March 22, 2009

The Essentials

What all Christians believe and why it matters

Part 10: I believe in the forgiveness of sins



Today, we’re looking at the tenth article in the Apostles Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Martin Luther believed that “the forgiveness of sins” was the most important article in the creed.  “If that is not true, what does it matter whether God is almighty or Jesus Christ was born and died and rose again?  It is because these things have a bearing upon my forgiveness that they are important to me.”  That may sound self-centered, but Luther, who had been a Catholic monk, had struggled with his own sinfulness and guilt. 

ILL: Before his break with the Catholic Church, Luther went to confession every day and was so guilt-ridden by his sins he would have gone every hour.  When Luther slept well, he even felt guilty about that, thinking, “Here I am, sinful, having a good night’s sleep.” So the next morning, he would confess that. One day the older priest to whom Luther went for confession said to him, “Martin, either find a new sin and commit it, or quit coming to see me!”

Luther was tormented by his sinfulness, which is probably why he thought “the forgiveness of sins” was the most important article in the creed.  That’s what we’re talking about today.




          This is the tenth, and next to last message in this series, “The Essentials: what all Christians believe and why it matters.”  We’re working our way through the Apostles Creed, the oldest and most widely accepted of the creeds.  A creed is a summary of core beliefs-the essentials.  These are the essentials that all Christians share in common. 

Richard Baxter, a 17th century Puritan pastor wrote that there was a “core of orthodox Christianity that Puritans, Anglicans, and Catholics could all affirm,” and he urged Christians to come together as “mere Christians,” a phrase made famous by C. S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity.  Charles Colson writes, “the truth of the great fundamental creeds-mere Christianity-can be affirmed by all true Christians.”  These are the essentials.


The Apostles Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

    Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

    He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead.

    He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
    whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.


I believe in the Holy Spirit,

    the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,

    the forgiveness of sins,

    the resurrection of the body,

    and life everlasting.  Amen.


I believe in the forgiveness of sins.  Here’s the question I want to ask you: are your sins forgiven, and do you know it?  Some people would answer, “I don’t buy the whole sin deal.  I’m not a sinner.”  Which brings me to my first point:


1. Own up: confess your sin.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

If we confess our sins…He will forgive us.  The word “confess” translates a Greek word that literally means “to agree with, to say the same thing as another.”  The idea is that we agree with God when He says, “You sinned.”  “You’re right God; I sinned.  I did the wrong thing.”  It’s agreeing with God, admitting that you’ve done wrong, owning up.  Does God say you’ve sinned?  Yes.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Who has sinned?  All.  Let me see the hands of everybody who is included in “all”.  “All” pretty much covers all of us.  All have sinned.  I have sinned. 

          What is sin?  The Greek word hamartia literally means “to miss the mark”.  Imagine a bulls-eye. 

ILL: On New Years Eve, our Life Group gathered with some other friends at one of our homes, and the guys were playing darts.  It was highly competitive, very noisy…and hilarious.  When someone hit the bulls-eye, this electronic dart board played some music-I can’t remember specifically what it was because we hit the bulls-eye only a few times!  In fact, we missed the whole dart board more often than we hit the bulls-eye.  Out of hundreds of shots, we had a handful of bulls-eyes.  All those shots that missed the bulls-eye-SIN.  There was a lot of sin going on in our dart game!

What is the bulls-eye in life?  God’s moral standard.  God’s righteousness.  God’s perfection.  We all miss the bulls-eye far more often than we hit it.

Think for example of the Ten Commandments.  You might think, “Hey, I do pretty well on the Ten Commandments: I don’t lie, steal, murder, or commit adultery.”  That’s four…of ten.  Let’s narrow it down to just one of the ten and take a deeper look.  How many of you have never murdered anyone?  Almost everyone…that’s good!  If someone next to you didn’t raise his hand, you might want to keep an eye on him!  Listen to what Jesus said:

Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

How many of you have never been angry with someone?  Oops.  Jesus took the commandment, “Do not murder”, and extended it back to its roots-anger.  The sin is not just the act itself, but the attitude that spawned the act. 

