14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God -through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will He harbour His anger forever; 10 He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; 14 for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.
So far in our series on the Apostles’ Creed, we have looked at various statements of our belief. In other words, if we are ever asked just what it is that we believe or proclaim, the Apostles’ Creed is a good place to turn to, as it spells out very clearly the doctrines of the reformed Christian faith.
Today though, is going to be a little different.
The forgiveness of sins, or the belief that God offers us forgiveness is central to His plan of salvation, but there is also a very practical aspect of forgiveness which is important to us. We need to learn to not only believe in and accept forgiveness, but the Bible teaches that we are to offer it to others as well.
That’s the practical application which we’ll come to later.
There are many passages of Scripture which highlight the importance of forgiveness as part of God’s plan to restore sinful man to Himself.
Ephesians 1:3-8 is one of them. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will - to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
These verses are a treasure trove of deep theological truths, and it is no coincidence that Paul also mentions forgiveness here.
Jesus Himself said in Luke 24, “The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations.”
It is an integral part of Christian experience to repent and know forgiveness, and it is an integral part of the Christian mandate that we are to go into the world to practice, present and offer forgiveness as we have been forgiven.
There are different words used for forgiveness in the original Hebrew and Greek texts, but the common denominator is their meaning: sending away, or letting go.
Essentially, when we are forgiven, or when we practice forgiveness, the accountability for the sin is sent away, and the previously guilty party is set free from sin’s consequences.
Martin Luther is the father of the Protestant Reformation, but he started out as a Catholic priest. As part of his training, he spent years studying Greek, Hebrew, Latin, the Church fathers, and the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. By all accounts, he was brilliant, devout, and very devoted to his studies. But his soul was deeply troubled. He was burdened with the haunting sense that his sins were not forgiven, and he felt that God’s judgment hung over him like a heavy weight he could not lift. No matter what he did, he never felt the assurance that his sins were forgiven. Years later, while studying the book of Romans, he encountered the phrase, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Slowly his eyes were opened and he saw clearly that God forgives us, not because of anything we do, but solely on the basis of what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross and rose from the dead. He called that truth the gate to heaven.
Luther said that the phrase, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” was the most important article in the Apostles’ Creed. He wrote, “If that is not true, what does it matter whether God is almighty or Jesus Christ was born and died and rose again? It is because these things have a bearing upon my forgiveness that they are important to me.”
This one phrase. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” gets to the very heart of the life of a Christian, as if to say, if your sins are forgiven, everything else is just details. And if your sins are not forgiven, nothing else really matters.
The first step though, is that we need to recognise our need for forgiveness. If you don’t believe you’ve done anything wrong, then why on earth do you need forgiveness?
About a thousand years ago, Anselm, the archbishop of Canterbury wrote “You have not yet considered the heavy weight sin is.”
This is one of the most profound statements on the severity of sin, and it is certainly appropriate in our modern world.
We live in a world where we want to make our own rules and set our own standards. This is one of the side-effects of rejecting God.
We make up all kinds of excuses in an attempt to explain away the bad behaviour of people. We blame culture, upbringing, society – you name it, and we’ll find a root cause to blame it on.
But we won’t call it sin, because that means acknowledging not only the existence of God, but that He was right about human sin all along.
The world is not interested in what God has to say, because He is very clear on the reasons for the mess the world is in: sin.
Psalm 130:3 says, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”
The writer Franz Kafka wrote in his diary that the problem with modern people is that we feel like sinners, yet independent of guilt. We instinctively sense that something is wrong in our lives, but we live in a world that tells us to get rid of guilt by getting rid of the rules that make us feel guilty in the first place.
So we do our best to ignore God’s Law. All those “Thou shalt nots” make us nervous, so we do our best to pretend they don’t exist. But we know we’re guilty. Guilt comes when you break the rules and you know it. So the best way to get rid of guilt is to get rid of the rules, or so we think. We do away with the rules, but the rules won’t go away because they weren’t written by man in the first place. That burden of guilt remains.
Anselm was right a thousand years ago, and he still is today. “You have not yet considered the heavy weight sin is.”
In the world today we seem to think that if we can just educate people, they will have the knowledge they need in order to behave in a socially acceptable manner.
