How Can I Experience God's Forgiveness?
Richard E. Powell
June 2, 2008
You can listen to this sermon by visiting http://www.pastorrickypowell.com/life_matters_with_pastor_/2009/02/here-is-a-sermon-i-preached-at-1st-baptist-church-newnan-ga.html
I recently read about a college student who went on a hunting trip into Canada with a couple of friends. During a blinding snow storm the young man became disoriented and was separated from his buddies. He tried but could not find his way back to the trail or to his friends. After a few hours of wandering in the wilderness he found an old cabin and took shelter in it. Tragically, by the time the cabin was discovered by the rescue party the young college student had died. The Royal Mounted Police found a note in the cabin he had left for his mother. It read, “Dear mother, I am hungry and cold. I am afraid I am going to die. The only question I can’t answer is this, “Will God forgive me.” Lonely, cold, and afraid, facing his own immortality this young man wanted to know if he could experience God’s forgiveness for his sins.
The actor Chris Farley of Saturday Night Live fame was once quoted by Rolling Stone magazine as saying, “There is only one who is in control. He’ll take me when He wants me. I don’t want to know about it. It’s none of my business. I just hope He’ll forgive my sins.”
Maybe this morning you wonder the same thing. You wonder if God can forgive you. You say, “I have made a mess of my life. I know I am a sinner. I know I have done things that are wrong in God’s eyes. I wonder if He could ever forgive me?”
Transition: One of the greatest assurances in the word of God is that God promises you pardon. He offers to you forgiveness. And He does that in such a dimension that it exceeds all human understanding. God makes an irrevocable, categorical promise that He will forgive you of your sin if you will forsake it and return to Him. Many of life’s promise are not and cannot be kept. Preachers promise to not preach very long, but often those promises aren’t worth much! Most of the promises politicians make cannot or will not be kept! How can you tell when a politician is lying? His lips are moving. But God’s promises are sure and trustworthy. God’s promise of forgiveness is a little island of certainty in a vast sea of uncertainty.
Surely above all promises, we need to hear and heed the promise of God to offer mercy and abundant pardon on sinful people. Let us hear God’s promise and the conditions of it from the Old Testament book of Isaiah 55:6-9. You can find this text on page ________ in the maroon Bible under the seats around you.
Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9)
If you ask God for forgiveness, can you be sure He will grant it? What are the qualities to which God responds? First, Isaiah says you can experience God’s forgiveness if you…
I. Seek the Lord Without DELAY.
The Bible declares that we are to… Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. (Isaiah 55:6)
The word “seek” as the prophet uses it means, “to follow or to pursue something of value.” It means to press toward God. This is no trivial pursuit we’re talking about. We are talking about the gracious and glorious grace and forgiveness of God. You are to seek the LORD without delay. The tone is one of priority and urgency. Therefore, to seek the Lord without delay is to…
A.Seek the Lord ACTIVELY.
Seeking the Lord is not to be a secondary pursuit. It is to be a primary pursuit. The number one priority of your life ought to be to seek the Lord so you can be forgiven and pardoned, so that you might be in a right relationship with Him. Since God is God He deserves the position of priority #1 in your life!
We find this to be true in many of life’s pursuits of lesser importance. All eyes are on the nation of China as it prepares to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. An Olympic athlete competing for the gold medal knows he or she must make winning the medal the number one priority in their diet, their training, their exercise regimen, and in their use of time. They stand no chance of winning the gold medal if they give way to lesser priorities in life. Instead, Olympic winners have an obsession that compels them to focus on what is necessary to win.
In every area of life’s worthy pursuits, it calls for that same type of discipline, direction, and active pursuit. How much more so if we desire to be forgiven and pardoned of our sins? We must seek the Lord actively. God welcomes that kind of active seeking. He says in Jeremiah 29:12-13, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (NIV). Do you want to be right with God? Do you want Him to forgive you and pardon you of your sins? Then actively come to Him, pray to Him, call on Him and do it with all your heart.
I believe some of you are here today because you are seeking the Lord. You know that you are lost and undone in your sin. You know that you are not right with God. You know that you are in need of great mercy and pardon and forgiveness. Your very presence in this worship service this morning is an active pursuit on your part to find the Lord. Well, I have good news for you today. The Lord is here and He is still in the forgiving business. Don’t be satisfied with just showing up here today. Actively seek the Lord and do not let up until you have the assurance of God that He has forgiven you!
To seek the Lord without delay is to seek Him actively, but also urgently.
B.Seek the Lord URGENTLY.
Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. (Isaiah 55:6)
In my 21 years of ministry I have only met a couple of people who brazenly said, “I have no intention of ever seeking the Lord.” I have met very few men and women in my life who said I never intend to seek God. It is not that kind of statement that I have heard. Instead, I have heard many men and women and teenagers say, “Pastor I intend on seeking the Lord, I intend on asking for His forgiveness, I intend on seeking His pardon for my sins, SOME DAY!” I have met very few people smitten with the spirit of atheism, but I have met many people afflicted with the spirit of apathy. And both conditions will send you to Hell, unforgiven, without mercy and without pardon!
