Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a 10-part series of messages called ‘Confident Theology’. Week by week he takes listeners on a journey through the famous statement of Christian faith known as the ‘Apostles’ Creed’. This week, Part 9: “Forgiveness of Sins”.
Part 9: “Forgiveness of Sins” – Psalm 32:1-7
Let’s bow our heads together –
Our heavenly Father as we think about this sadness for Rob and Ross and the wider family, we pray for them that you would draw near to them in a special way and bring your comfort and hope. We ask heavenly Father that they would be conscious of you being their strength and refuge at this time.
We also pray, heavenly Father for ourselves as we have a few minutes to think about the great subject of eternity. We pray that you would prepare us to be good listeners to your Word, that you would help us to respond as you would want and we pray that you would send us out this morning with the joy of forgiveness.
And we ask it in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Our topic today comes from the second last phrase in the Apostles Creed. Do you know what I am talking about, the Apostles Creed? I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth ….. And eventually you get to the second last phrase and it says that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. This is a wonderful subject, this is an important subject – the forgiveness of sins.
I remember the very embarrassing story of a priest who was being farewelled by his church. And the local Member was meant to be there for the occasion to make a short speech but he was delayed. And so the priest decided to fill in with the little bit of reminiscing and he stood up and he said,
‘You know I didn’t really like it when I came to this church, I thought it was a terrible place. The first man who came into the Confessional told me that he had been stealing from work, that he had done a little drug trafficking on the side, that he was having an affair with his wife’s sister and had recently paid a hit man to fix an enemy’.
Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by
So it was a terrible start for the priest but gradually he met some other people and he became quite fond of the place. Well as he was talking like this, suddenly the Politician appeared and leapt up onto the platform, took the microphone and said “It’s absolutely wonderful to be here to farewell the priest, I have known him for a long time, in fact I am very pleased to say that I was the first man into the Confessional!
And I tell you that terrible story because I want you to know that one way or the other, the things that we have done will surface. They will either surface in this world or the next. And therefore it is important to know about forgiveness.
This is Why Jesus Was Born
Now friends if there is no God you don’t need to be forgiven. And if sins don’t matter, you don’t need to be forgiven. But I would say to you that the doubter is very clear that God can be ignored by people but cannot be avoided. There will come a time when we will meet Him. And guilt can be ignored but cannot be avoided. Jesus didn’t come into this world and live and die for nothing. He came for a very specific reason. And there is nothing more important in a world of broken relationships than to be forgiven.
We know what it’s like at a human level, how precious it is for someone to forgive us or ask to forgive somebody and at a vertical level with God it’s even more infinitely valuable. So these four words in the Creed “the forgiveness of sins” there are only four words but they are incredibly significant words. Think for example how basic this is to Christianity. The couple, Joseph and Mary, are told to name Him Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.
Jesus starts his ministry and He says to people these wonderful words
“Your sins are forgiven”.
And there He is at the last Supper and He is pouring the wine and saying to the people around the table
“Drink this because my blood is going to be poured out for the forgiveness of sins”.
And as He dies on the cross He says
“Father forgive them”.
And then as He is giving the last commission to the disciples at the end He says
“Go and preach the message of forgiveness of sins”.
And Paul says in one of his Letters
“We have forgiveness”.
It’s an absolutely wonderful subject, the most wonderful subject. Martin Luther, the great Reformer, said “forgiveness is the sun that illumines the world.”
Now we are in a topical series so it’s not an easy series. It’s not as though I am asking you to look up one passage. We are thinking about a big subject and I have four brief points for you this morning and they go like this.
- The Reality of Forgiveness,
- The Riches of Forgiveness,
- The Reason for Forgiveness
- The Requirements of Forgiveness.
The Reality of Forgiveness
So let’s think about first of all The Reality of Forgiveness. Now I want to begin by asking you whether you can say this morning ‘I am forgiven by Jesus Christ’? I am absolutely sure, I am not hoping, I am not wondering, I am absolutely sure I am forgiven by Jesus Christ.
I remember our friend John Chapman used to say ‘can you imagine suddenly plunging into the presence of God and He says to you, ‘what are you doing here unforgiven?’ And you say ‘well I didn’t think it matters’. And He says to you ‘you must think I am an idiot, I sent my Son to die for you so that you would be able to arrive in my presence forgiven’. It’s a wonderful and important subject.
Let’s think about The Reality of Forgiveness. First of all our sin is a reality, my sin is a reality, you know me well enough to know. Your sin is a reality. God has built into the human race an awareness of his being. Paul says ‘it’s plain that there is a God’. We conveniently bury this information, we drown it.
Then God calls us to love him in a practical way and we don’t. This is sin. Then we break his Laws. Then we set up false gods and false goals to live by. And all of this may seem to many people (I was just thinking of my neighbours in the street), they will think this is not really serious is it? I mean am I really living a bad life? Isn’t the way I live fairly harmless, I mean I am getting on with my life, admittedly God is not all that important to me but is it really that bad?
