I AM FORGIVEN
Who Am I? Seeing Your True Identity Through God’s Eyes ❧ Part 8
There is a basic axiom of studied human behavior that says we become what we perceive ourselves to be. The way you see yourself determines to a large degree the way you act and react in life. Your self-perception tends to be a controlling factor in your life. If you see yourself as a failure you end up to a large degree acting like a failure. If you see yourself as a victim, you tend to let people victimize you. If you see yourself as uncreative you never come up with any creative ideas. We become what we perceive ourselves to be.
I read about a plastic surgeon who performed an operation on a girl who had a hooked nose. She was shy and withdrawn, convinced that no one could love someone as ugly as she. After the surgery, the doctor carefully removed the bandages and was extraordinarily pleased with his work. The girl looked beautiful. But when he held up the mirror so that she could see herself, she replied, “I look no different!” The doctor was astounded, for it was obvious that the operation had been a triumphant success. This girl had thought of herself as being ugly for so long that she could not accept what she was now. Several months later she began to believe that she was different – maybe even beautiful. Her personality began to change; she became cheerful and friendly. Now she saw herself as an attractive person.
The truth is many of us find it difficult to accept all that God says we are in Christ. Many of us struggle to fully embrace that God sees us as saints, as His children, as righteous, as unconditionally loved and accepted. We’re wrestle with believing we’re as special in God’s eyes as He says we are. Erwin Lutzer writes, We are convinced that these lofty advantages cant really be ours. But they are (Erwin Lutzer, You’re Richer Than You Think, p. 10).
How do you move the needle from doubt to acceptance in taking God at His word? Like the little girl who had plastic surgery, we chose to believe what God says is true rather than listen to our haphazard feelings and hunches. Day by day, bit by bit as we chose to embrace what God says about us as true, we change; our anxious insecurity turns to confident praise. That’s my prayer for you as you hear each one of these messages – It what Paul prayed for God’s saints two-thousand years ago, I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God (Eph. 3:16-19, NLT).
This morning we’re going to look at the eighth message in our identity in Christ series: I am forgiven. Nothing will destroy your peace of mind quite like guilt. Guilt is like the red warning light on the dashboard of your car. You can either stop and deal with the trouble or break out the light. A man consulted a doctor, “I’ve been doing wrong Doc, and my conscience is troubling me,” he complained. “And you want something that will strengthen your willpower?” asked the doctor. “Well, no,” said the man. “I was thinking of something that would weaken my conscience.” Everyone one of us knows the pain of a guilty conscience. What is the cure? Jesus Christ and His forgiveness. There is no other way. This morning I want to look at How God Forgives. He forgives 1) sacrificially, 2) instantly, 3) freely, 4) completely. All of us need to hear how God forgives because all of us need it.
I. God forgives sacrificially. It is true that God forgives, but rarely do we really take to heart the enormous cost God willingly paid to secure our forgiveness. Romans 5 says, God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus did not die for good people, or for nice people, or for loving people, but for sinners. In this same passage Paul describes sinners as helpless (v.6) (incapable of doing good), ungodly (v.6) (wicked), enemies of God (v.10) (living in open hostility, hatred toward God). A sinner, according to God’s Word is someone who is a no good, wicked, hostile, God-hater. Not only that, but God says sinners deserve His eternal and just wrath, that is Hell; eternal separation from God (2 Thess. 1:9). That makes sense. Who wants to spend eternity with someone who hates your guts? Most of us hearing this probably think, that’s not me. I’m a good person. I do good things. I’m not evil. I’m not a God-hater.
But have you ever stopped to think how sinful you are? What if you were to write down every wrong you’ve ever done and every right you should have but didn’t? The list should include every person you’ve wronged with your words and actions and those whom you should have helped but didn’t. Add to this all the sinful thoughts you’ve had, every sinful motive you carried out. Now take this list and consider it a direct defiance of God’s rightful rule in your life as Creator and Savior (Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are? P. 156). The late beloved theologian R. C. Sproul said, Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority. Every sin is an act of cosmic treason. Every sin you and I have committed is ultimately against God (Ps. 51:4). We have no idea how much our sin has broken God’s heart.
Contrary to what some might think, God doesn’t conduct opinion polls to determine what is and isn’t sin. What was sin two thousand years ago is still sin today. Sin is not relative. God has a fixed and eternal anger toward sin because He knows what sin does to us. Sin ruins us in two ways, writes J. I. Packer, it makes us guilty before God, so that we are under His just condemnation; and it makes us ugly in our behavior, so that we disfigure the image of God we were meant to display. It dams us with guilt and it enslaves us to lovelessness.
Have you ever tried to love someone who not only hated you but intentionally went out of their way to say and did things to hurt you as deeply as they could? Paul we were enemies of God, sinners, yet despite our rebellious acts of cosmic treason, God still choses to love us. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:7-8). We could not have been any less lovable, any less worthy, yet God loved us with the greatest most unbelievable love possible – He sacrificed His Son. We have redemption through His blood (Ephesians 1:7). John expands on God’s sacrificial love for us saying, In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). God loves us sacrificially. Propitiation simply means willingly Jesus substituted Himself for our sins and took God’s eternal wrath for us on the cross. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane Luke says He sweat blood (Lk. 22:44). Physicians say this is a rare condition caused by extreme stress in the human body. I think Jesus sweat blook knowing He was about to endure God’s holy wrath against our sin, yet the Bible says for the joy set before Him He endured the cross. It will take us all eternity to grasp God’s sacrificial love for us. God loves us sacrificially.
