This verse speaks about those who repent. It tells us that any sin, no matter how major, is expiated by sincere and proper repentance.
There are conditions for repentance to be sincere and proper. The first of these is that the penitent person desists from the sinful act. The second is that he feels deep and genuine regret for having committed the sin. The third is that he resolves in his heart never to return to the sin again. Finally, if the sin caused a transgression against the rights of another person, he needs to do his best to make amends.
When Allah sees this sincere repentance from one of His servants – a servant who truly turns to his Lord in fear and hope – He not only forgives the sin, but replaces those sins for good deeds to the servant’s credit. This is from Allah’s infinite grace and munificence.
Allah says: “Unless he repents, believes, and works righteous deeds, for Allah will change the evil of such persons into good, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful,” [Sûrah al-Furqân: 70]
Allah says this right after mentioning the sins of polytheism, murder, and adultery. However, this blessing is only for one who have faith, whose repentance is sincere, and who strives to work righteous deeds.
Allah’s generosity is so far-reaching, that we are not only forgiven through our specific repentance for each sin that we commit, but we can attain forgiveness simply through our constant appeals Allah to forgive us.
Another way that we attain Allah’s forgiveness is through the performance of good deeds. Allah says: “Establish worship at the two ends of the day and in some watches of the night. Lo! Good deeds annul evil deeds. This is reminder for the mindful.” [Sûrah Hûd: 114]
Some scholars are of the view that his verse is only speaking about the forgiveness of minor sins, and that major sins need specific repentance. They cite the following verse in support of this interpretation:
Allah says “If you shun the most heinous sins which you are forbidden, We will do away with your small sins and admit you to a gate of great honor.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 31]
They also cite a number of hadîth, including the hadîth related by `Uthman that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Any Muslim who offers the prescribed prayer, doing justice to its motions and to the humility that it requires, it will expiate for the sins that preceded it, as long as the person did not commit a major sin.” [Sahîh Muslim]
However, Ibn Taymiyah and a number of other scholars consider the verse “Good deeds annul evil deeds” to be general in meaning. It applies to all sins, major and minor. Even if a person’s good deeds do not expiate for the sin directly, there can be no doubt that those good deeds weigh in the balance of deeds on the Day of Judgment in a person’s favor. Whoever has his good days outweigh his evil deeds on that Day will attain salvation.
Allah says: “The balance that day will be true: those whose scale (of good) will be heavy will prosper, and as for those whose measure (of good deeds) is light, their souls will be in perdition, for that they wrongfully treated Our signs.” [Sûrah al-A`râf: 8-9]
Ibn Mas`ûd said: “People will be take into account on the Day of Judgment. Whoever has a single sin to his account more than his good deeds will enter the Fire. Whoever has a single good deed to his account greater than his sinful deeds will enter Paradise.”
Then Ibn Mas`ûd recited Allah’s words: “…those whose scale (of good) will be heavy, will prosper”.
Then he said: “Indeed, the balance will weigh an atom’s weight one way or another.”
Allah also forgives us our sins through the difficulties that we face in life. When we are stricken with illness or suffer from circumstances, we will earn forgiveness if we bear them patiently seeking Allah’s reward.
Allah forgives our sins on account of the supplications that others make to Allah asking for our forgiveness, including our funeral prayers. We earn forgiveness through the charity we gave in our lives that continue to provide benefit to others after our deaths. We earn forgiveness if we have pious children who beseech Allah on our behalf.
A Muslim’s sins are likewise forgiven through the punishment he may receive in the grave. Those sins are also forgiven by the intercession that the Prophet (peace be upon him) will make on that day, and then by the intercession those who are granted intercession. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “My intercession is for those who committed major sins from among my followers.”
Above and beyond all of this is the mercy of the Most-Merciful Lord who pardons on that Day all sins as He pleases, as long as the person meets Him worshipping Him alone without ascribing to Him any partner.