I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sin
The greatest need in any man's life is forgiveness. God stands ready to freely offer it. The great tragedy of the human condition is that too many are too proud or two stubborn or too unconcerned or too preoccupied to receive it.
This week’s article of faith from the Apostles’ Creed asserts, I believe in the forgiveness of sin. When we confess this enormously important clause in The Apostles’ Creed, we affirming our belief in a grace that is unconditional—that our God is able and willing to forgive the sinner’s sin in Jesus Christ. It’s a grace that is marvelous, and infinite, and matchless. But we need to pause for a moment and realize just how radical an idea that is. Pagans in the 1st century did not agree with that and attacked and mocked Christians as they taught the gospel of grace throughout the Roman and Greek world. Pagans often jeered the Christian teaching that sins could be forgiven, even by God. As far as a pagan was concerned, you either make up for your misdeeds yourself—in other words, you self-atone—or you’re forever guilty. And pagans did not consider forgiveness a virtue. The large-souled man in the pagan world, in which the gospel was first being preached, might disregard offenses in cases which he considered to be beneath his notice. But to forgive was to considered to be weak spirited. When Christians spoke about the forgiveness of sins, the pagans said, “How can you talk about a murderer becoming not a murderer through the forgiveness of God? How can you talk about an adulterer being forgiven of adultery through the forgiveness of God? You can’t do this. How can one person forgive another person of something that that person has done without that person’s making up for it?”
But what does the Bible say?
"And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:27-28, ESV)
Orthodox Christian faith teaches that mankind has a spiritual dilemma called sin. The only remedy to this dilemma is the forgiving grace of God that is found in the shed blood of Jesus.
I. MAN HAS A SPIRITUAL DILEMMA: HE HAS MADE HIMSELF THE ENEMY OF GOD
- "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4, ESV)
- every man outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ is a friend of the world
- the word friend in this passage has an interesting meaning
- it refers to the bridegroom's close friend who on the groom's behalf asked the hand of the bride and rendered the groom various services in closing the marriage and celebrating the nuptials
- what's the point in this grammar lesson you ask?
- when James talks about being a friend of the world he's referring to a relationship where we willing solicit the affections of another
A. SINNERS ARE THE ENEMIES OF GOD BY CHOICE
- man is, by his very nature, rebellious and not seeking the true God
- "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6, ESV)
- "as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God." (Romans 3:10-11, ESV)
- without a saving relationship with Christ, a man is the enemy of God
- the word enmity literally means hostility
- it is the kind of hostility that leads to determined opposition
- in effect, a state of war exists between the souls of lost men and God
- God does not feel the same way about lost men as lost men feel about God
- ILLUS. The great preacher and theologian H.A. Ironside, in referring to his journey toward Christ, wrote: "The hatred was all on my side but I needed reconciliation, and I have found it in His death.”
- the Apostle Paul does not paint a flattering picture of the lost sinner in his letter to the Christians at Rome
- "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them." (Romans 1:28-32, ESV)
- they’re unrighteous, evil, greed and wicked, full of envy and slander, they’re God- haters, arrogant, proud and boastful, foolish, faithless, heartless and ruthless
B. SINNERS ARE ENEMIES OF GOD BECAUSE OF SIN
- "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15“Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known.” 18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:12-18, ESV)
- who is Paul talking about?
- he's talking about himself
- he's talking about my life
- he's talking about your life
- he's talking about what the lives of all men were like before they came to know Christ
- sin sets up a barrier between man and God
- it is a wall that man, try as he might, cannot scale, find a way around nor tunnel under
- it is a wall that separates man and his exceedingly sinfulness from God and His awesome holiness
- in Ephesians 2:14 the Apostle Paul refers to the dividing wall of hostility that exists between the lost man and God
- ILLUS. No where is this better illustrated than in the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. That curtain represented the barrier that exists between sinful man and holy God.
- he is morally, ethically and spiritually bankrupt
- "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Romans 1:18, ESV)
- we live in a society that tells us to get rid of guilt by getting rid of the rules that make us feel guilty
- so many do their best to ignore pesky things like the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount
- all those Thou shalt nots and I say unto yous make men nervous
- so they suppress the truth by merely renaming the sin
- ILLUS. We don’t lie, we just offer an alternative truth. We don’t have gambling in Missouri, we have games of chance. We don’t abort babies, we champion the right to choose.
- sin is trespass against the righteous standards of a holy God
- but now, Western culture has a new avant-guard definition of sin–it is being out of alignment with one’s own values
- doesn’t that sound innovative? ... even noble?
- sin is not being out of alignment with your own values
- sin is being out of alignment with God’s values
- so you see the danger in such a statement?
- if you do not value marital fidelity then serial adultery is not a sin to you
- friends, it is absolutely amazing how men can rationalize the most heinous of behaviors when we are guided by our own values rather than God’s values
GOD HAS AN ANSWER TO MAN'S SPIRITUAL DILEMMA: HE WILL MAKE HIMSELF YOUR FRIEND
- "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21, ESV)
- the birth of Christ was God's great expression of love for sinners
- even His name was special
- in the Hebrew is Iesous (ee-ay-sooce')
- it means "Jehovah saves"
- it would be through the life, death and resurrection of His only begotten son that God would provide a way through that wall of enmity which separates men from Himself
- through Jesus alone, atonement would be made available
- "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8, ESV)
A. ATONEMENT IS THE CENTRAL IDEA OF BOTH OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
- the word we translate atonement is the Hebrew word "kaphar"
- it occurs 110 times in the Old Testament
- it comes from a root word that literally means "to cover"
- it is the same word used in Gen. 6:14 when God tells Noah: "Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch."