II. God forgives instantly. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). When Jesus was nailed to the cross, the debt you as a believer owed God for your sin was canceled. The moment you believed, God canceled the debt your sin against you past, present, and future. Another word for this is justification. God declares the believing sinner to be right with Him, forgiven. Meaning God’s forgiveness is instant.
This means when we mess up, when we sin now, God’s forgiveness is instant the moment we confess it to Him. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). God is always ready to forgive the moment we ask. Sin always separates, creates barriers. God does not want any barriers between your relationship with Him. He doesn’t want you carrying a heavy load of guilt. That’s why He is ready to forgive the moment we ask.
This is very different from the forgiveness we often give to others. When someone hurts our feelings then asks for forgiveness we’re tempted to respond, “I’ll think about it.” Their vulnerability of admitting their wrong becomes an opportunity rub their guilt in and make them pay for the hurt they caused you. God doesn’t do that. The moment we ask, He instantly forgives.
What if you’ve asked God to forgive you, but you still feel guilty? The question is why are you feeling guilty? For some people they think feeling guilty is a way of showing God how sorry you are. Somehow feeling guilty will make you a better person. Once you’ve confessed your guilt to God, let it go. Stop wallowing in the past. It doesn’t make you better, it makes you miserable. God didn’t go through all the effort to purchase your forgiveness to watch you walk around feeling guilty all the time. Confess it, and let it go.
III. God forgives freely. Free does not mean cheap. We know it cost God the anguish of watching His Son being beaten, spit on, insulted, and ultimately murdered on the cross. It cost God more than we can imagine. But even still, forgiveness that is free sounds too good to be true. That’s because we haven’t come to terms with God’s offer. When Jesus died on the cross, He shouted It is finished (Jn. 19:30). He didn’t say, “They are finished” or “I am finished.” But “It is finished.” Jesus words in Greek are really one word, a legal term. When someone paid their bill, a stamp was put on the bill: “Paid in full” or “It is finished.” When someone finished serving their time in prison, a stamp was put on their prison papers, “Paid in full” or “It is finished.” That’s what Jesus meant on the cross.
Years ago while I was going to Bible college, I lived in an old farmhouse sharing a room in the attic with another Bible college student. My roommate was a deep thinker often staying up till the early hours of the morning in troubled reflection. This one night in particular while he happened to lost in his unsettled thoughts, I sat up in my bed, turned on the light and stared with a blank stare at him. I have no memory of this and didn’t learn about it until the next day.
For some time I sat there and stared at him without saying a word. He immediately became nervous. I don’t blame him! “Uh, … how are you, John?” He tentatively asked to which I made no reply. Just about the time he was really getting uncomfortable, I said, “I’m worthy.” “Oh, that’s great John!” He responded with great relief. I didn’t speak again for a long moment, just continued to stare. Then I asked him, “Are you?” With that, I reached over, turned out the light and went back to sleep. My question jarred him so much that he didn’t sleep the rest of the night!
To this day I’m not sure why I did that except I know in my own relationship with Christ I was coming to terms with His free forgiveness, and it changed my life. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). God forgives sacrificially, instantly, and freely.
IV. God forgives completely. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18).
I heard a true story of a priest in the Philippines who had committed one sin early in life that bugged him to death. Even though he’d asked forgiveness many times, he still felt guilty and carried this burden for years. There was a lady in the church who claimed to have visions and claimed to speak directly to God. He was skeptical of that. He said, “If you really talk to God directly, the next time you talk with God ask Him `What sin did my priest commit in seminary?'” A few days later she came back and he asked her, “Did you ask God what sin I committed in seminary?” She said, “Yes, God said, `I don’t remember.'”
God forgives your sin completely – once for all. Let’s say you committed a sin this morning, confess it today, and God calls you to be home with Him tonight. If you were to stand before God and say, “Oh, about that sin…” God would say, “What sin?” God not only forgives but He treats your sin as if it never happened. He forgives completely. Some of you are going to get to heaven and say, “About that failure…” and He’s going to say, “What failure?” When you sin, be honest with God. Tell Him. Be up front with Him. Call it for what it is, ask forgiveness, and He forgives instantly, and He forgives completely.
The point is, all of us need God’s forgiveness because all of us have sinned. all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23, NAS). Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins (Eccl. 7:20, NLT). How can we be free from our sin? There are basically three ways we deal with sin in our lives: We try to rationalize it – reduce it, “It’s no big deal, everyone is doing it.” But we know, that doesn’t work. A second way is we try to run from it – out distance it. The problem is you can’t hide from a guilty conscience – worse, you feel like everyone knows! The third way is the only way to deal with a guilty conscience, but it is the hardest: we can repent of it – face it head on. The most stable and happy people I know are the ones who’ve learned to live with a clear conscience, they live with integrity. They’re not perfect. They haven’t arrived. They still mess up. But they have learned how to be authentically free from guilt. How? They understand God forgives sacrificially, instantly, completely, and freely.