Forgiveness

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We’ve all done things we’re ashamed of. We’re all sinners. When we become Christians, we experience God’s forgiveness and we in turn learn, sometimes with great difficulty, to forgive others for wrongs committed against us. Some of us have yet to learn how to forgive our selves. There isn’t a day that goes by that we aren’t all guilty of making the wrong choice, going to the wrong place, saying the wrong things, treating people the wrong way, and thinking the wrong thoughts. No matter what you call all those wrongs, whether they are acted out on purpose or committed by accident, they are most often sins. We sometimes hang our sins around neck like an albatross, and like David, those sins are always in front of us.

The Bible has a lot say about sin and forgiveness, and broadly speaking, it’s best to be honest before God, other people when necessary, and ourselves.  We ought to own up to our sins, ask for and accept forgiveness and move on, secure in the knowledge that God has dealt with our sins as only He can.

As hard as forgiveness—asking for it, accepting it, and even granting it—may be, it is God’s way. Let’s discover what the Bible says on this topic.

When forgiveness is not given, Exodus 10:16, 17

Then Pharaoh sent an urgent call for Moses and Aaron and said to them, “I confess my sin against Jehovah your God and against you. Forgive my sin only this once, and beg Jehovah your God to take away this deadly plague. I solemnly promise that I will let you go as soon as the locusts are gone.” (TLB)

Things were going from bad to worse for the Egyptians in the face of God’s judgment. Feeling the pressure of God’s heavy, heavy hand, Pharaoh summoned Moses so that Moses could go to his God and communicate Pharaoh’s admission of sin. The result, the Egyptian hoped, would be a stayed hand of judgment and relief.

On the surface, this confession appears to be genuine, but a careful reading of Pharaoh’s confession reveals that he wanted God to do things his way; he wanted the “upper hand.” God, who knows the heart of a man, knew what was really in Pharaoh’s mind.

Pharaoh’s “repentance” was one brought on by the fear and terror of his circumstances. It is true that God will allow a sinner to go through periods of trial and testing so that the sinner will be brought to his knees and call out to Him. But this was not the case with Pharaoh. God had allowed the Egyptian’s heart to become hardened; the man was bent on remaining in his sin, therefore God knew the confession was a “mile wide and an inch deep.”  This ruler of Egypt’s subsequent actions showed how little he understood “sin,” and “confession.” He certainly had no concept of what forgiveness requires. God’s dealing with Pharaoh prompts the question: Why would God grant forgiveness when the one asking for it has no intention of changing?

Now, God did grant relief to the people of Egypt, but it did Pharaoh did no good at all.

Forgiveness, for a limited time only! Isaiah 55:6, 7

Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call upon him now while he is near. Let men cast off their wicked deeds; let them banish from their minds the very thought of doing wrong! Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy upon them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon! (TLB)

When should a sinner repent? Right now! God’s time is always NOW. Right now is the moment of greatest opportunity; it may never come again. It could be said that these two verses are the best advice in the entire Bible. It’s not a thought we entertain often, if at all, but the fact remains, God will not always be available. He does not exist to honor the whims of sinful man. God is always concerned with the fate of the sinner, but there will come a time when the hinges on the door of salvation will swing shut, forever.

Now, that’s the plain interpretation of these verses. Adam Clarke, however, sees their meaning in a slightly different light. To him, God needs to be sought after because He may be found. He is near, so now is the time to call upon Him. The sinner needs to repent before his time is up.

Whatever your understanding of this most excellent advice is, essentially sinful man doesn’t have all the time on earth to get right with His God! Nobody is guaranteed a tomorrow. But the good news is that, anybody who seeks after God, turns to God, and repents of their sins, will definitely be forgiven. Of that, there is no doubt!

Forgive yes, and forget, too! Jeremiah 31:34

At that time it will no longer be necessary to admonish one another to know the Lord. For everyone, both great and small, shall really know me then, says the Lord, and I will forgive and forget their sins. (TLB)

Can the Lord really forget anything? Doesn’t that imply some kind of mental imperfection? Not at all! God and God alone may decide what He chooses to remember and what He chooses not to remember. And the sins of a repentant sinner God chooses to forget.

These are some of the awesome features of the new covenant God spoken of in verse 31.