It seems to me as I preach and minister and witness that many people live in a sort of spiritual doldrums or listlessness. They are unaware of the eternally dangerous position they are in without Christ. They are not conscious of the fact that to die without being forgiven and pardoned by God is to go out into a Christ-less eternity, separated from God. Or they are aware of the fact that they need to get right with God before they die, but death seems so far away.
I can hear some of you right now thinking, “Here we go again, another preacher trying to use death as a scare tactic.” Friend, I am not trying to use death as a scare tactic. I am speaking about a reality of life. People are dying who have never died before! In fact, I will make a deal with you. If you get people to stop dying I will stop talking about it! But until then I must warn you that one day you are going to die and face God. A tsunami of death sweeps over this planet each day. If you die in your sins unforgiven then you will spend an eternity in Hell separated from God. He will not be able to be found and He will no longer be near. Do not miss your opportunity today to get right with God.
If you are thinking, “I am going to wait until some other time to get right with God,” then I implore you, Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. (Isaiah 55:6)
There is a hardening of the heart, an ossification of the soul, and a numbing of the spirit the longer you delay in seeking the Lord! Besides, this passage tells you that the Lord will not always be found and will not always be near. Time for us to repent and receive forgiveness is limited and short. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27 that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (KJV).
You must respond now to the leading of God in your life to be saved. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (NIV). Listen, if you have any spiritual longing at all to be saved from the penalty of your sin then it is because God is drawing you, wooing you, and magnetically leading you to Himself. A sinner without the drawing of God’s Spirit would come to God about as fast as a thief would come to a policeman. Do not let this opportunity pass you by!
God is sovereignly at work in your life. You must take this moment of opportunity because you know it will not last! In 1975 or ‘76, as a young boy I lived in Albany, GA when it snowed one evening. It was a rare thing to see snow in South Georgia. It was especially rare to see a foot or two of it. My mother hurriedly woke me and my siblings up early that morning and helped us don our winter clothes and gloves so we could run out side and play in the snow. What was the rush? Why the urgency? Because my mother knew that snow like that does not fall very often in South Georgia and it does not last very long. She knew it may never come this way again in our lifetime and she he did not want us to miss it!
Oh dear friend, if you need to be saved then do not delay! The Lord is here today. He is calling you to come to Him in faith so you can be saved. He might not pass this way again in your life. Seize the moment! The Bible says, “…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2---KJV).
God is not like the family dog to be summoned at will. You must Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. (Isaiah 55:6). It is never too soon to repent but it may soon be too late!
Isaiah says you can be forgiven if you seek the Lord without delay. Secondly, you can experience God’s forgiveness if you…
II. Seek the Lord Without DUPLICITY.
There is a condition to this forgiveness, mercy, and pardon that God offers. You can read it in verse seven.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)
The condition of forgiveness is that it does relate to the sincerity of the seeker. There is a word here about sincerity in the ways and thoughts of sinful people as they seek God. You must seek Him without duplicity, deceit, or insincerity. God knows the difference between a person who wants to be saved and a person who merely wants a quick fix for his problems.
I remember standing in the Intensive Care Unit of South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta, GA. It was in the late 1980’s, 88 or 89. I stood outside the room of a man’s critically ill father. I listened as the man pleaded with God to spare his father’s life. He asked me to kneel and pray with him that God would spare his father’s life. We prayed right then and there. This man told God that if He spared his father’s life that he would repent of his sin, he would get in church regularly and start living for the Lord. This man’s father miraculously took a turn for the better, and he was ultimately released from the hospital. And would you believe that the man’s son never once stepped foot in the church, never once repented of his sins, never once publicly declared his faith in Christ, never once followed through with his vow.
That man did not want to be saved. He wanted a quick fix for his problems. The Bible says, however, if you want to experience God’s forgiveness then you must be sincere in the outwardness and inwardness of your life.
A.God requires OUTWARD sincerity.
“Let the wicked forsake his way”
The word, “way,” here as it is translated from the Hebrew language means the outward, observable course of life. It speaks of the road or path of life we have chosen. If you are going to be forgiven then you must forsake the sinful, ungodly, and condemned way of life that has lead you away from God. The word “forsake” means to relinquish, to leave, and to walk away from something. God is calling the wicked to walk away from a life of willful sin and rebellion in your observable life.
But that is not all. God also demands INWARD SINCERITY!
B.God requires INWARD sincerity.
“and the unrighteous man his thoughts.”
The unrighteous man is called to forsake his thoughts, his plots, his plans, and his priorities that lead him away from God. It means that when we seek God’s pardon then we are willing to undergo a radical realignment of life, both in the outwardness of life and the inwardness of life.
