Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God (Jon Fryer)
We are often told in church that SIN IS SIN IS SIN, and that all sins are the same in the eyes of God, and that for even the smallest sin we deserve to go to Hell. I want to point out a bigger fact than that: FORGIVEN IS FORGIVEN IS FORGIVEN. Through Jesus' death on the cross we are made perfect. To put it into Bible verses: 'All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God...' (Rom 3;23). I'm sure everyone can quote that from memory. There is something wrong with our emphasis if we can't quote the verse that follows it that says '...and all are justified (Forgiven!) freely by His grace through the redemption (Forgiveness!) that comes through Jesus Christ' (Rom 3;24). If we have Jesus' forgiveness then we are perfect because 'I am a new creation; the old has gone the new has come!' (2 Cor 5;17), and that new person has never sinned, and indeed can never sin, because he is a spiritual persona that we shall be transformed into in Heaven, and it is not ruined by this world as our current bodies are
(1 Cor 15;42-44).
The Bible describes how this new, perfect person looks to God - 'Who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession?' (Songs 6;10). The answer is the Bride of Christ, Ecclesia, the Church, US! We are beautiful in God's sight 'cos Jesus' death has made us that way, and we will now be that way forever - 'By one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made Holy' (Heb 10;14). Like Joshua in Zech 3;1-5 we have been given clean clothes that cannot be stained.
Let’s backtrack a bit to make something perfectly clear - Man can never be perfect on his own, it is a gift of Jesus. Paul calls this 'of the first importance: that Christ died for our sins' (1 Cor 15;5), so let’s make clear that this is part of God's love and nothing sinful man could do could ever make him good enough to deserve even to live (Rom 3;9-19), but even so 'God does not take away life, but instead finds ways so that a banished person does not remain expelled from Him' (2 Sam 14;14), and the greatest of these ways was Jesus' death on the cross in our place. It is only God who can make holy and perfect (Lev 21;8).
Such forgiveness and perfection and generally amazing grace is only possible through God's absolutely HUGE love. Imagine an ocean so big it has no sides and no bottom. Imagine dropping a grain of sand into it. Nothing changes. - The ocean is God's love. The grain of sand is all the vile, horrible things you have done and could ever do - and they change NOTHING. Nothing we can ever possibly do can stop God from loving us, and therefore forgiving us (Rom 8;35-39).
God asks in the Bible 'Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Even though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have carved you into the palms of my hands (Quite literally, on the cross)' (Isai 49;15-16). God can not turn away from us because we have become his children, through Jesus, His son, our brother (Rom 8;15-17).
God's love is so huge that it forms the only part of His character, for 'God is Love' (1 John 4;8) and everything He ever does can ultimately be traced back to that fact. This is also stressed in the Old Testament - 'The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin' (Ex 34;6-7).
The nuances of the original Hebrew don’t come out in our English translations, but are even more amazing… 'The LORD our God, who shows a mothers love and understanding and forgiveness to His children for absolutely no reason, slow to become angry for He wishes all to have a chance to repent and be saved, continually overflowing with vast waterfalls of unchanging unbreakable love, and showing that immense love and forgiveness over and over again to all who call upon His Name, and personally bearing and paying for man's natural wickedness, for his deliberate turning away from God, and for his accidental breakings of God's law of love through his own weakness.' (!!!).
Although I said in section 1 that this new spirit can not sin, that is not to say that our earthly bodies and brains can not sin – far from it, 'cos even St. Paul had this problem (Rom 7;12-25). What I am trying to say however is that such sin is not counted against us by God, because of Jesus' death - Rom 8;1-2 and 9-11. God bears with such sin because He has already borne it away to the cross. It has already been paid for by someone else, so it is not charged to our spiritual bank account! The bill will not come due at the end of time like some eternal credit card invoice! God does not keep score! (He doesn't need to, He's already won!).
Therefore, if we have fallen into sin and need to ask God for forgiveness, one thing we should not be thinking is 'Oh no, how can God possibly forgive me for that?' because He already has! 'Will God forgive me or not?' is a stupid question that a Christian should never have to ask, because 'He has already forgiven me!', at the instant I became one of His sons, that forgiveness being paid for two thousand years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem (not to mention before the foundation of the world itself - Rev 13;8!).
Thinking that God can not forgive a sin because it is too big is a satanic lie dangerously close to blasphemy - God is big enough to forgive anything to one who truly repents! 'It is for freedom (and not guilt!) that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery (to guilt and sin)' (Gal 5;1).
Sinners Jesus will receive:
Tell this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall;
This can bring them back again:
'Christ receiveth sinful men!'
