I have found that people who really believe in the forgiveness of sins is rare. Our churches are full of people who confess forgiveness with regularity, but the practice of their lives demonstrates clearly that forgiveness is more of a wish rather than a conviction. They lug the baggage of guilt and shame that has been growing in their families for generations. They listen to The Liar, giving him credibility when he speaks to them out of their past as if his words are truth. They cling to their oppressive hurts and habits which rob them of the peace and joy and freedom Jesus intends for them. And they pass on to their children the same wishful thinking perpetuating a false forgiveness and trapping their progeny in the same deceitful snare of desperation. For the last nine years I’ve had a front-row seat watching Christians living unforgiven lives while professing their profound belief in the forgiveness of sins.
Forgiveness is a profound reality for we who follow Jesus. It means that legally we are square with God—we owe him no debt for our transgressions. It means we have been personally released from the pain we caused God, reconciling our relationship and returning to intimacy with him once again. It means that we have been delivered from the wrath of God which will come upon all who remain in opposition to God. It means we have been restored to a state of liberty, redeemed from the bondage of sin to live in freedom and peace. It means that we can live without holding grudges and keeping records of wrongs, freely forgiving those who have wronged us. It means that the paralyzing weight of guilt and shame has been released from our spirits allowing us to experience abundant living.
The tragedy for most is that they do not receive God’s forgiveness because they’re too consumed with the pain of their own hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Many are limited by their own inability to forgive disbelieving that even God can do what they themselves cannot. Many are overcome with their own past believing that God’s forgiveness is sufficient for others but cannot surmount their own mountain of shortcomings. Many are deluded into minimizing their need for forgiveness happily saving God’s grace for those who are more deserving. Many cannot accept the pain of this fallen world, holding a grudge against a God who refused to protect them from the evil which inflicts us all. Many are simply too consumed with their own happiness to open their hearts to the goodness that God has for them. All gifts require both a giver and a receiver and God’s gift of forgiveness, while offered to all, is not received by most, even those who call themselves Christians.
Ultimately the question for us is whether we will trust God’s promise of forgiveness. We don’t receive God’s forgiveness because we deserve it. We don’t receive God’s forgiveness because we feel it. We don’t receive God’s forgiveness because he has proven it. We receive God’s forgiveness because we believe that God does what he says he’s going to do. We believe that God keeps his promises. We believe that through the sacrifice of Jesus, God has laid upon him all the sins of the world. We believe that Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient to appease God. We believe that God desires intimacy with his creation, even with us! We believe that he loves us so much that he paid the price for our sin himself. We believe that his great love for us is real and tangible and has can so transform us that through forgiveness we can actually become the people he intended us to be from the very beginning. Forgiveness is all about trusting God: it’s about taking God at his word and trusting him to keep his promises both now and for evermore.