So sin is not only the action that misses the mark, but the attitude, the thoughts of the heart, the words that we say.  Sin is any thought, word or deed that misses the mark of God’s moral perfection. 

ILL: Imagine this.  What if you had a little screen on your forehead that allowed everyone to see what you were thinking at any given moment?  How many of you would wear a veil?  Or walk around looking like you were deep in thought?

Can you see why the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”?  We all sin.  But not everyone wants to own up.  As someone said, “Sin is the disease that we all suffer from, but we feel our neighbor’s case is far more advanced than ours and ours is on the verge of being cured.”

          Here’s the deal: if we don’t own up, we can’t be forgiven.  You have to accept the diagnosis before you can affect the cure.  You have to admit there’s a problem before you can apply a solution. 

ILL: A friend told me recently about growing up in his dysfunctional family.  Among other problems, hygiene wasn’t a value.  On his first day in grade school, the teacher took him into the bathroom, made him take off his shirt, and scrubbed him clean.  The teacher said, “You smell bad.”  It was a turning point for him.  He had never realized that he was dirty and smelled bad.  That was normal in his home.  He needed a new idea of normal!

You won’t clean up if you don’t think you’re dirty!  Some of us have grown so accustomed to our sin that when someone says, “You’re sinful,” we protest, “No I’m not.  I’m a pretty good person.”  We need a new idea of normal. 

          Here it is: Jesus is normal.  Stand next to Jesus, and compare yourself to Him.  Then, like Peter, you’ll say, “Wash me, Lord.  Not just my feet, wash all of me.”   

          This is where we start: we confess our sins.  We agree with God when He says, “You sinned.  You missed the mark.  You did, or said or thought the wrong thing.”  I agree with God, “You’re right Lord.  I was wrong.  Please forgive me.”  You’ve got to accept the diagnosis to affect the cure. 

Has God been speaking to you lately about your sin?  Have you had any pangs of conscience?  Any feelings of guilt or remorse or shame?  Own up.  Confess your sin.  Agree with God…and be forgiven.

Are your sins forgiven, and do you know it? 


2. Open up: receive God’s forgiveness.

          After you own up, you need to open up and receive God’s forgiveness.  It’s a gift.  You don’t deserve it, you don’t earn it, you just receive it as a gift.  God in His mercy forgives your sins because of Jesus.  We are forgiven because Jesus took our sin upon Himself, and then bore our punishment.  All of God’s wrath against our sin was poured out on Jesus, who absorbed it on our behalf.  This is what the Scripture means when it says “Christ died for our sins.”  (1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Peter 3:18) He died to pay our moral debt and forgive us.  At the last supper, Jesus took the cup and said:

Matthew 26:28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

He shed His blood to forgive our sins.  The penalty for sin is death; Jesus died to pay our penalty.

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

Forgiveness of sins is through His blood; we are forgiven because Jesus died in our place and paid our debt, and offers forgiveness of sins as a gift.  It’s a gift He purchased with His blood.

You can humbly and gratefully accept forgiveness as an undeserved gift.  Or you can be self-righteous and think that you’re good enough that you don’t need it.  We’re going to take a closer look at one story that illustrates these two attitudes: humble receiving or self-righteous rejection.

Luke 7:36-50 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Pharisees were the most religious, the most observant Jews of Jesus’ time.  They devoted their lives to keeping the Jewish law, right down to the smallest details.  They were very proud of their religious devotion, and tended to be self-righteous. 

So Simon the Pharisee hosts a dinner party for Jesus.  The dinner would have been held in an open courtyard at Simon’s home, and it was customary when an honored rabbi, like Jesus, was present that towns-people could come to listen.  So imagine a low table spread with food and wine, and the invited guests reclining on pillows, their feet extended away from the table, and uninvited guests standing around them to listen.  This woman slips in with the others to listen to Jesus, and she sees how rudely Simon treats Jesus.  It was customary to welcome guests to your home with three courtesies.