Repentance is NOT saying long prayers of how sorry we are however. I can go on for hours about how sorry I am and not mean a single word of it. Nor is it promising 'never to do it again', which is usually pointless 'cos both God and I know that I have little control over my own mind, body or tongue. Repentance is simply to turn away in heart from the sin (Ezek 18;21-23 and 30-32) and to accept the fact that only Jesus can do anything about it. Our desire to say long prayers comes from a subconscious belief that we can convince God that we are genuine if we only talk long and fast enough and perhaps we can even deserve to be forgiven if we only grovel enough. Yet another dangerous lie, for it detracts from Jesus' love and amazing grace. Forgiveness is a free gift given by Jesus' as He pleases, and we can do nothing to deserve it, nothing what so ever.
I am not saying that we don't need to say sorry however, but seeing as God can read our hearts anyway we should keep it short and honest and then get to the stuff God prefers to hear - Us telling Him how wonderful He is, how grateful we are for such amazing love, and even requests for what we would like from him - for God, being our Father, loves to give us presents (including forgiveness itself!). When Jesus says to simply 'Ask, and it shall be given unto you', that includes the gift of forgiveness! To God it really is more blessed to give than to receive, and so He loves to give us gifts both great (like forgiveness!) and small (like anything else!), whenever we ask, as often as we ask! (Matt 7;7-11).
Looking at the Parable of the Lost Son we see this principle of brevity when repenting in action (Luke 15;11-24). The son does not even get a chance to say sorry at first, for 'while he was still a long way off his father (God!) saw him (Us!) and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to him, threw his arms around him and kissed him.' Indeed, when he does get to recite the speech he rehearsed in vs.18-19, he gets cut off before he can finish (vs.21-24)! The son’s return, his turning away from his sin and coming home, was sign enough of his being sorry, and his words are not necessary - the father ignores them and calls for clean robes for his son!
The earthly father in the story simply ignores his son's sin and covers over his blemishes, but our heavenly Father goes one better; our sin is paid for and totally separated from us, making us not just appear to be perfect, but literally making us perfect - 'He does not treat us as our sins deserve.., as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sin from us' (Psa 103;10-13). In an infinite universe the distance between east and west is so far away that we will never ever see our sin again, and more importantly, neither will God! Our sin is forgiven and forgotten.
God has quite literally forgotten - 'I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more' (Jer 31;34). This is not because He is some absent minded old duffer, but a deliberate choice on God's part, another undeserved mercy - Isai 43;25 says 'I am He who blots out (literally, 'does not count against, erases, takes away') your transgressions, for Mine Own sake, and remembers your sins no more', and Jesus is the tippex He uses!
If God does not remember, then there can be no 'again' involved with sin - If we come to God thinking 'Oh no, this is the fiftieth time I've done this, how can He possibly forgive me again?', then Satan is again planting doubts. If God doesn't remember sins one through forty-nine, then sin fifty is only the first time He has had to forgive it, and being such an amazingly merciful God, why won't He forgive you just this once?! As long as each time there is honest repentance then each time and every time God will forgive, through Jesus, even up to seventy times seven times and beyond (Matt 18;21-22).
Again, if God does not remember sin, then that annoying little voice inside your head that says 'How can you take communion when you did this yesterday? How can you ask God for that when you said this last night?' can not be from God. It is Satan who accuses in such a way, to try and paralyse our walk with God. 'Satan' simply means 'The Accuser' in Hebrew. Our answer should be the sentiment expressed in Rom 8;33: 'Who can bring any accusation against God's chosen, when it is God who justifies?' Remember, the worst of sinners can still be the best of saints. (See also John 8;10-11).
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress,
Amidst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in Thy great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
This 'forgetfulness' of God is related to His creative nature. When in Psa 104;2, for example, it says 'He stretches out the heavens' it is not just looking back at Genesis. The phrase is in a continuing present tense implying that if God stopped his creative power even for an instant the whole universe would snap back into chaos. A similar thing is true of God's re-creative power that brings about redemption - It is continuous! God hands us each moment of every minute saying 'Begin again with a clean slate'. Our lives are like a pad of paper with infinite pages, and at every second of our Christian life the top sheet detailing our sin is again ripped off and burned leaving us with a clean page. At the same time our good deeds are on an eternal list that grows ever longer!
Rom 4;17 tells us that we have a God who 'calls things that are not as though they were'. When God says something, it happens and always becomes true! When Jesus says 'Be healed!' or 'Your faith has made you well' then it happens instantly, and with no possible argument. When God said 'Let there be light', then 'there was light', instantly and with no possible argument. Likewise, when God says 'Be Holy, for I am Holy' (Lev 19;2) then it happens instantly and with no possible argument, through Jesus' cleansing blood shed on the cross - which is why Jesus is called the Word, and the Truth. I say again we are a holy sacrifice set aside for God, holy in this case meaning perfect in every way!