And I suggest to you that it is the greatest insult to ignore and avoid the God who has made you. It’s like having a boarder in your house, who you are graciously looking after, who absolutely ignores you and avoids you. One writer has said ‘sin amounts to nothing less than a desire for God to step off his throne that we might ascend the steps’.
And the result of this even if we feel nothing on our conscience is that we have a penalty that we cannot possibly avoid paying and we have a debt that we cannot possibly pay. Sin is a reality.
Now you might be asking yourself the question whether church has invented this subject. I mean how convenient for the church to invent sin in order that we might be able to dispense forgiveness. It’s a great business, isn’t it? Create the guilt in order to alleviate the guilt! I want to remind you however what Jesus said.
He said, ‘you know I am a doctor
and there are two kinds of people in the world, he said.
There are the sin sick people who know their need and
there are the sin sick people who deny their need.
The wise person, you see, faces the reality, the foolish person avoids the reality. So we are not in the church pushing a false guilt, as if you should be guilty for things you have not done. But we are also not pushing false innocence as if you should feel fine whatever you have done. We are pushing the reality of sin and forgiveness – so all have sinned, says the Bible.
Now there is no human answer. Forgiveness has to come from the one who has been sinned against. Thank God that He is a forgiving God.
The Bible says, “the Lord is merciful” (Daniel chapter 9).
The Bible says “He forgives all sins” (Psalm chapter 103)
The Bible says “the believer receives forgiveness” (Acts chapter 10).
So the upward sin is a reality and the downward forgiveness is a reality. And there is no relationship more important than a good one with the God who has made you and who you will meet one day. That’s why the crowds that gather this week for Climate Change may have been promoting and pushing for better policies by the Government which is fine but I just want to remind you that the sequence of getting the world right begins with God. It’s just completely naive to think that we can fix the world as if we own the world. The Bible says it’s His world, it’s not my world, it’s not your world, it’s not my children’s world and it’s not my grandchildren’s world, it’s His world and the most important thing we can do is to get right with Him so that we then have good relationships and a new power to live the way He wants us to and one day we will be in a brand new creation. So the sequence is absolutely vital. That’s the reality.
The Riches of Forgiveness
Secondly, The Riches of Forgiveness. Think for a minute how wonderful forgiveness is and remember there are millions of people who are ignoring God and are getting caught up in more anxiety and tension and fear than ever. Remember too there are millions of “religious” people who keep thinking that they must achieve forgiveness and they miss the riches.
John Stott says in his book on The Cross of Christ that sin has been psychologised away and secularised away.
We are not talking sin any more but sickness.
We are not talking sin but crime.
We are not needing church but a state.
We are not needing a priest but a Psychologist.
And he quotes one non Christian psychologist who said “well where did sin go?” “Does nobody sin any more?” And this non Christian psychologist says he could send so many patients home if they would embrace and understand divine forgiveness.
So it’s a very rich subject. This is what the Bible says “Blessed is the one whose sin is forgiven” and you are blessed. “Though your sins”, says the Lord “are scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”. “As far as the east is from the west, so far will I remove your sins”. “I” says the Lord, “am He who blots out your sins”. “Seek” says the Lord, “call and I will abundantly pardon”. And in Jeremiah chapter 31 “I will forgive and remember your sins no more”.
So you go up to Jesus and you say to Him, ‘you know I am so sorry about that sin which I committed those years ago, it’s still on my conscience and I know I’ve asked for forgiveness many times’. And he says to you (if I may say this reverently) ‘I am sorry, I don’t know what you are talking about. You have already confessed it, it’s been forgiven and I don’t even remember it’ says the Lord.
This is what Jesus said “The Son of Man has authority to forgive sins”. And he also says in Matthew chapter 12 “every sin, every blasphemy will be forgiven”. So you put yourself in Jesus’ hands your life is washed. You keep going back to him because there are things on your mind, yes, but your life is completely washed. This is the riches of forgiveness.
The great Welsh preacher Martin Lloyd-Jones said once in a sermon
“I don’t care what your sins are, they can be very respectable or they can be heinous, vile, foul and filthy, it does not matter, thank God. But what I have authority to tell you is this, that though you may be the vilest man or woman ever known, though you may, until this moment, have lived your life in the gutters and the brothels of sin, in every shape and form I say this to you, be it known unto you that through this Man, this Lord Jesus Christ is preached unto you the forgiveness of sin and by him all who believe, you included are at the very moment justified entirely and completely from everything you have ever done, if you believe that this is the Lord Jesus, the Son of God who died on the cross for your sins”. That is wonderfully, wonderfully true.