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…” (NKJV)

God can be known personally by anybody without any human intermediary and his sins may be decisively dealt with once and for all.  The new covenant of verse 31 finds is basis in the forgiveness of sins. God is not speaking of a kind of sinlessness, but of a forgiveness of sins that is so perfect and so complete that not only is the guilt of those sins gone, but fellowship with God can be restored to the point where it is as though the repentant sinner had never sinned.

What a relief! We never have to worry that God in a fit of anger will bring up something embarrassing from our past. Our past is under the blood.

Forgiveness with a caveat, Matthew 6:14, 15

Your heavenly Father will forgive you if you forgive those who sin against you; but if you refuse to forgive them, he will not forgive you. (TLB)

Salvation doesn’t depend on anything a man can do; it is accomplished solely by the grace and mercy of God. However, just because salvation and forgiveness of sins are free, that doesn’t mean a repentant sinner has nothing to do. For example, he must believe, obviously. And he must also be willing to forgive others.

This is a constant theme in the New Testament, and it’s a very important one. Consider:

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Sir, how often should I forgive a brother who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:22 TLB)

Indeed.  The Christian must always take the initiative when it comes to forgiving another.  In Matthew 18, Jesus had been talking about what to do when a brother sins against you:

If a brother sins against you, go to him privately and confront him with his fault. If he listens and confesses it, you have won back a brother. (Matthew 18:15 TLB)

Peter picked up on this and in addition to taking the initiative in forgiveness, he wanted to know just how many times he should be expected to do this. Jesus’ answer is not meant to be taken literally. The number of times you take the initiative in forgiving a person who hurts you is irrelevant because forgiveness is a matter of the heart, not of the calculator. Because we, as Christians, have received so much in terms of forgiveness, our forgiveness of others should be never ending.

After forgiveness comes righteousness, Acts 13:38, 39

Brothers! Listen! In this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins! Everyone who trusts in him is freed from all guilt and declared righteous—something the Jewish law could never do. (TLB)

Paul, in his great sermon, pulls out all the stops here and declares the Gospel in a nutshell, as it where. The only One capable of forgiving sins is Jesus Christ. It’s in His “job description.” Forgiving sins is part of His mission to save men from their sins. But there’s more than just forgiveness, which is God’s side of the equation. From man’s perspective, forgiveness of sins involves freedom from quilt and the feelings of guilt. This is what allows a redeemed sinner to have a good night’s sleep! The accumulated weight of past sins is, in a moment, taken away by God’s simple yet profound act of forgiveness. There isn’t a Christian anywhere in the world from any time in history that isn’t thankful for that!

But not only are sins forgiven and guilt taken away, as part of the package of forgiveness is righteousness—the sinner is declared to be righteous! “Over-the-top” is the phrase that comes to mind here. God’s grace is “over-the-top” in regards to what He does for the one who truly repents of his sins.

Paul’s main point in his sermon is that nobody can find forgiveness by simply keeping a set of religious rules and regulations. To the Jew, it was futile trying to find justification through the Law of Moses. To the rest of us, it’s just as futile trying to earn points with God through good deeds or “living the good life.” Now, to some of the Jews listening to this sermon, Paul’s words must have sounded positively treasonous at worst or heretical at best. To our self-centered, self-indulgent generation, they sound puerile.

Forgiveness: something all men need yet few men find, according to Paul, because they are looking for it in the wrong places. The Lord, speaking through a minor prophet by the name of Habakkuk, warned—

Look, and be amazed! You will be astounded at what I am about to do! For I am going to do something in your own lifetime that you will have to see to believe. (Habakkuk 1:5 TLB)

Yes, forgiveness is truly hard to believe.

Forgiveness through Christ’s blood only, Ephesians 1:7

So overflowing is his kindness toward us that he took away all our sins through the blood of his Son, by whom we are saved. (TLB)

Paul is talking about our redemption here. Once we were slaves to our sins and trapped in a bottomless pit of debt to the God’s righteousness, but now we have been set free from that servitude by the payment of a ransom: the Blood of Jesus Christ. Our redemption was accomplished not just by our Lord’s sacrificial death, but by the shedding of His Blood.

Another was of putting it: forgiveness of man’s sins was bought and paid for by Jesus’ precious Blood. But we don’t experience that forgiveness until we respond in faith to the Gospel.

The forgiveness of sins does not occur because a sinful man feels sorry for them or because he regrets  what he did.  Our forgiveness is a work of divine grace through the obedience of Jesus Christ. His work secured our forgiveness.

 

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