- just as the pitch that covered the ark, kept out the storm, so the shed blood of Jesus keeps the saved sinner safe from God’s wrath against sin
- Jesus is the believer’s Ark of Safety
- "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." (Romans 5:9, ESV)
- our sin disqualified us to deal with God
- but the life and death of God's only son qualified Jesus to deal with God on our behalf
- "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." (Romans 5:10, ESV)
- "Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)
- because of Jesus, it is possible to have peace with God
- ILLUS. If you know a bit about church history, you know that before Martin Luther became the father of the Protestant Reformation, he was 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. Burdened with the haunting sense that his sins were not forgiven, he felt that God’s judgment hung over him like a heavy weight he could not lift. Being a priest only made matters worse. No matter what he did, he never felt the assurance that his sins were forgiven. In desperation, he went to Rome, hoping to find answers, but he came away even deeper in despair. Several 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. So it is not surprising that 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.”
- "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared." (Psalm 130:3-4, ESV)
B. JESUS IS THE SACRIFICE AND SCAPEGOAT FOR OUR SIN
- the Day of Atonement was the most important day in the year of the Jewish calendar
- on that day the High Priest would take two unblemished goats
- one was sacrificed upon the altar, its blood collected, taken inside the temple to the Holy of Holies and sprinkled atop the Ark of the Covenant which was called the Mercy Seat
- the High Priest would take the second goat, lay his hands upon it confessing the sins of Israel over after which it was released into the wilderness in order to symbolically "bear away" Israel's sins
- this goat was called the scapegoat
- but there was a problem:
- But in those [sacrifices there is] a remembrance again [made] of sins every year."Hebrews 10:3
- the sacrifice of goats could not permanently take away sin, but the sacrifice of God's only son can!
- how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God."(Hebrews 9:14, ESV)
- ILLUS. The well-known Southern Baptist preacher, R.G. Lee was once visiting the sight of Calvary, near Jerusalem where our Lord was crucified. Lee told his Arab guide he wanted to walk to the top of the hill. At first the guide tried to discourage him, but when he saw that Lee was determined, he went along with him. Once on the crest, the minister removed his hat and stood with bowed head, moved to tears by his presence at the place of Christ’s death. Sir,"the guide asked, have you been here before?"Yes,"replied Dr. Lee, Two thousand years ago."
- More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."(Romans 5:11, ESV)
III. MEN HAVE A DECISION TO MAKE: TO RECEIVE OR REJECT THE FREE OFFER OF THE GOSPEL
- when the angels appeared to the shepherds in the skies over Bethlehem their message was:
- "nd the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."(Luke 2:10-11, ESV)
- did they assume they were hallucinating?
- did they ignore the message?
- did they say, We're awfully busy right now. We will go and see tomorrow."
- if you will, God will forgive all your sins and iniquities
- when God forgives, he forgets our sins, he clears the record, he erases the tape so that when he pushes the button, nothing shows up on the big screen in heaven
- our sins are forgiven, forgotten, removed, buried, and blotted out
- they can never condemn us again
- If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared."(Psalm 130:3-4, ESV)
In a poem entitled "My Advocate," Martha Nicholson portrays the adequacy of Christ's death on the cross. She wrote:
I sinned. And straightway, posthaste, Satan flew
Before the presence of the most High God,
And made a railing accusation there.
He said, "This soul, this thing of clay and sod,
Has sinned. Tis true that he has named Thy name,
But I demand his death, for Thou hast said,
The soul that sinneth, it shall die.' Shall not
Thy sentence be fulfilled? Is justice dead?
Send now this wretched sinner to his doom.
What other thing can righteous ruler do?"
And thus he did accuse me day and night,
And every word he spoke, O God, was true!
Then quickly One rose up from God's right hand,
Before whose glory angels veiled their eyes.
He spoke, "Each jot and tittle of the law
Must be fulfilled; the guilty sinner dies!
But wait suppose his guilt were all transferred
To Me, and that I paid his penalty!
Behold My hands, My side, My feet! One day
I was made sin for him, and died that he
Might be presented faultless at Thy throne!"
And Satan fled away. Full well he knew
That he could not prevail against such love,
For every word my dear Lord spoke was true!
How do you respond to this grace that is greater than all our sin?
Yield to the convicting power of God’s Holy Spirit—recognize the sinfulness of your sin before a holy God. Understand that as a sinner you deserve the ultimate penalty for your sin; death and hell.
Pray it out with God. Recognize his sacrificial love in sending Jesus to die on the cross for your sin. Repent of that sin and commit your whole life to the Savior. You come to him by believing in your heart that Christ has risen from the dead, and confessing with your mouth that Jesus is your Lord.