So we know what human forgiveness is like. You bump into somebody in the street, you’ve had an uneasy relationship in the past but they have forgiven you and it’s all gone. You suddenly not finding yourself uneasy but grateful and you share together, you look back on the past, (yes I was an idiot, yes you were an idiot). How great is Jesus who forgives us and helps us forgive one another. And you relax. Well if that’s a precious experience, just multiply about a billion times and that’s what it’s like to walk down the streets of this city and say ‘I am forgiven, I am at peace with God and it’s got nothing to do with my performance, it’s got to do with Jesus and his death and his promises’
The Reason for Forgiveness
Thirdly, The Reason for Forgiveness. Why should God forgive us? You might think it would be a simple thing for God to forgive us. He could just wave his arm and say ‘I am in a good mood, nothing matters, it’s all over’. Richard Dawkins in his new book for children, trying to get children to not believe – you cannot have a more wicked jaundice book than a book designed to help children not to believe. And he says in the book “you might wonder why if God wanted to forgive us, he didn’t just forgive us. But No,” says Dawkins, “that wasn’t good enough for God, somebody had to suffer to pay a truly awful idea”. And what Dawkins completely forgets is that God is the God of justice. He is not just a ‘heavenly father’ but he is the God of justice and judges those who dismiss crimes for the pleasure of a free pardon and do great evil.
God wonderfully brings together mercy and justice and he brings them together at the cross of Christ. This is what the Father and the Son agreed together that there would be a cross because it was a moral impossibility for God to set the guilty free without an appropriate debt being paid. And at the cross we see that our penalty is paid by Jesus and our debt is paid by Jesus and our freedom is won by Jesus. And as you think about the cross, in your mind, you have to remember two things – perfect justice is being done and perfect mercy is being offered. And the reason that God can forgive since he is just and he is merciful is that Jesus died in our place. That’s why the hymn says
“Because the sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God, the just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.”
You may know that some people think that the cross of Christ is just an example and so the strange idea is that we are to look at the cross and say ‘well there’s somebody who really made a big commitment’. So you go and make a big commitment, try and be like Jesus and maybe if you do this really well, maybe God will forgive you’. What a terrible message. We have something much better to say and that is there is somebody who loved you and who voluntarily died in your place to give to you forgiveness. There is something to tell yourself and your children.
The Requirements of Forgiveness
Finally this morning The Requirements of Forgiveness. What are we meant to do since Christ has died? Remember in the Book of Acts, the question is asked a number of times, ‘what must I do’? And obviously the answer that is, don’t try and pay for your sins. It won’t work and Jesus has done it.
The first thing you need to do is you need to genuinely turn to him. You need to be serious. And turn to him in prayer. Perhaps at home, sitting on your bed or kneeling by your bed, you need to say to him ‘I am turning to you. I am going to leave behind a life which has ignored you and avoided you. I am going to drop the sins which I have been clinging on to which I know are wrong. I am turning to you’
The second thing you do is you say ‘I believe you died for me, I believe that when you died it was great and gracious and sufficient, enough for me’. The Bible says “Everyone who believes in Christ receives forgiveness of sins”. In fact the Gospel is bigger than forgiveness because not only does God take off our sinful coat and place it on Christ but he takes off Christ’s perfect coat and places it on us.
The third thing you must do is pass on what you have received. If you have been forgiven much, get ready to forgiven other people. Forgive with the power which he will provide.
Please don’t ride on your feelings. Somebody came up to me after the early service and said ‘I just don’t feel this’. And I said ‘well you need to bully your feelings with facts’. You may be the sort of person who says ‘I don’t feel any great need of this’. I want to tell you there is a great need. The fact of the matter is that you are going to land before a perfect God one day and you are going to need to be either perfect or washed. You might say ‘I need more than Jesus’. I want to tell you the fact is that you don’t need more than Jesus, he is sufficient. You might say ‘I feel that it’s up to me to fix everything with God’. I want to tell you the fact is you can’t and he can. You might say ‘I feel that I am not safe even though I am a believer,
I still feel nervous and anxious’. And I want to say to you the fact is that you are perfectly safe forever.
Go back to what Jesus has done on the cross – “It’s finished” said Jesus.
Go back to the promises – “It’s for you” says God.
And then walk down the road as someone who is trusting what has been finished and promised and given.
Packer says in one of his books – “Jesus washed our sins, he satisfied our Maker, he turned God’s NO into YES and we are saved”. That’s the reality of forgiveness, the riches, the reason and the requirements of forgiveness. No wonder we can stand up in the Creed and very gladly and gratefully say that we believe in the forgiveness of sins.
Let’s bow our heads –
Our gracious God thank you for this wonderful gift of your Son and the great gift of himself and the great gift of eternal life and the washing and the adoption and the promises and the future. What you have said – may we believe, what you have given – may we enjoy, what we have been entrusted with – may we live and pass on.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name, Amen.