The modern use of the term “clean slate” originated with John Locke in the 17th century, who asserted in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding that human beings are born with a mind that contains no innate ideas and no built in paradigm for processing information. In much Christian parlance, the term is used to describe what God does when a sinner comes to Him confessing his sins. He takes the sin-stained slate of his life and wipes it clean. In 1 John 1.9, the Spirit through John says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God wipes the slate of our lives clean when we confess our sins.
The good news of the gospel is, that God does not do anything of the sort. The notion of God wiping the slate clean likely originated as an illustration to help people envision how God forgives an individual’s sins. It is easy to imagine God erasing a slate, because we have all sat in classrooms and watched the teacher methodically erase the chalkboard. What was once a marked-up mess becomes pristine. What a wonderful illustration of God’s act of forgiveness, it is often thought and subsequently taught.
Not so. Psalm 130.1-4 says,
“Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD;
Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications.
If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But [there is] forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.”
This psalm explains how God forgives the sins of the person who cries out to Him in contrition. Clearly, verse 3 states that God does not “mark iniquities,” in other words, there is no slate on which to record sins. He has thrown the slate away.
Colossians 2.13-14 says, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” To understand this, it is essential to grasp the fact that the handwriting of requirements that was against us (a.k.a. the slate) has been taken out of the way by being nailed to the cross. Again, just as Psalm 130 states–there is no slate. It has been nailed to the cross, thrown away.
Christ’s work of atoning for sin is finished. His having sat down at the right hand of God is an affirmation of His finished work, once and for all. Hebrews 1.3 says, “[Christ] who being the brightness of [His] glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 10.12 says, “but this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.” Thus, the completed work of Christ’s once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice, His victorious sitting down at the right hand of God, His declaration of having finished the work God sent Him to do (John 19.30)–all demonstrate to us that God does not clean a messy slate when He forgives sins. Even a clean slate can be made messy again. No. God has thrown the slate away. It has been nailed to the cross. It has no power over those who have trusted in Christ alone.
This is the good news of the gospel. Confess your sins to Christ if you have never done so. Trust in His atoning work that was done once and for all on your behalf. Then, rest in the peace that comes from the knowledge that God keeps no record of wrongs. You are totally forgiven of all your sins when Christ is your trust, and Christ alone.