souls are holy. Their chief desire is to please Him who has saved them, to do His will, to glorify Him in body and in spirit which are His. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits,” is a leading principle in a pardoned heart. It was the remembrance of Jesus showing mercy, that made Paul in labours so abundant, and in doing good so unwearied…Brethren, if you point out to me believers who are in a carnal, slothful state of soul, I reply in the words of Peter, “They have forgotten they were purged from their old sins.” (2 Pet. i. 9.) But if you show me a man deliberately living an unholy and licentious life, and yet boasting that his sins are forgiven, I answer he is under a ruinous delusion, and is not forgiven at all. I would not believe he is forgiven, if an angel from heaven affirmed it, and I charge you not to believe it too. Pardon of sin and love of sin are like oil and water, they will never go tcgether. All that are washed in the blood of Christ, are also sanctified by the Spirit of Christ.’

5.) Forgiven souls are forgiving. They do as they have been done by. They look over the offences of their brethren. They endeavour to walk in love, as Christ loved them, and gave Himself for them. They remember, how God for Christ’s sake forgave them, and endeavour to do the same toward their fellow creatures. Has He forgiven them pounds, and shall they not forgive a few pence? Doubtless in this, as in everything else they come short ;—but this is their desire and their aim. A spiteful, quarrelsome Christian is a scandal to his profession. It is very hard to believe that such an one has ever sat at the foot of the cross, has ever considered how he is praying against himself every time he uses the Lord’s prayer, and saying as it were, “Father, do not forgive me my trespasses at all.” But it is still harder to understand what such an one would do in heaven, if he got there. All ideas of heaven in which forgiveness has not a place, are castles in the air, and vain fancies. Forgiveness is the way by which every saved soul enters heaven. Forgiveness is the only title by which he remains in heaven. Forgiveness is the eternal subject of song with all the redeemed who inhabit heaven. Surely an unforgiving soul in heaven would find his heart completely out of tune. Surely we know nothing of Christ’s love to us but the name of it, if we do not love our brethren.

Brethren I lay these things before you. I know well these are great diversities in the degree of men’s attainments in grace, and that saving faith in Christ is consistent with many imperfections. But still I do believe, the marks I have just been naming, will generally be found more or less in all forgiven souls.

I cannot conceal from you, these marks should raise in many minds great searchings of heart. I must be plain. I fear there are thousands of persons called Christians, who know nothing of these marks. They are baptized. They keep their church. They would not on any account be reckoned infidels. But as to true repentance and saving faith, union with Christ and sanctification of the Spirit, they are names and words of which they know nothing at all.

– J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)
From Forgiveness (eBook)

By Topic


By Scripture

Old Testament









1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles








Song of Solomon


















New Testament







1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians





1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy





1 Peter

2 Peter

1 John

2 John

3 John



By Author

Latest Links