Forgiveness of sin is one of the foundations of the Christian faith. It is one of the primary reasons that the Son of God died upon the cross. Thousands of sermons, songs and hymns have been written concerning the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God. One of my favorite old hymns says it this way:
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emanuel’s veins
And sinners plunge beneath that flood, lose all their guilt and stains
(William Cowper, 1772)
We are all sinners who need a Savior. We need a Savior because our good works, righteous deeds and best intentions can never cover-up our sin. We need forgiveness of sin and the righteousness that comes from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ because we cannot save ourselves. This is Christianity 101. As believers we all echo the words of the Apostle Paul:
This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. (1 Timothy 1:15 NLT)
Even though we acknowledge our need of salvation, we also rejoice in the grace that we have received. We have received a powerful divine gift that could never be earned or deserved. We rejoice because God poured His love out for us on the cross prior to our willingness to accept His forgiveness or even acknowledge our need of His forgiveness.
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8 NLT)
There is always a struggle to allow your redeemed nature to rule your life and to separate yourself from the sinfulness of your past. Many Christians struggle with feelings of unworthiness or shame. There are many Christians who struggle with their own memories of who they were and what they have done, not to mention the friends and family members who remember You, B.C.
How do you escape a past that keeps coming back to remind you that you lived a different life before you met Jesus?
There is nothing you can do to erase who you were or what you have done. Life cannot be lived in any direction but forward.
If you have truly repented of your sins, placed your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and are pursuing Him with your whole heart you have been made righteous because of Jesus.
Does this mean that the people you sinned against or with have magically forgotten and forgiven you of all your wrongs? I truly doubt it. God chooses to not remember our sins:
And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins. (Hebrews 8:12 NLT)
People…well let’s just say they are not God. People remember. People hold grudges. People have scars. Depending on who you are and what you have done there may be people who will never forgive you for the sins that you have committed. There is no escape from the memory of those whom we have wronged; there is however, an opportunity to make new memories through repentance, restitution and new life/deeds.
Zacchaeus was a man who struggled with the history that he had created through years of sin against the people around him:
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 NLT)
What do you do to the people you have sinned against?
You admit your sin and you ask them to forgive you. You share your testimony with them and you work on making things right.
Is this easy?
No, this is extremely difficult. It requires a significant amount of humility and depending on the sin that you have committed could be very painful experience. The forgiveness of God does not erase the pain we have caused. We can use God’s forgiveness of our sins as an open door into the lives of others to share God’s love and the change He has made in our life while seeking to put right the things that we have done wrong.
Is it necessary for salvation for us to track down all the people we have sinned against and seek their forgiveness? I cannot find this in the New Testament. Our salvation is based on our faith in Christ alone.
Is it biblical to seek reconciliation and forgiveness from those whom we have wronged? Here is what Jesus had to say:
So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT)
The two most important commandments in the bible can be summarized in, “love God and love people.”
Our willingness to share the forgiveness that God has granted us while seeking forgiveness from those whom we have sinned against is one of the most powerful methods of personal evangelism. We are bringing others to the cross of Christ by sharing our need for the cross in our life.
Why did I write this message?
I wrote this message because as a Christian you are free from sin, its guilt and its penalty. We are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:12). God’s love is absolute.
It is much easier to stand with your heart and conscience cleansed before our loving God than it is to stand before people and feel the same way. You and I will have to continually deal with our past sins. Thankfully the blood of Christ has paid for the eternal penalties that our sins earned us, but many times the consequences of our words and actions must be dealt with on an ongoing basis.
It is extremely important to make a distinction in your heart and life between the grace we have received from Christ and the temporal consequences of sin. Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ does not negate the law of sowing and reaping. The blood of Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness but we may still have to deal with the results of our unrighteousness. The waves of yesterday’s disobedience may continue to crash upon the shore of today for a season.
You will continue to deal with issues but you are not dealing with them alone and you do not have to deal with them in your own strength. The Holy Spirit is resident in your life as your divine helper. He is here to lead, guide and strengthen us. The love, grace and power of God will help you deal with and overcome the issues and challenges in your life.
Trusting Christ for salvation allowed God to change you from the inside out. Living the Christ-like life allows the Holy Spirit to display the power of God to people who know what your life was like prior to serving Jesus. Your are forgiven and changed. Many times it is witnessing the change in your life that causes others to want what you have.
If you have been plagued by guilt and condemnation you don’t need to be. Jesus bore our sins on the cross so that we would not have to continue to carry them.
Here is a simple biblical method in dealing with sin.
- Acknowledge that you have sinned by calling it sin
- Confess the sin to God and ask Him to forgive you
- Repent (stop doing what you were doing and do the right thing)
- If the sin was against someone else acknowledge what you did was sin to them and ask them to forgive you and then work to make right what you did wrong
Don’t hide from your sin or pretend it did not happen. Bring it to the throne of God’s grace so that you can be forgiven and then having received God’s grace live like Jesus.
Don’t be afraid to ask Jesus to help you clean up your messes. His grace is sufficient for you and He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. Let the love He has given you flow through you to the world around you. You are forgiven and changed so that you may bring change and forgiveness to others.