  • First, you kissed the guest; we would shake hands or hug them, but in many cultures it is still customary to kiss the cheeks as a greeting. Simon had not kissed Jesus. Imagine a guest to your home offering you his hand, and you walk away-it was that kind of snub.
  • Second, you offered perfumed oils for the guest’s face. Sun and wind chapped the skin, so these oils were a kindness. We might offer our guests something to drink to refresh them. Imagine a guest arriving at your home on a hot day, and saying they were thirsty, and you just ignore them-it was that kind of snub.
  • Third, you washed the guests’ feet. The roads were dusty, and people wore sandals, so it was customary to wash their feet. We don’t do that, but when people arrive at our homes after traveling, we ask, “Would you like to wash up?” and direct them to the bathroom. Imagine a guest asking, “Could I wash up?” and you say “no” and walk away-it was that kind of snub.

Jesus was treated very rudely, and it broke this woman’s heart.  So she slipped out of the crowd and did what Simon had failed to do.  She washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  She anointed his feet with the small flask of perfume that Jewish woman wore around their necks.   And she kissed his feet out of love. 

          And what was Simon’s reaction?  He thought, “I’d never let a sinful woman like that touch me!  If Jesus were a prophet, He wouldn’t either.”  Simon not only saw himself as better than this woman, but better than Jesus! 

          Jesus could see right through Simon.  Jesus can see right through me…and you too.  He knows what we’re thinking.  He knows our self-righteousness and our pride.  So He tells Simon a story.  Two men owed a moneylender money: one owed $100,000, and the other $10,000-both substantial sums.  When neither could repay him, the moneylender forgave both debts.  Who loved him more?  Simon, who was good at math, quickly answered, “The one who was forgiven more.”  The more you’re forgiven, the more you love-the more grateful you are.

          Jesus turned to the woman and told Simon, “I came to your house, Simon.  You didn’t wash my feet; but this woman washed them with her tears.  You didn’t give me a kiss; but this woman has kissed my feet.  You didn’t give me oil for my head; but this woman perfumed my feet.  She loves me, Simon, and I’ll tell you why: because she has been forgiven much, she loves much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”  And I think as Jesus said this last sentence, He leaned in and looked right at Simon. 

          Then He told the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”  And everyone there thought, “Who does Jesus think He is?  Only God can forgive sins.”

          What was Jesus trying to communicate to Simon?  He was trying to help Simon see that he was a sinner in need of forgiveness too.  But as long as he stubbornly refused to own up, he could never open up and receive.  The woman, on the other hand, was very aware of her sins, and happily received forgiveness as a gift.

          Which are you?  Are you a proud Simon who looks down on others and thinks you’re better and don’t need forgiveness?  Or are you a sinner who knows you need forgiveness and gratefully receives it as a gift from Jesus?  Do you know how to tell which you are?  Ask yourself, “Do I love Jesus much or little?”

ILL: It’s so easy to think we are better than others, better than we really are.   Here’s a little exercise that gives us some perspective.  Remember, sin is thinking, saying or doing anything that misses the mark of God’s moral perfection.  How many times a day do you sin?  The best among us has sinned a lot and needs lots of forgiveness.  For example, if you are a conservative sinner and only sin an average of 10 times a day, by the time you were 10, you would have sinned 36,500 sins.

By 20, 73,000 sins.

By 30, 109,500 sins.

By 40, 146,000 sins.

By 50, 182,500 sins.

By 60, 219,000 sins.

By 70, 253,500 sins.

By 80, 292,000 sins.

That’s a very conservative estimate…10 sins a day.  And that’s not counting leap years!

He who is forgiven much loves much.  Our problem is that we don’t see our sins like God does; we see ourselves as better than we are.  We are Pharisees.  We think others’ sins are worse than ours, and we’re close to being cured.  As long we think like that, we’ll leave Jesus at the door unkissed, unwashed, and unperfumed.  We’ll love little.  But when we see ourselves as we really are, and see that Jesus loves us anyway, and freely and fully forgives us-we can’t help but love Him lots! 

          Own up, then open up.  Like this woman, receive forgiveness as a gift…and love Jesus much.

Are your sins forgiven, and do you know it? 