This is called repentance. To repent is to turn 180 degrees. It is like performing a U-turn when you are driving. You realize that you are lost and you turn around. The great scholar J. Edwin Orr called repentance the missing note in much modern preaching. Sinners are no longer called to turn from their sin and to turn to the Savior. Instead we are giving people the impression that Jesus is an additive. You do not lose any thing, just add Jesus to your life. Orr said that just as there are physical birth defects there are spiritual birth defects. He said there is something defective in a person’s experience if there is not an outward and inward change in life after professing faith in Christ. The Bible says…Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord…
If I tell you to leave Newnan and go to Jacksonville, FL, then you cannot go to Jacksonville until you first leave Newnan. I know it is elementary, but friend, you cannot get to God and the mercy and pardon He offers until you first leave your sinful ways and thoughts. Then you can turn to God. Repentance and faith go together.
During Billy Graham’s first great Los Angles Crusade, he and Edwin Orr dealt with a famous or infamous gangster who was attracted to crusades. His name was Mickey Cohen. Late one night as Graham and Orr dealt with Cohen the racketeer came to pray a prayer of faith in Christ based on Rev 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (KJV). Billy Graham and Rev. Orr were thrilled, until they realized there was no outward, visible change in the gangster’s life. After a while they asked him about it. He said, “You mean I have to give up my job?” And by that he meant the rackets. “And you mean I have to give up my friends?” By that he meant the other gangsters. “Well, I am confused. I saw that you had a Christian Cowboy, a Christian movie star, and a Christian athlete. I thought I could be a Christian gangster.” So he reneged on that confession of faith that he made because he did not recognize the radical nature of repentance.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord…(Isaiah 55:7)
The word “return” is one of the greatest words in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament. It means to turn back as a radical reorientation of life! When the GPS on the dashboard of my car notices that I have veered from the charted course, it will immediately start calling out for me to make a U-turn at the next available opportunity. I believe the Holy Spirit of God is crying out to many of you today to forsake your sinful ways and thoughts and return to the Lord! He is calling you to return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on you. And return to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)
Listen to what God promises to do for you if you will repent and return to Him. When you repent of your sins and return to the Lord he will have mercy on you. This means he will shower you with His compassionate love. Mercy is when God does not give you what you deserve. You deserve punishment, and Hell, but in mercy He does not give you that. Instead He gives you forgiveness! Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (NIV).
And that is not all. He will abundantly pardon. He will not just forgive your sins, he will not just spare you from the penalty of your sin, He will ABUNDANTLY forgive and spare you! That is why the apostle Paul could declare in Romans 5:20, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (KJV). You can exchange the abundance of your sin for the abundance of God’s grace. It has been rightly said that there is more grace in God’s heart than there is sin in your past! We do not serve a stingy, tight fisted God who holds on to his grace reluctant to give it. He lavishes it upon us when we come to him without delay and without duplicity!
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
Some of you are thinking, “This is too good to be true.” God could never forgive me of all the wrong I have done. Isaiah anticipated your objection. That is why he tells us to…
III. Seek The Lord Without DOUBTING.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
The context of this passage is that God’s thoughts and ways about forgiveness are not like ours. God knows that our guilty conscience causes us to ask, “How could God forgive me?”
The Devil does not want you believe that you can be forgiven. He does not fight fair. Our enemy, evil incarnate, Satan seduces us into sin and then once we have fallen he kicks us while we are down. He whispers in our ear, “God will never forgive someone like you.”
We are prone to believe the Devil’s lie rather than God’s promise. We say, “If you only knew what I had done you would know that God cannot forgive me.”
We then point to the:
- Quantity of our sins. (# of our sins)
- Longevity (how long we have struggled)
- Severity (how we have hurt ourselves or others)
But God says don’t judge my thoughts based on man’s thoughts.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,”
Don’t judge My ways based on man’s ways because…
“nor are your ways My ways,”
People have a limited capacity for forgiveness.
Even after we have forgiven someone, years later something will trigger our memories and all the hurt of their sin against us will come flooding back into our soul. But God is not like people. When He forgives He says He will remember them no more!
That is why Jesus could say to a woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.”
That is why in His agony on the cross He could look into the eyes of those who nailed Him to the tree and pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
It is why He could say to one of the malefactors crucified alongside Him, “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.”
ILLUSTRATE: I do not have to understand a thing to enjoy it. I do not understand electricity, but I refuse to sit here in the dark.
Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please (God), for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (NKJV).
Jesus paid the price for your forgiveness when He died for you on the cross. He calls out to you today and says, “Seek me while I may be found, call on Me while I am near, forsake your sin and return to Me and I will abundantly pardon you!”
The cartoon was "Dennis the Menace. The scene is bedtime prayers. He's kneeling. He has his hands folded. He's looking heavenward. He has on his pajamas, cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and his six-shooter is strapped to his side. The caption under the cartoon reads: “I'm here to turn myself in.”