We Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins
Sunday, May 3, 2009 -
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen”
Today we are studying that wonderful phrase of the Apostle’s Creed, “We believe in the forgiveness of sins.” And it’s significant that this phrase is located exactly where it is in the creed. It follows fast on the heels of the recognition of the church and the communion of the saints. But there would be no church, and no communion of any saints whatsoever, were it not for the forgiveness of sinners the likes of you and me. When God by His Spirit forms the church, when He displays His life in His saints, the only pool He has from which to draw is the one filled with sinners. The church is birthed by God’s forgiveness. Everything begins, and everything is maintained by the gracious forgiveness of sins. Otherwise, God would have to fill up His church with angels.
It’s a terrible thing to get used to God’s forgiveness. You end up growing calloused and indifferent to God’s grace - the very thing that gives you life. You end up like the older brother in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. You begin to soak up all the blessings of living under the Father’s roof, maintained by His provision, having the blessed opportunity of His presence and counsel and guidance in the place of His very dwelling, but noticing and appreciating none of it. You don’t have to wander off to the far country to pollute the transforming power and wonder of grace.
The Apostle Peter reminded the church about the disease of the prodigal’s older brother: 2 Peter 1:9 - “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” Forgetting forgiveness is more than spiritual impoliteness - like using the wrong fork or spoon at dinner. Forgetting forgiveness brings blindness - spiritual glaucoma.
Forgiveness isn’t an intellectual process. It’s a life changing, heart cleaning experience. The creed checks the internal genuineness of what you are calling your Christian life. How deep is it? Is it real? Will it hold you up? (You can say, “Yes, I have a parachute” when you jump out of the airplane, but if it doesn’t open, how is it better than no parachute at all?) Are you maintaining your faith in good, strong, working condition?
What do we mean when we say, “We believe in the forgiveness of sins”? We will cover four points in the next few weeks. Just one today.
1) ALL SIN MUST BE SEEN AS SIN AGAINST GOD - Exactly what kind of problem does sin create? Why must it be forgiven? Why do I have to care about sin? This is the starting place for developing an appreciation for genuine forgiveness. There is a kind of sinfulness that everyone believes in, including non-Christians. There is another kind of sinfulness that very few people think about, including many Christians.
a) The more commonly understood form of sinfulness is sinful actions that hurt other people. Stealing another person’s property, cruelty to another person, causing pain to his or her physical body or reputation through violence or discrimination - these are almost universally recognized as wrong or sinful actions. This doesn’t mean we all stop doing these things. But at least people who are in good mental health recognize that these actions are wrong and need to be apologized for and made right.
b) The less commonly recognized form of sinfulness is sinful actions against God alone, whether or not any other person is involved or hurt in my commitment of that sin.
While not denying the seriousness of sinful actions against other people, the Scriptures treat sins against God as the primary root and cause of all other forms and wickedness and human misery. In other words, before sin is sin against anyone else, even if another person is harmed in the process (as in the case of David and Bathsheba), sin is first of all against God. This is where sin acquires its primary guilt: Psalm 51:4 - “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”
Our world has worked hard to blot out this understanding of sin. It has worked hard to take God out of the picture when defining sin. Hence, what two consenting adults do together is up to them. As long as they agree, no one has been hurt. Their freedom is intact. And when pornographic material is pumped into homes via television the networks feel they have washed their hands as long as they can cleverly say, “If you don’t want to watch it, turn it off.” The assumption behind those words is as long as no young viewers are hurt, no actual damage is being done. It never enters anyone’s mind that God is grieved by the mere production of such material - that such material breaks God’s laws of holiness and purity. God is taken out of the picture.
As long as no one is violated or hurt, as long as no crime is being committed, we are left being only accountable to each other because we can only wrong each other. Our world doesn’t actually deny sin. Sin is simply defined solely in terms of how our actions affect other people. If people aren’t wronged, sin isn’t committed.
Enter God’s Word. The Bible begins its definition of sin with the fact our world ignores. First and foremost, sin, in the Scriptures, is defined as being against God. Not against anyone else - just against God. Right in the first chapters of Genesis we have the sin of Eve and then Adam. They ignored the express command of God and ate forbidden fruit. No one else was involved in their disobedience. No one was forced or coerced into eating. There were no chains or whips or gags.
But the Bible clearly says they sinned. And we use a very telling phrase to describe the nature of their sin. We call their sin “original sin.” That’s an important term. It doesn’t just mean first sin. It doesn’t just mean this sin was the first in the sequence of sins. And it doesn’t even mean this was the worst sin ever committed.
When we call this sin in the garden of Eden “original sin” we mean that this is where all other sin has its roots. This is the genesis of sin. All the other sins marring our world and ruining our marriages and polluting the morals of our children and discriminating against people of different races and keeping people locking up their doors at night - all of those sins have their root - spring from - the primal sin of ignoring the law of God.
In other words, first sin is against God. Then it is against the people next door and down the street. All other sins against one another come from - grow out of - sin against God Almighty.
This is all very important and practical. You can’t be right with others until you are right with God. This understanding marks the huge chasm between the renewed Biblical mind and the secular mind. Our world thinks of sin and forgiveness in terms of their social value (Our world needs to be a safe and peaceful place to exist) or their therapeutic value (It is wrong and damaging to hold a bad self-image. You will be more at peace with yourself and more fulfilled if you learn to forgive yourself).
Whatever truth there may be in these points, they are not any where near the emphasis of the Bible. The Bible sees the damage of sin in terms of the relationship with God resulting in eternal damnation for the sinner, and the blessing of forgiveness in terms of the restoration of that relationship with God and eternal reward in heaven.