3. Let it go: forgive others.

          There’s one more important part of forgiveness, and Jesus emphasized it in His teaching.  We must not only receive forgiveness from God, but we must also share it with others.  We must forgive others.  The word “forgive” in Greek literally means “to let go, to send away”.  Rather than holding on to our hurts and offenses and grievances, we let go of them.  We send them away.  We don’t hold them against the other person.  This is what God does for us.  The Bible says that when God forgives our sins:

  • He removes them as far as the east is from the west. Psalm 103:12
  • He buries them in the deepest sea. Micah 7:19
  • He blots them out. Isaiah 43:25
  • He remembers them no more. Jeremiah 31:34

When God forgives you, He lets it go.  He doesn’t hold it against you any longer.  And this is what we’ve got to do with others.  Let it go.  Forgive them.  I’ve listed lots of Scriptures; we’ll look at two.

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

You all know this is part of the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus taught us to pray this: forgive us our debts, our sins, as we also have forgiven our debtors, those who sin against us.  “God, forgive me just like I forgive others.”  Then Jesus adds:

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Part of being forgiven is being forgiving!  We’ve got to let it go.  Isn’t that what you want God to do with your sins?  Then you’ve got to do it with others.  Jesus illustrated it this way:

Matthew 18:21-35 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Peter thought he was being generous, because the Jewish rabbis taught that you should forgive someone three times.  Peter took that number, doubled it, and added one for good measure, and thought Jesus would give him an atta-boy!

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Jesus isn’t suggesting that we keep track of everyone’s sins up to 77 times-that would be an accounting nightmare!  He simply means that we forgive our brother every time he sins against us.  Here comes the clincher.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

The first servant was forgiven an astronomical sum.  A man earning one denarii a day would earn a single talent in his lifetime.  10,000 talents was what 10,000 men would earn in their lifetimes.  It was a debt so large that it was impossible to repay.  Yet it was all forgiven.  I am that servant; my unpayable debt has been paid.  God has forgiven me everything.

          So how crazy is it if I won’t forgive my brother, who owes me far, far less.  One hundred denarii was 100 days wages for an average working man.  100 days wages is not pocket change.  It’s a significant debt.  But compared to 10,000 lifetimes wages?  It’s one-millionth of that.  Imagine being forgiven a million dollars and then choking a guy over a buck!  That’s the picture. 

          We’ve got to forgive.  And the way to do it is to realize that you’re forgiven:  lavishly, generously, extravagantly forgiven, so you can afford to forgive others.  I don’t need your buck to pay back my million-my million is forgiven, so I can forgive your buck.  Part of being forgiven is being forgiving! 

          Let it go!  Your sins are forgiven, so let it go.

ILL: Peter Gillquist in his wonderful book, Love is Now, tells this story about forgiveness. 

          When their first child, Wendy Jo, was 4, they lived in a small two-bedroom apartment.  Pete’s wife, Marilyn, would put Wendy to bed in their bedroom, and put the other kids in the nursery to keep them from talking with each other while they were supposed to be napping. 

          Marilyn was out in the kitchen finishing the dishes when she heard Wendy jumping on their bed.  She walked back and told her to quiet down.  A few minutes later the jumping resumed.  This time the instruction was more specific.  “If I have to tell you again, you will get a spanking.  Besides, Mommy’s favorite lamp is on the table next to the bed, and I’d feel terrible if anything were to happen to it.  Now be quiet and go to sleep.”

          Back in the kitchen for the third time, Marilyn thought she heard the sound of a bouncing child.  Just before she reached the bedroom, there was crash.  After the spanking, Marilyn took Wendy in her arms, hugged her, and said, “I spanked you because you bounced on the bed after I told you not to.”  Marilyn then swept up the remains of the shatter lamp as Wendy watched in dismay.  When all the pieces were swept up and dumped in the garbage, Marilyn took Wendy in her arms again and said, “As far as the lamp is concerned, Mommy loves you and forgives you, and I’ll never mention it to you again.”

          The next day, Marilyn inadvertently stepped on one of Wendy’s toys and smashed it.  She felt terrible.  Wendy ran over, picked it up and said, “Mommy, I forgive you for that, and I’ll never ever mention it to you again.”

That’s what it means to let it go.  Who do you need to forgive?  What have you been hanging on to?  Listen to Jesus’ words: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”  Ask Jesus to help you forgive; He will.  He’s really good at forgiving!

Are your sins forgiven, and do you know it?