The Promise of Divine Forgiveness
I shall never forget the night President Nixon resigned. I was in Dallas, Texas, in the home of a Lieutenant-Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Sharing with that American family, we heard Nixon explain why he must resign.
What we did not know then, Henry Kissinger has revealed. On the previous night, he and Nixon sought every alternative to resignation. Was there any other way out? Were there any means by which they could stop the stampede towards the impeachment of the President? There was no way out and, finally, at midnight in the White House, Nixon said to Kissinger, “Henry, will you pray with me?”
Kissinger, according to “Time” magazine, said, “We knelt down together for half an hour and we prayed to God.” Then Kissinger used this revealing statement: “The worst punishment of all for Nixon was the knowledge that he had done it all to himself.” The President was nailed by his own expletives, by his own lies, by his own cover-ups recorded on his own tape-recorder!
Our sins always come home to roost! “No one makes a fool of God. A person will reap exactly what he plants.” (Galatians 6:7).
1. WE ALL NEED FORGIVENESS
Sin and guilt have a way of distorting our human personality, and we pay the price. We try to get rid of our guilt suppress, deny it, or even pretend that it does not exist, but there will come a time when the guilt of the hidden sin festers and comes forth in a worse condition.
The great psychiatrist, Paul Tournier, said, “There is nothing on this earth that is worse than a guilty conscience, and more pain has been brought about by a guilty conscience than by anything else.”
Some try to rationalize their guilt: “Doesn’t everybody do it?” “I shouldn’t worry about it, it’s just the way things are these days.” “I’m not so bad as some people.” Those who try to rationalize away their guilt hurt themselves psychologically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. Guilt always pays its wages, and Scripture declares, “Sin pays its wages – death.” (Romans 6:23). That is the ultimate cost of guilt.
Others try to relieve their guilt by escaping in another direction, perhaps by over-busyness, filling their lives with frantic activity, or they use external good works to cover up the way they feel, throwing themselves into charitable exercises to rid themselves of guilt. They may use illness as an escape, or perhaps they try to hide down the neck of a bottle!
We may try many different ways to escape the effect of guilt, but when we wake in the morning, our guilt is still there. We learn from long personal experience that there is only one way: We must repent!
In Scripture we learn the truth that we must repent of our sins if we are to be forgiven and be released from our guilt. The pattern is clearly there – believe, repent, and confess before the Father, and receive His forgiveness. (Romans 3:21-24; 1 John 1:8-9).
2. GOD IS WILLING TO FORGIVE
God is willing to forgive and through the death of His Son He does forgive you, whatever you have done. Forgiveness is one of God’s primary activities. Our god is a loving and merciful God who will forgive.
In the Old Testament, forgiveness is associated with a covenant God made when He entered into a relationship with His people – they would be His, and He would forgive them their sins.
God laid down certain laws and through obedience to those laws He would forgive. Sacrifices could be made for the cleansing of sin. On the Day of Atonement, after Aaron had finished performing the ritual of purifying the holy place, he would choose a live goat, put both hands on the goat’s head and there confess all the evil of the people of Israel. Symbolically, the sins were transferred to the goat which would then be driven into the wilderness. This gave a picture of the way the sins were carried away. (Leviticus 16:20-22).
There were other ways of emphasising the need for and the importance of forgiveness. One was by the offering of animals, killed and burnt on the alter. Again, this laid stress upon the cost of forgiveness. “The life of every living thing is in the blood, and that is why the Lord commanded that all blood be poured out on the alter to take away the people’s sins. Blood, which is life, takes away sins.” (Leviticus 17:11).
In the New Testament, Jesus is presented as our sacrifice. John the Baptist said of Him, “There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Our sins are laid on Him – mine and yours. Repentance and the sacrifices of the old covenant were not sufficient to cleanse the world of its sin and gain forgiveness for all. More was needed, and back there in the Old Testament God promised that the day would come when a Suffering Servant would die to take away sin from the world.