This gift of holiness gives us a very special right. In Ex 19;5 God says 'You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation'. The word 'priest' here means something very special. In Biblical times the kings of great nations could not be approached without appointment, on pain of death. (Remember the Book of Esther?).
Of course, someone had to organise the appointments, so there was always one servant who had the right to enter the king's presence at any time. It is this servant that the word translated 'priest' here describes – we have the right to enter the presence of God at any time! Jesus made this possible, opening the doors and tearing open all the barriers with his death (Matt 27;51 and Psa 24;7-10). Jesus' death, the gift that makes us holy, answered the ultimate questions of the Old Testament - 'Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God?' (1 Sam 6;20); 'How can a man be innocent before God?' (Job 9;2).
The New Testament answers this over and over - Jesus is able 'to present you before His glorious Presence without fault and with great joy' (Jude 1;24). 'We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus' (Heb 10;19-22). By Jesus' grace we are at peace with God (Rom 5;1-2) and can stand perfect, washed clean in blood before the throne of grace. The only difference between the Throne of Judgement and the Throne of Grace is the fact that the Throne of Grace has a cross standing in front of it. When God looks down on us he sees only Jesus, thus we are perfect in His sight.
If guilt or doubt as to 'How can God possibly love someone like me?' is stopping us from living an effective Christian life, from praying, or taking communion, or receiving God's blessings and gifts, then Satan is lying to us and probably laughing himself silly. Although we are only clean through Jesus' gracious gift, that gift gives us the right to approach God, and Satan does everything he can to stop us realising that. We have however this certain knowledge of love and forgiveness 'in order that Satan might not outwit us, for we are not unaware of his schemes' (2 Cor 2;11). We are certain, for 'we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need' (Heb 4;15-16). In this case, if we say 'Oh no, I can't take communion 'cos I'm not right with God' then Satan is lying to us with the biggest lie in history - If we are Christians then we can not get any more right with God! We're perfect! Being right with God is a gift that we don't deserve, but we've got it anyway and we can't lose it again. What did we do to earn Salvation in the first place? Nothing! We can't get right with God ever, but even so, because of Jesus, we are right with God, forever. Period.
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands,
My name is graven on his heart;
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me!
In fact, we have an even bigger right because of Christ's death. Since we are God's children (Rom 8;15-16), we can run right up to the throne of the Father, climb into his lap, and say 'Abba; Papa; Daddy'. Only when we are in that special relationship does God's voice of stillness cut through the earthquake, wind and fire of this world to our hearts, speaking words of such love and waiting and longing for us to stay there in intimacy with God that human words can not even come close to expressing such love. He says 'I know you, I will never leave you, I will never turn away from you, I will never cast you out, I will never let you go, I will never condemn and always forgive. I will always hold you, I will always carry you, I will always accept you, I will always shield you, I will always be here with you. I am the I AM, and my words are true, and they are eternal. They can not be changed, for I am yours and you are mine, now and always...'
In the face of such love the only unforgivable sin is not to accept the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. Nothing else can make any difference.
In all this I am of course not saying that sin is O.K., or that we should 'go on sinning, so that grace may increase'. 'By no means!, as St. Paul puts it (Rom 6;1-14). By no means should God's amazing grace and mercy and love be mocked. Instead we should 'continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling' (Phil 2;12). We should all be striving to live the most perfect lives we can. What I am saying is that when we inevitably fail, being weak and human, then that failure and guilt should not paralyse our Christian life, because God deals with it. If God has forgiven us then we should forgive ourselves and each other and get on with whatever God has waiting for us to do next, for 'I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation' (2 Cor 6;2). To loosely paraphrase St. Augustine, here is a quick test to see if God has anything else he wants you to do in your life - If you are still breathing, He hasn’t finished yet!
When I say we should forgive ourselves, there is a very good reason for this: We are told to 'Love your neighbour as yourself' (Matt 22;39), and there can be no love without forgiveness. If we don't forgive ourselves then we don't love ourselves very much. If we don’t love ourselves then we don't love our neighbours very much either. Jesus' words tell us we should love ourselves just as much as we love our neighbours!
Christianity is all about experiencing God's love, and so, as Psa 34;8 says, 'Taste and see that the Lord is good', or rather, as the version of the Hebrew I use puts it, 'Taste and drink deeply for the Lord IS good!'.
'And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God' (Eph 3;17-19).
What was Jesus like?
The Character of God
How do we know what God is like?
The Authority of Scripture
How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?
The Wise Mans Tragedy
What can we learn from Solomon?
What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
What can we learn from the first murderer?
Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
How do we look for God?
Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
What is the period of Lent all about?
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
What does it mean to say "God is with us"?
What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?
The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
Do you really want to follow him?
How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?
Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?
Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?
Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed