THE ONLY WAY TO BE FORGIVEN
Pr. Dennis Gallaher
My friend Ted died on June 6, 2000. The details will always remain clouded because only one person really knows what happened and that man is in jail for the rest of his life. Ted was instrumental in my early Christianity when he and his wife discipled me and allowed me to become a part of their family. Though we had lost touch for many years, the year before his death we again fellow shipped.
His life had been difficult, running the gambit of highs and lows but his love for people and the Lord never waned. His murder (it is still difficult to use that word) was a shock to thousands who had experienced the grace of God through him and his wife.
The trial was not long. The man pled guilty to avoid a possible death sentence and soon the judge’s gavel fell with a 45 year sentence in the penitentiary. Ted’s grown children and his wife were allowed to speak to the man after he was sentenced. This is a tradition in our criminal justice system, the right for victims to speak to those who have committed crimes against them. But what happened next was remarkable. What happened next was the headline of the local paper the very next day.
The headline read,
Wife of Murdered Man Forgives Murderer
In one of those remarkable moments of divine grace, she looked the murderer of her husband in the eye and said, “I forgive you.” Though he would spend the rest of his life behind bars and never know the freedom of walking down a busy street or a lonely country road, he had been freed in one amazing moment of divine grace. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them,” Jesus said to the disciples the evening of the resurrection. And so it was. She forgave the man that had murdered her husband.
In that solemn courtroom of man’s justice, the murderer experienced the only thing that can come close to God’s forgiveness and that is the forgiveness of one so violently offended.
Forgiveness is what separates Christianity from every other religion. No other creed has at its core the realization that guilt is so consuming, no act of valor or sacrifice can adequately compensate for the cost. Instead, religion creates methods of payment for sin with the idea that man can be his own savior through good works. In other words, religion develops systems whereby man tries to access God’s favor through good works. Religion is man’s way to get to God.
But Christianity is just the opposite. Christianity is God’s way to get to man. Christianity is all about a holy God who does all of the work of entering into my world of sin and shame. Try as I might, there is no payment that can cover the cost of my offense... my sin must be forgiven.
The word is actually two words joined together;
• For means in support of or in favor of a person. It is a word that looks to the future...forward... and is positive instead of negative.
• Given is a word of release. When something is given, it means that it has been willingly released. Something given can not be bought, stolen, taken away or earned, it can only be received with gratefulness.
The words joined means that God willingly supports us by giving us what we cannot earn. He willingly releases to our benefit a gift that can only be received with a grateful heart. It’s cost is immeasurable!
Four Great Truths from the Bible
There are four great pictures of God’s forgiveness in the Bible. These word pictures describe forgiveness better than any words I could write.
The first is found in Isaiah 38:17,
It is Thou who has kept my soul fromthe pit of nothingness, For Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.
Remember that the word for is half of forgiveness? God is always moving forward. He does not turn around to inspect the past of a life that is forgiven. The promise is that the sins He has cast behind will remain in the past forever.
Isaiah 43:25 says,
I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake;
And I will not remember your sins.
For years I was perplexed at this scripture that says God can forget what I cannot. After all, if He could forget my offenses, couldn’t He also forget me? But there is a hidden gem in the meaning of the Hebrew word “forget.” The word means that God promises to never bring up my sin again. His promise is that He will never again so much as remind me of my sin. His “forgetting” is intentional, deliberate and an amazing act of mercy to my soul so given to feeling the sting of shame.
Micah 7:19 says,
Thou will tread our iniquities under Thy foot.
Yes, Thou wilt cast all our sins into
the depths of the sea.
In the ancient day that this was written, the sea was a foreboding and dangerous place. If something, or someone, fell into the sea there was no possibility of recovery. If it was a person, “lost at sea”, it meant no hope of ever seeing that person again. No one can ever escape what has been lost to the deepest sea.
That is the beauty of this passage. When God promises to cast our sins into the sea, He means that our sins are so far removed from us that they are lost through the grace of God forever.
Finally, Psalm 103:12 says,
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our
transgressions from us.
When David penned the words of this psalm, he had no idea how accurate a word picture he painted. The truth is that “east and west” never meet! If a person begins to travel east and another travels west, the two will only move further away with every step.
Once again, God’s intention is to declare that forgiveness is completely out of our hands and in the hands of His greater grace. Our Savior has tossed our sins behind Him, He will never bring up my sin again, He has thrown them into the up my sin again, He has thrown them into the deepest sea and sent them on a path that is the opposite of mine. His forgiveness is complete, absolute and everlasting!
And so, the scripture declares, as we have been forgiven we should also forgive. Jesus taught us to pray,
Forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves also forgive everyone
who is indebted to us. (Luke 11:4)
This is the proof of our forgiveness from God. We forgive because we have first been forgiven.
Someday, there will be another courtroom scene where you and I will participate. In that great hall of eternal justice, the accuser will rise to declare my sins and misdeeds. He will tell the Judge the reasons and legalities that should damn me to an eternal sentence of death. He will even offer to cart my soul off to his hell where I will suffer immeasurably yet never pay the price for the sin of my soul.
But before the gavel falls, Another will stand. My advocate, Jesus Christ, will rise to my defense. He will declare His forgiveness for all of the sins I have committed, yet there is more. Jesus Christ will look His Father in the eye on that day and show Him the scars that not only brought forgiveness but also took the punishment for my sins. In that eternal moment, the Father will declare that the price has been paid, the sin forgiven and the reward of eternal Heaven granted. Knowing this great truth, I am compelled to forgive, even in the face of the greatest offense.
But there is more. Knowing this great truth, I am also compelled to worship the only One who can forgive the sin of all mankind!
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow;
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!