Isaiah was the privileged prophet to spell it out. “We despised Him and rejected Him; He endured suffering and pain. No one would even look at Him – we ignored Him as if He were nothing. But He endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne. All the while we thought that His suffering was punishment sent by God. But because of our sins He was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment He suffered, made whole by the blows He received. All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on Him, the punishment all of us deserved.” (53:3-6).
God’s own Servant would come to take sin upon Himself. “Turn to the Lord and pray to Him, now that He is near. Let the wicked leave their way of life and change their way of thinking. Let them return to the Lord, our God; He is merciful and quick to forgive.” (Isaiah 55:6,7).
It is the nature of God to forgive, and that forgiveness is made through His Son, the Suffering Servant, who died that our sins might be forgiven.
“He died that we might be forgiven, He died to make us good. That we might go at last to heaven, Saved by His precious blood.” (Mrs C.F. Alexander)
Throughout His earthly life Jesus taught that forgiveness was available. He taught us to pray, “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” Matthew 6:12). He came preaching: “The right time has come and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
Peter, reflecting on the life of Jesus, told us what was that Good News: “Christ Himself suffered for you and left you an example, so that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin, and no one ever heard a lie come from His lips. When He was insulted, He did not answer back with an insult; when He suffered He did not threaten, but placed His hopes in God, the righteous judge. Christ Himself carried our sins in His own body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by His wounds that you have been healed. (1Peter 2:21-24).
Throughout Scripture, particularly in the Letters to the Hebrews and to the Romans, it is clear that God in His love gave Christ to be the propitiation, the expiation, of sin. He would come to take our sins away. He did that when He went to the Cross.
Paul wrote to the church at Colossae: “You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But god has brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins. (2:13)
Now, because God has forgiven us, we have to forgive those who hurt us. Jesus said, “If you forgive others the wrong they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you.” This is one of the promises of Jesus: Forgive and you will be forgiven, but there is another side to that promise: “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs that you have done.” (Matthew 6:14,15).
You may say, “It is hard to forgive those who have wronged us.” I can think of no one for whom it was more difficult than for Corrie ten Boom, that courageous Dutch woman who kept Jewish people alive and safe in her home in Holland, hidden from the Nazis, until she, her sister Betsie, their father, two other children, and a grandchild were caught. One after another members of Corrie’s family died. She and Betsie were sent to a concentration camp. What happened to them was wicked and shameful. They were worked to the point of death, starved and beaten, until Betsie died.
Corrie, by the grace of God, was given strength. As the years went by, hundreds of thousands went to the gas chambers and the crematoria, but at last the war ended and Corrie had survived. “Now,” she said, “With the help of God, I must now preach His message of love.” She went back to her old home and opened it as a place where Jews, who had lived through the terrible concentration camps, could be nursed back to health. She also began a programme of preaching. “We must forgive these people who have done this to us. God has promised that if we forgive others, He will forgive us. We must forgive others.”
Then it happened! “One night,” she said, “I was preaching in a Dutch town and I spoke about this message of forgiveness. I said that Matthew 6:14 declares that ‘if we forgive others who have sinned against us, God will forgive us our sins.” Then I asked if any wanted to pray for forgiveness, they should come to the front. As the crowd stood up to come, I looked, and there was a man beginning to push his way down. He was wearing a brown hat and a full-length raincoat. The last time I had seen him he was in black uniform, with a peaked cap flashing a skull and crossbones, and he had a thick riding crop. Betsie and I had to go naked before his eyes and he slapped us with his riding crop. I can never forget his face. He was one of the guards at Ravensbruck!
He came forward and put out his hand to me. I fumbled in a purse for a bible so as not to touch him. He said, “Sister, you may not remember me. I was a guard at Ravensbruck, but I have become a Christian and I have been praying to God to forgive me my sins. But, my sister, I need your forgiveness also.”
Corrie thought, “Betsie, Betsie! How can I forgive because of what he did to Betsie! I thought there was no way I could forgive him. But then I remembered the word of Scripture, ‘If you do not forgive, neither can I forgive you.’ I prayed, “God, give me power,” and wooden like, I put out my hand to touch his, and I realized that God in Christ had forgiven us both, so I threw my arms around him and hugged him! Our forgiveness was made whole by God’s grace.”