It’s rammed down our throats all the time. We are told over and over again about the sanctity of human rights. Learn to live in harmony with each other. Don’t discriminate against others simply because they are a different colour, speak a different language, etc, etc.
Now education is a good thing, but this idea that we can simply teach everyone to get along is fundamentally flawed, because the reality is that we don’t live in harmony with each other. Despite all our efforts to teach each other to behave properly, things like war, racism and hatred continue to destroy society. Crime and violence is all around us. Why is that? Because of sin.
Nelson Mandela is a hero of our time, and rightly so, but he couldn’t have got it more wrong when he wrote this in his book Long Walk To Freedom: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
This statement makes a nice warm, fuzzy meme to share on your Facebook page, but it is wrong on every level. If the prophet Jeremiah were alive today, he would reply with what he wrote in 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”
Mark Twain said that man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to.
The deep-rooted cause of all of the ills in the world is that mankind refuses fellowship with God. We were created by Him, and for Him. We were created to live in fellowship with Him, but the moment sin came along, we dug in our heels, and have resisted Him ever since.
We were created to depend on God and to delight in Him, but we don’t really want that. Why is that? Because of sin.
We don’t mind God being locked up in a Church where we can visit Him whenever we want to, but we’re not too sure we want to take God wherever we go. We don’t want Him in our businesses and our families. We don’t want Him spoiling our fun in the entertainment world.
Fellowship with God is something which we refuse with monotonous regularity.
Why is that? Because of sin.
There is something about us, that while we know that we are created to depend on and delight in God, which insists on rejecting and rebelling against God.
And we need to ask the question: What is it about us that makes us like that?
Anselm had the answer – it’s the heavy weight of sin.
A little boy was told one Sunday morning by his mother to get ready for Sunday School.
“I’m not going to Sunday School,” he replied.
“I didn’t asking if you’d like to go or not,” said his mother. “Go and brush your teeth and get ready for Sunday School.”
“But why should I go to Sunday School?” he asked.
“So that you can learn how to be a good little boy.”
And the boy then gives us a deep insight into the human condition when he says “I already know how to be a better little boy than I want to be.”
Now we can laugh, but in that answer, he has encapsulated the deep-rooted cause of our condition.
We know what we should be doing, but we don’t want to do it. And even if we do want to do what is right, it still doesn’t come naturally. Paul described this same struggle in Romans 7. It’s the heavy weight that sin is.
Sin is our biggest problem, and dealing with it is our biggest need.
We have tried to do it ourselves with futile attempts to educate each other to be better people, but we have failed.
Only God has the answer for us.
All of humanity has fallen short of God’s best for our lives. We have done things that, whether directly or indirectly, have been acts of disobedience against God. We’ve made choices that have moved us out of alignment with the desires God has for our lives. The Bible calls this sin.
Genesis tells the story of Adam and Eve as being the first humans to step outside of God’s will, and the consequence of this was spiritual death.
The kind of death that God was talking about in Genesis goes beyond mere physical death; it is a death that is a consequence of our being separated from the source of all life: God Himself. And this death has far-reaching consequences.
It is our sinfulness that separates us from God and from life. But God doesn’t want us to remain in this state of death and separation. He wants to reconnect with us. He wants to welcome us back into his family. He loves us, and hates the separation.
And that’s why He offers us a solution. And that solution has a name. Jesus Christ.
God hates the separation so much that He sent Jesus to face the punishment for our sin and disobedience on our behalf. We looked at the atoning death of Jesus in detail a few weeks ago. God wants to offer us forgiveness, knowing that Jesus has paid the penalty for our stepping out of God’s will for our lives. Despite all our wrong doing, God offers us forgiveness for that wrong doing. In His grace He offers us forgiveness of sins.
This forgiveness is the pathway out of death into life. It is the only way for the separation with God to end. God, through Jesus, has made a way for each and every one of us to receive this gift of forgiveness. It is open to all.
But He doesn’t force this gift on everyone. While He has made forgiveness available to us all, we have to choose to accept it. We have to make a decision to own up and admit that God has been right all along and we have been wrong, and then, by His grace and with the power of His Spirit, realign our lives with God’s desires and design for our lives.
This is called repentance. Forgiveness is not a free ticket to Heaven.
We need to recognise our need first. We have to come to the point where we consider the heavy weight that sin is. We have to confess that even though we’ve known all along how to be better little boys and girls, that we have chosen not to.
We have rebelled against God and we have rejected Him. He is holy, and our sin has offended Him deeply. We are guilty of cosmic treason against Him.
And we have to put our trust in Jesus as the one who has taken the punishment for our wrong doing, and receive the free offer of grace and forgiveness.
To use the words the New Testament uses, we need to repent and believe. As Jesus began His ministry on earth He said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The good news (including forgiveness of sins) has been announced, but we have to choose to receive it by repenting, accepting the responsibility of the destructive nature of our sin, and putting our trust and faith in what God has done for us through Jesus.
We need to trust and believe the many promises of forgiveness we find in the Bible.
Our reading from Psalm 103 today is just one of them: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbour His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
While there may be a significant first time when we repent and choose to live our lives in accordance with God’s will and we put our trust in Jesus, and receive this gift of forgiveness, it is actually a life-long practice. When we first choose to receive this gift and trust in God, our destiny is changed forever. This is what justification is all about. It is a legal declaration by God that because of the gift of faith He has given us in Christ, we are declared not guilty.
But this doesn’t mean that we no longer fall short of the life God wants us to live. We need to daily look to the cross of Christ, confess our sins, and receive afresh His forgiveness. We continually need to turn back to Him and put our trust in God for our forgiveness, life, and hope.
Developing this habit of turning back to Him on a regular basis will help us to focus on God’s love, forgiveness, grace, and life-giving presence. It is an opportunity to be grateful and remind ourselves of what God has done for us.
Now we move on the biggest challenge of forgiveness – passing it on.
Colossians 3:12-13 says, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Paul also wrote in Romans 12, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Every basic human instinct goes against this teaching, but it is still something which God expects of us, and in fact it will make all the difference in your life. Unforgiveness against another person will eat away at your own soul, and it will eventually cripple you.
If you refuse to forgive someone for something they’ve done or said to you, who suffers?
Our new birth in Christ demands that we reflect God’s mercy in the way that we deal with others, especially those people that we might not particularly get on with or who don’t deserve our forgiveness. I think we forget too easily that we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, yet out of His love for us, He offers it anyway.
In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus teaches His disciples what we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer.
In the next two verses He says something which should cut to our hearts. “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
We don’t forgive because we feel like forgiving. Forgiving someone is often the very last thing I want to do. We forgive because we are told to.
Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, so how dare we say “I’m sorry, but I can’t forgive?”
Let it go. Release that person despite the deep hurt they have caused you, and your life will be changed forever.
Forgiveness of sins is something to treasure, to remind ourselves of, and forever to be grateful for. And one of the best ways we can show that we are grateful is by becoming people who forgive others. The Bible goes out of its way to remind us that God’s forgiveness of us is directly connected to our forgiveness of others.
If we are not ready to forgive those who have wronged us, we are not ready to receive the forgiveness God wants to give us.
God wants to change our hearts. He wants us to become forgiven, forgiving people because this is the path to life and life in all its fullness. Let’s allow God’s love and grace to permeate our lives so that we can become the forgiven, forgiving people He longs for us to be.
Homegroup Study Notes
Archbishop Anselm once wrote “You have not yet considered the heavy weight sin is.”
One of the biggest problems in the modern world is that by nature we refuse to accept responsibility for our sin - it is always the fault of others.
Discuss Anselm’s statement, and how the world would be changed if we were to consider the heavy weight of sin.
Read Psalm 103:8-12
How do you know that you are truly forgiven for your sins?
Discuss with your group what you think it means to experience the forgiveness of God.
Read Matthew 18:21-35
Why do you think it is so difficult for us to forgive others?
If you feel able to, share with your group how a burden of unforgiveness towards another person has affected you in the past.
Have you been able to forgive? If so, how did this happen?
If there is a person in your group who still struggles in this area, commit yourselves to pray for him or her every day this week.
Close by reading Ephesians 4:31-5:2, and by praying for each other.