The prophet Micah declares, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sins and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham. As you pledge on oath to our fathers in days long ago.”
I like what Micah declares. Who is a God like you who pardons sins and forgives transgression? The prophet could have chosen any number of phrases to describe God, but he uses this one. We have a God who parsons sins and forgives transgression.
This morning we look at the second to last phrase of the Apostle’s Creed; we believe in the forgiveness of sins. As I’ve told you over the past few weeks, the creeds were developed to combat heresy or false teachings. Does this imply that the church was neglecting this core doctrine?
It may be that while the early church fathers never denied this core value, if we look at the writings of these fathers it becomes clear that forgiveness of sins was not stressed adequately. They viewed the church as a museum for the saints and focused a great deal of attention on the ethical demands of Christianity. These fathers believed in the forgiveness of sins before baptism but not after. We know that saints don’t always behave as they should. Some began to suggest that the church was not a museum of saints but a hospital where the sinner could find hope and health. It is not an either or situation. The church is here for both saint and sinner. We want to declare this morning that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. To do that, we must first believe in sin. What is sin? Sin is a willful violation of God’s law.
But what if there is no law (or moral absolutes) what happens then? If God is not absolute…then neither are his laws. If there are no laws, there can be no sin and there can be no breaking of them. If there is no sin…there is no need for change. If there is no need for change…there is no need for salvation. If there is no need for a gospel…why commit yourselves to one? If you lose all the above…then there is no need for God. You see how slippery the slope is.
Several months ago on a Sunday evening we discussed how our culture has shied away from this thing called sin. Former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase, “defining deviancy down.” It means to take what is deviant and make it seem okay when compared to even worse extremes. What we do is compare our sins to other’s sins and it makes it appear that ours aren’t so bad. When we compare ourselves to others it doesn’t make us feel as bad. The problem is that, we can’t compare ourselves to others, we must compare ourselves to God and when we do that we cry, “Woe is me!” 2 Corinthians 10:12 says, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Paul puts the comparison in the right place. We need to compare ourselves to God and his holiness and when we do that, we become undone. The prophet Isaiah writes, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” God has given people a free choice. We often say that Adam and Eve really messed it up for us. But if we had been given the same opportunity, they same thing would have happened. Paul writes again in Romans 5, “…just as sins entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world.” If we don’t believe in sin, there can be no forgiveness.
Now I know that there can be two extremes when it comes to forgiveness. Most of this comes down to wrong views of who God is. They say, “Others are in bad shape, but not me. What have I done that needs to be forgiven?” Their reaction is that God will pat the sinner on the back one day and say, “There, there. I know you didn’t mean it. It’s not that bad. Forgiveness is not necessary.” These would minimize sin and make forgiveness unnecessary. I ask then what did Christ die on the cross for?
But before we get to that question, let’s look at the other extreme. What about those who say that I’m so sinful that God could never forgive me? These are the same people who won’t come to church because they are afraid the roof will cave in on them. These people compare themselves to others and say, “Look how good they are, I can understand how God can forgive their sins. But my sins are much greater, I don’t see how God could forgive me.” In either case, the one in which sin is minimized or the one in which sin is maximized, God still forgives. God is still in the forgiving business.
Let’s go back to the prophet Micah. Who is a God like who forgives sins and pardons transgressions? It is amazing to me that God offers forgiveness to both saint and sinner. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Some would use this as an excuse to say, “I can sin all I want and God will forgive me.” These are the same that say the believe sins in thought, word, and deed everyday. If so, let me ask the question again. What did Jesus die on the cross for? Forgiveness is only offered to those who truly repent. True repentance is 180-degree turn around. We go from serving ourselves to serving God. Confession means we have a determination to forsake our sins and leave them behind. John makes it clear in the verses before this. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin.
This is what Jesus died on the cross for. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. Paul tells us once again, “The wages of sin is death…but the free gift of God is eternal life.” As we entered the service this morning we celebrated the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In a few short days, Jesus would eat a final meal with his disciples. He would go out to pray in the garden be betrayed by one of his own and be arrested on false charges. The disciples will scatter and Jesus will be left alone during the trial and during the long walk to Calvary. He will die on the cross alone, forsaken by everyone including His father. What did Jesus die for? He died for our forgiveness.
What is forgiveness? First of all forgiveness is pardon. Most of us have heard this word. It is a legal term. Those who have been pardoned, are released from their sentence. I remember several years while working with an Wesleyan evangelist who did city-wide or county wide encounters. John was his prison evangelist who would come sing at the evening rallies. John sang “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” one night. He explained that that was one song that the prisoners could relate. Each of them knew what the word pardon meant. Pardon would mean that they would be out of prison free to live again. Jesus blood on the cross offers forgiveness and pardon. It’s just as if we had never sinned before.
Christ not only came though to grant us pardon, but he came that we may have life and life to the full. We’ve looked at the process of pardon and the legal profession has given us a great word picture. The lawyer thinks in legal terms. God, to him, is the great judge, and man is a prisoner before the bar of divine justice, having broken God’s law. Christ stands as attorney for the defense, pleading the sinner’s case, canceling his debt. We hear that in Paul’s letter to Romans in justification (or just as if I hadn’t sinned) by faith. How God can be just and yet be the justifier of the unjust. As Earle Wilson points out at this point the analogy breaks down and we must go to the worthy profession of medicine, because Christ came not only to save us from the punishment of sin, but from sin itself. The physician thinks not in terms of law but of life. Sin is a disease that destroys life. Forgiveness is the cure for sin—the infusion of new life to drive out the evil and restore health and wholeness.
So forgiveness means pardon – a new chance and purity – a new life, but is there something else?
Let’s go to Jesus’ prayer that he taught his disciples. We pray it without thinking about it sometimes. What about that line that says, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Hang on to that thought for a moment.
Jesus told an outrageous parable about a man who owed ten million dollars (or ten thousand talents). This was an impossible amount to repay. He begged the man for mercy and was forgiven the debt – he was pardoned. Without missing a beat he went to a man who owed him some money and beat him within an inch of his life for twenty dollars. Anyone see anything wrong with that?
In order to have forgiveness, we must be willing to forgive. If we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven. This goes way beyond the legal definition of forgiveness.
Peter wanted to make forgiveness strictly a legal matter. How many times do I need to forgive? Peter said, “Should I forgive seven times.” Peter thought he was being generous, because the law only required three. He was doubling plus one. Can you imagine Peter’s face when Jesus replied, “You must not forgive seven times, but seventy times seven.” Now, most of us immediately try to do the math, but in doing so we miss the spirit of what Jesus was saying. We still try to keep it in legal terms. Yes, seventy times seven is four-hundred ninety. That is a lot of forgiveness and that is precisely the point.
This is the strategy of the gospel. We go into the world as people who have been forgiven a ton of debt that we could never repay. And we go armed with the spirit of forgiveness to heal the hurts, right the wrongs, and change the fractured relationships.
As we close this morning, I want us to be reminded of the great price God paid in loving us, that he would pardon us and free us from the curse of sin. Because of the Father’s great love for us we need to have a great love for the people (both saint and sinner) that he loves.