We Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins (Continued)
Sunday, May 10, 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”
Last week we looked at point one. Today we consider three more thoughts on forgiveness:
2) SIN AGAINST GOD MUST BE SERIOUSLY ACKNOWLEDGED BEFORE FORGIVENESS WILL BE CHERISHED
I can still remember reading Thomas Smail’s wonderful little book, “Windows On The Cross.” In it he described the jaded interest our world has in the subject of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ: “One of the things that makes it very hard for us to appreciate what the New Testament writers want to tell us about the death of Jesus on the cross is, to put it starkly, that they were worried about their sins and we are not.”
But why aren’t we interested in the cross and forgiveness? I think it has a great deal to do with the way we have defined sin. In the modern mind sin is more of a social inconvenience than an eternal horror. Sin is defined more in terms of our mental health, our internal stability, our rights and tastes and comfort than the eternal law of God.
This is why the Bible says “the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). Or again, Paul says “Apart from the law sin is dead” (Romans 7:8). The law Paul is talking about here is the law of God. If you don’t take the law of God seriously sin evaporates. Sin is a meaningless concept if it’s defined on any other terms than the character and law of God Almighty. No wonder our world doesn’t know up from down morally! Either sin is against God or it simply ceases to exist.
There is a very important point here. Because, in every other area of life, we have come to think of all our shortcomings and habits in terms of weakness or sickness rather than actual guilt, we have taken the same approach in our dealings with God. We all understand how wrong doing messes us up in our own personal self - robs us of peace and inner joy, destroys self-esteem, damages relationships with others, etc. And there is a strong tendency to think that this is all sin does. But it isn’t.
Certainly, sin does destroy the sinner’s life in so many ways, but the greatest damage sin does isn’t experienced in this present material, physical realm. Sin not only messes us up, it makes us guilty before God the Judge. So forgiveness isn’t merely therapeutic in terms of easing our minds or bringing us fulfillment. Forgiveness removes guilt - not just guilt feelings - but real guilt - the kind of guilt that requires punishment.
Wrong doing doesn’t evaporate before a holy God. Our sins don’t cease to exist just because we forget about them. We need forgiveness. In spite of all our great accomplishments in other areas, we can’t erase out own guilt before God.
3) CHURCHES CAN LOSE THEIR SENSE OF DEPENDENCY ON JESUS FOR ONGOING CLEANNESS AND FRESH FORGIVENESS - The most striking example of this in the Scriptures is contained in Christ’s message to the church at Laodicea: Revelation 3:15-17 - “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
It’s amazing that Christians can think of receiving Jesus’ forgiveness as though it were a one time fix, to be embraced at conversion, and then it just scotch guards their lives until Jesus comes again. Inevitably, this produces lukewarm Christians. I say “Christians” though there is nothing in the passage that would indicate Jesus assessed them as such. Does Jesus spit true Christians out of His mouth?
We need to be very careful here. When did Jesus last forgive you? When did you last ask Him to? How badly do you feel when you sin? How do you measure and define sin? What do you think sin does to your heart when you commit it this week? Those are questions serious followers of Jesus think about. This is not the same as living under condemnation. Condemnation is the result of thinking about your sin without ever coming to terms with the beauty and completeness of forgiveness. But the whole point here is you will never cherish forgiveness unless you seriously and consistently think deeply and repentantly about personal sin and the need to live close to the Cross of Jesus.
4) THE DEMANDS OF WALKING IN FORGIVENESS
As Christians, we would all like to think that we believe everything I’ve said in this message thus far. We would like to think that the creed spells out the truth of forgiveness in such clear terms and we accept those terms. We honor Jesus. We believe in the power of the Cross. We believe in the power of the blood of Jesus to keep us clean.
There. That should cover the subject of forgiveness. But it doesn’t. You can passionately acknowledge all of those things and go through life - go to church - and, one day, face the eternal judgement, with a heart as bound in darkness as sin can ever make it.
How does that happen? There are two things God has joined together that we consistently put asunder:
These two issues relate directly to the whole subject of forgiveness:
Matthew 6:14-15 - “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Question: When you think of keeping your heart clean what do you think of first? Receiving forgiveness? Or extending forgiveness? Of course, we do have to ask for forgiveness when we sin. We do have to confess and come clean and be honest and be humble and forsake that sin. But because Jesus knows that most of us will, almost by reflex, ask for grace when we sense our guilt, that’s not the part of forgiveness He repeats for emphasis. The part of the process He repeats isn’t the asking for forgiveness. It’s the extending of forgiveness to those who have truly and deeply and without excuse wronged us.
Let me quote a story once again from Tom Smail’s “Windows On The Cross”: “It is, I think, Bishop Lesslie Newbigin who tells of a visit to the Christian community in one of the villages of his former diocese in South India. The communion service he was leading for them proceeded normally until they reached the point where the members of the congregation were to exchange the cup with one another. When he invited them to do so, the liturgical action was rudely interrupted by protesting voices and fingers pointing to two men standing as far away as possible from each other.”
“‘There is no peace here’, people said, ‘because these two men have quarreled over the boundaries of their fields and are going to law against each other. There will be no peace among us till they are reconciled.’” “Whereupon the whole congregation left the church and went to the disputed boundaries, and, under the guidance of its leaders, heard the claims of the two antagonists, adjudicated a just settlement and a personal reconciliation between them, and only then returned to the church to share the communion that was followed by a reality and joy that can only come when the issues that divide people and lead to bad feelings between them have been honestly faced and effectively dealt with....Peace in our relationships depends on the action we take to remove the causes of division; forgiveness becomes real only when something happens that radically changes the attitude of the hostile parties to each other and, as far as possible, puts right the wrongs that have been inflicted and suffered by them.”