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10th February 2002
THE PROMISE OF DIVINE FORGIVENESS
The journalists, commentators on TV and radio, and writers in the newsmagazines had to reach into memory to find words to describe September 11th 2001. The wilful destruction of the World Trade Centre and of the intent of terrorism left them struggling for correct terminology. We had got rid of old terms like sin, evil, wrongdoing, wickedness, badness substituting them with innocuous words that are non-judgemental. Hence, they had no words to describe such terrible evil.
Earlier, the famous American Psychiatrist, Dr Karl Menninger warned of this in a book entitled: "Whatever Happened to Sin". He calls a smug and sophisticated generation to a new awareness of sin. For too long we have blamed our troubles upon our heredity, our environment and our genes. We have blamed our lack of education, our social environment and our psychological ills. Now the great psychiatrist says: "But there is immorality. There is unethical behaviour. There is wrongdoing. There is usefulness in retaining the concept of SIN." In our sophistication we scoffed at sin as a cause, so we were left with symptoms without a cure. Jesus Christ came to remove sin, and with it, its symptoms. The alienation, the lostness, the inner turmoil, the outer conflict - all can be removed by Jesus Christ who puts us right with ourselves, others, the universe and God. A consequence of modern theology is that some denominations also have lost the concept of sin and forgiveness. One denomination recently produced a 14 page book to guide ministers behaviour. Now when ministers violate moral standards in the most gross way, they are only violating their personal ethics.
There is no mention of the words "sin", "guilt", or "immorality", no requirement for "repentance" and consequently no mention of "forgiveness". There is no separation of sinners from believers, no public condemnation of their behaviour, and everything is done with secrecy. These churches have learned little from the Roman Catholic turmoil over paedophile priests and the Anglican Church's cover-up of teachers guilty of sexual assault. But can we have Biblical theology when sin, guilt, repentance and forgiveness are dropped from the church's vocabulary? Without repentance, there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness there are lasting consequences. In the deepest sense, nothing is more important than to find and to offer forgiveness.
1. WE ALL NEED FORGIVENESS
Sin and guilt distort human personality. We pay the price. We try to get rid of our guilt. We suppress, deny, and even pretend that it does not exist, but there will come a time when the guilt of the hidden sin festers and comes forth in a worse condition. The psychiatrist, Paul Tournier, said, "There is nothing on this earth that is worse than a guilty conscience, and more pain has been brought about by a guilty conscience than by anything else." Some rationalize their guilt: "Doesn't everybody do it?" "I shouldn't worry about it, it's just human nature." "I'm not as bad as others." Those who try to rationalize their guilt hurt themselves emotionally, psychologically, mentally and spiritually. Guilt pays its wages. Scripture declares, "Sin pays its wages - death." Romans 6:23 That is the ultimate cost of guilt. That death is spiritual and eternal. But it also may be physical and temporal. That's why forgiveness is vital!
Others try to relieve their guilt by escaping in over-busyness, filling their lives with frantic activity, using good works to cover up the way they feel, throwing themselves into charitable exercises to rid themselves of guilt. Or they may use illness as an escape. Or they try to hide in a bottle of pills or alcohol! We try to escape guilt, but when we wake in the morning, our guilt is still there. We learn from long personal experience there is only one way: we must repent! We must repent of our sins if we are to be forgiven and be released from our guilt. We must believe, repent, and confess to God, and receive His forgiveness. Romans 3:21-24; 1 John 1:8-9
2. GOD IS WILLING TO FORGIVE
God is willing to forgive and through the death of His Son He does forgive you, whatever you have done. "Forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties, but to God it is the profoundest of problems." P.C.Simpson. How can a righteous God forgive? In the Old Testament, forgiveness is associated with a covenant God made when He entered into a relationship with His people - they would be His, and He would forgive them their sins. God laid down certain laws and through obedience to those laws He would forgive. Sacrifices could be made for the cleansing of sin. On the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the High Priest would choose a live goat, put both hands on the goat's head and there confess all the evil of the people of Israel. Symbolically, the sins were transferred to the goat that would then be driven into the wilderness. This was a picture of how their sins were carried away. Leviticus 16:20-22 There were other ways of showing how God took their sins away and important it was for the people to find forgiveness.
