ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
FORGIVE US OUR SINS
- What is sin?
It hardly seems possible that one 3 letter word could encompass both the reason for the state of the world and its peoples today, and the need for the birth, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But that is just what sin does.
People may not like to talk about sin, trying to cover up by blaming circumstances or heredity, but the truth is that we live in a sinful world, i.e. literally in a world that is full of sin.
In his first letter John defines sin as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4) and there he is referring to God’s law, not man’s. So, either deliberately or carelessly we do not do what God would have us do, we “miss the mark” that God has established, we are in rebellion against the Creator of the universe, we defy His Lordship and rule. Some deny that there is a God to obey, still others believe that God may not spot them breaking His law, but they are deceived. God sees and every act of sin grieves His holy heart.
It does not matter whether the sin is directed at another person rather than at God Himself, it is still sin. King David had stolen Uriah’s wife and had had Uriah killed, but in Psalm 51:4 he realises that his sin is also against God.
Sinners and that includes each one of us, have broken God’s laws time and time again.
- The extent of sin.
From time to time in history there have been those who “claim to be without sin” (1 John 1:8), but the Bible will have none of this. Paul writes to the Roman Christians, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23) and much earlier the Psalmist said “no one living is righteous before you” (143:2).
The one and only exception to this is Jesus who, being both God and Man, was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). The disciple Peter, who knew Jesus as well as any man could know Him, wrote that “He committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22).
Sinners is a term that includes each one of us, without any exceptions except Jesus Himself.
- Where did sin come from?
This is one of the great mysteries of the universe. Why did God make it in such a way that it could go wrong? Some may answer that it is the Devil’s work. (1 John 3:8), and while this is true it only takes the problem one step further back – why the Devil?
I believe the answer lies in the nature of love!
We were created to love God and to enjoy His love for ever. But true love can only come from someone who is free to love or not to love. One cannot compel love. So if man is to be able to love God, he has to be made free so that he can choose either to love or not to love. Sadly men and women have chosen not to love God as He should be loved and so sin is a reality in this world.
Sinners, and that includes each one of us, have chosen not to love God as fully as He should be loved
- What are the results of sin?
Sin strikes at the very heart of God and causes Him grief, and as a result sin is the subject of God’s wrath. Now this does not mean the sort of fiery anger a wronged human might display, but the steely judgment against the transgression of His law.
This shows itself in the loss of fellowship between man and God, vividly dramatised in the account of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). It has also resulted in the marring of planet earth (Genesis 3:17,18; Romans 8:21,22), even though many traces of its original, God-designed grandeur remain.
But by far the most serious result of sin is death (Romans 6:23), in the sense of separation from the life of God for ever.
This is a black picture and there is nothing we could do about it if God had not decided to act from His side to bring light into the darkness.
Sinners, and that includes each one of us, stand under the wrath and punishment of a Holy God.
- The love of God breaks through.
The Bible is full of promises and stories about the fact that God will forgive our sins. “Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13).
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).
“You are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Sinners, and that includes each one of us, can truly believe that these promises are for them.
- What does it mean to forgive?
Forgiveness can only come from the one who is wronged and it can only come as an act of mercy, no one deserves forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean that God is saying to sinners, “Your sin does not matter.” We have already said that each and every sin is a wound to the heart of God. Sin does matter and every Christian is called upon to live a life as free from sin as he or she can, while still knowing that God’s forgiveness is there when a mistake is made.
So what is forgiveness? I think one way of putting it is that God, in His infinite love, is saying, “I will treat you as though you had not sinned, I will forget the hurt and harm you have done to Me and I will restore you to fellowship with Me.”
Sinners, and that includes each one of us, are welcomed back by a loving, forgiving God.
- How do we obtain this forgiveness?
While forgiveness is all on God’s “side”, it can also require action on our side. We first need to see ourselves as we really are, to accept that we have sinned and need to be forgiven. We, secondly, have to repent, to say “I’m sorry,” and “I will try not to do it again” and mean it. Thirdly we have to believe that God really does love us and is really ready to forgive. Fourthly we have to be ready to forgive others who have wronged us (Matthew 18:21–35). Finally, and vitally, we have to believe that Jesus died on our behalf, bearing the punishment that our sin deserves. God cannot overlook sin but He transfers the punishment to His Son (Matthew 27:46), Who so willingly undertook to bear it for us.
Sinners, and that includes each one of us, must repent of their sins and believe in the redeeming work of Jesus.
- Is there anything that God cannot forgive?
Many have been troubled by the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 12:31, “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” This is not an easy saying to understand but I believe the sense is that anyone who refuses God’s forgiveness as brought to us by the Holy Spirit puts himself or herself outside the scope of forgiveness. One cannot be forgiven if one refuses to be forgiven! God offers us forgiveness, we have to accept it. Sadly so many reject or just ignore this most vital gift (John 3:36).
Sinners, and that includes each one of us, must humbly accept the forgiveness that the Almighty God offers us as a free gift.
- The wonder of forgiveness.
We do well to marvel at our God. We have offended Him times without number, we have ignored Him, we have failed to witness for Him. If we are honest with ourselves we know our record is pretty poor. Yet in His great love for the people He has created, He is willing to put all that aside (thanks to the saving work of Jesus Christ) and to treat us as if we had a perfect record. This is the mystery, the wonder of divine forgiveness. Let us never take it for granted but thank Him every day for what He has so willingly done for us.
Sinners, and that includes each one of us, should be truly thankful that they can bask in the sunshine of God’s love, knowing that the work of Jesus has made it possible for their sins to be forgiven and their fellowship with God restored.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.