If you have a hurt, resentful and festering in your heart, there can be no health, no healing, and no salvation until you, by God’s grace, have sought forgiveness from God and have forgiven those who have hurt you.
Forgiveness, unless given, cannot be received.
This one of the great spiritual laws that God has given us. You cannot receive what yo9u are unwilling to give. If you are unwilling to give joy, you cannot receive joy. If you are unwilling to give love, you cannot receive love. If you are unwilling to forgive, you cannot receive forgivene3ss. God promises to forgive us, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Nothing that you have ever done, and nothing that has ever been done to you, is too great for your Father’s power to forgive, and there is nothing too small for His care.
3. The Meaning of Forgiveness What does it mean – this forgiveness that Jesus offers? When God has forgiven you, five things happen. There is reconciliation with God
The alienation, due to sin, has ended. You have been forgiven. When God forgives He places our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. Then He forgets them!
That is what we find so hard. We can forgive a person but we find it difficult to forget. God promises that He will both forgive and forget. Marlene Dietrich once said, “When a woman forgives a man the wrong he has done, she must not reheat his sins every breakfast time!”
God forgives and forgets our sins. “When we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time God chose. It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. But God has shown us how much He loves us – it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! By His death we are now put right with God.” (Romans 5:6-9). Those words are worth noting. By His life we are put right with God. Now we are God’s friends.
There is removal of guilt
God not only accepts us and brings us back to Himself, He also removes our guilt. In Adelaide State prison, the Chaplain was on his rounds, cell by cell, speaking to each man, giving him a copy of the “Good News” Bible. He came to a man from Yugoslavia, convicted of the brutal murder of his wife, whom he had chopped to death. The man could not speak a word of English and the Chaplain could say nothing. But he left a copy of the Bible. The man picked it up and threw it into a corner of his cell.
Later, perhaps bored, he picked it up and began to look at it. He could not read the words but he could understand the pictures, those marvellous drawings by Annie Vallotton. In Romans there is an illustration of a man burdened with a big load of guilt. He walks to the cross-burdened, but leaves the burden at the foot of the cross and drawing himself up, he walks free. You do not need to know the English language to understand that story. The prisoner suddenly realized that he could take his burden and lay it before the cross and be forgiven, be released from guilt, and walk in life in freedom.
The Yugoslav, without a word of English, understood the Gospel and what forgiveness means. It means removal of guilt.
There is restoration of health
Psychiatrists are quick to point out that much of our ill health is caused by emotional, mental, and psychological problems. Resentment, anger, bitterness, hatred, lust, jealousy, fear, guilt –sin pays its wages in ill health. When we learn to confess and be forgiven, we often find that health is restored. Jesus is the Great Physician. He sees a cripple and says, “Son, your sins are forgiven. Rise and walk.” He also heals our crippled hearts and minds and makes us whole. There is reunion with others
Forgiveness is not only vertical between you and God. It is also horizontal between you and your neighbour. If you have hurt another or been hurt by another, Jesus demands that in the one case we seek to make restitution, and in the other to make contact with and seek to be reunited with those who have hurt us. That is why forgiveness is neither cheap nor easy. It involves coming into contact with those who have hurt you, or whom you have hurt.
There are 66 words for forgiveness in the New Testament, and 22 of them have to do with the way you forgive others or receive their forgiveness. A Christian is to love others. “Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.” (Ephesians 4:32).
There is recovery of peace
Any one who bears the burden of guilt pays a price. There is no easy night of sleep for the troubled conscience. But when we are forgiven, there is peace, serenity, and calm. That is why Paul was able to say, “Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
What is there left for you to do? Two things:
First, you must seek God’s forgiveness for yourself. Ask Him to forgive your trespasses.
Second, you must make every endeavour to forgive others. If you do that, there is the promise of your heavenly Father that He will forgive you.