One was by the offering of animals, killed and burnt on the altar. This emphasised the cost of forgiveness. "The life of every living thing is in the blood, and that is why the Lord commanded that all blood be poured out on the altar to take away the people's sins. Blood, which is life, takes away sins." Leviticus 17:11 In the New Testament, Jesus is presented as our sacrifice. John the Baptist said of Him, "There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29 Our sins are laid on Him. Yet the sacrifices of the Old Covenant were not sufficient to cleanse the world of its sin and gain forgiveness for all. A Suffering Servant was needed to take away sin from the world. Isaiah said: "Because of our sins He was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment He suffered, made whole by the blows He received. All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on Him, the punishment all of us deserved." Isaiah 53:3-6
God's forgiveness is made through His Son, the Suffering Servant, who died that our sins might be forgiven. "He died that we might be forgiven, He died to make us good. That we might go at last to heaven, Saved by His precious blood." (Mrs C.F. Alexander) Throughout His earthly life Jesus taught that forgiveness was available. He taught us to pray, "Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us." Matthew 6:12 He came preaching: "The right time has come and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the good news!" Mark 1:15 God in His love gave Christ to be the propitiation, the expiation, of sin, to take our sins away on the Cross.
Paul wrote to the church at Colossae: "You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins." Colossians 2:13 Because God has forgiven us, we have to forgive those who hurt us. Jesus said, "If you forgive others the wrong they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you." This is the third promise of Jesus: forgive and you will be forgiven. But there is another side to that promise. "If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs that you have done." Matthew 6:14,15 You may say, "But it is hard to forgive those who have wronged us."
I heard Corrie ten Boom, that courageous Dutch woman who hid Jews from the Nazis. They were caught. Corrie, her sister Betsie, their father, two other children, and a grandchild were sent to a concentration camp. They were worked to the point of death, starved and beaten. They all died except Corrie. Millions went to the gas chambers. When the war ended Corrie had survived. "Now, with the help of God, I must preach His message of love." She nursed Jews back to health. She preached: "We must forgive these people who have done this to us. God has promised that if we forgive others, He will forgive us. We must forgive others." Then, "One night I was preaching in a Dutch town about this message of forgiveness, I said Matthew 6:14 'if we forgive others who have sinned against us, God will forgive us our sins." I asked if anyone wanted forgiveness, to come to the front. As the crowd came I saw a man wearing a brown hat and a full-length raincoat. The last time I saw him he was in a black Nazi uniform.
He had a thick riding crop. Betsie and I had to go naked before his eyes and he slapped us with his riding crop. I can never forget his face. He was one of the guards at Ravensbruck! He came forward and put out his hand to me. I fumbled so as not to touch him. He said, "Sister, you may not remember me. I was a guard at Ravensbruck, but I have become a Christian and I have been praying to God to forgive me my sins. But, my sister, I need your forgiveness also." I thought, "Betsie, Betsie! How can I forgive because of what he did to Betsie! I thought there was no way I could forgive him. But then I remembered the Scripture, 'If you do not forgive, neither can I forgive you.' I prayed, "God, give me power," and wooden like, I put out my hand to touch his, and I realized that God in Christ had forgiven us both, so I threw my arms around him and hugged him! Our forgiveness made whole by God's grace."
If you have a hurt, resentful and festering, there can be no health, no healing, and no salvation until you have sought forgiveness from God and have forgiven those who have hurt you. Forgiveness, unless given, cannot be received. God promises to forgive us, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Nothing that you have ever done, or had done to you, is too great for your Father's power to forgive. What does this forgiveness do for us?
3. The Meaning of Forgiveness
Forgiveness reconciles us with God. The alienation, due to sin, has ended. When God forgives He hits the delete button that clears your file of whatever is recorded. God forgives and forgets our sins.
"God has shown us how much He loves us - it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! By His death we are now put right with God." Romans 5:6-9
Forgiveness removes our guilt. God not only accepts us and brings us back to Himself, He also removes our guilt.
Forgiveness renews our health. Psychiatrists point out that much ill health is caused by emotional, mental, and psychological problems. Resentment, anger, bitterness, hatred, lust, jealousy, fear, guilt - its wages is in our ill health. When we confess and are forgiven we often find health is restored. Jesus the Great Physician, says, "your sins are forgiven. Rise and walk." He makes us whole.
Forgiveness reunites us with others. If you have hurt another or been hurt by another, Jesus demands we seek to make restitution, and contact those who have hurt us. A Christian is to love others. "Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ." Ephesians 4:32
Forgiveness restores our peace. Any one who bears the burden of guilt pays a price. There is no easy sleep for the troubled conscience. When we are forgiven, there is peace, serenity, and calm. "Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1
What is there left for you to do? Two things: First, seek God's forgiveness for yourself. Second, make every endeavour to forgive others. If you do that, there is the promise of your heavenly Father that He will forgive you. It is a great promise of Jesus: the promise of divine forgiveness!
Dr Karl Menninger "Whatever Happened to Sin".
Simpson, P, C., The Fact of Christ, p. 162.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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