When was the last time you rejoiced in forgiveness? The message of the gospel is beautiful in that God fully understood our sinfulness and chose to reconciled us to Himself at the cross. Does that make you happy? I suspect if you’re anything like me, you get more caught up with taking stock of all the ways you fall short. I know I’m forgiven, but I rarely meditate on what that means.
Forgiveness is difficult to understand. It’s one of the ways that God operates differently from our natural paradigm. People don’t forgive like God does. When we hurt others, we often have to earn their forgiveness. Even when it’s freely offered, we’re still somewhat indebted to the forgiver until we can find a way to even the slate.
Our innate paradigm of forgiveness makes God infinitely scary. We don’t have the means to even our slate with Him: He doesn’t sin against us and we cannot offer Him anything He doesn’t already have. The more we come to terms with God’s attributes, we are rightly afflicted with a sense of insufficiency. I’ve heard it said that to grow in spiritual maturity is to be increasingly aware of our sin. As much as I talk about the joy and peace I receive through the gospel, sometimes being a Christian is overwhelming. There’s only so much I can handle falling short of the standard. This is especially true for me as I’m about to embark on a career as a minister of the gospel. The pressure to be good enough is overwhelming.
That’s why I need to reflect on the totality of God’s forgiveness…
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit” – Psalm 32:1,2
My pastor preached on this psalm on Sunday and it was wonderful. I’d like to share some of his thoughts and my reflections. I’m not fully sure where my ideas begin and his end, and I would encourage you to listen to the sermon if you have some time.
He started with some definitions, and that’s where I’ll start as well. The word blessed is one that pops up in scripture a lot, and it simply means “happy”. There is a happiness that should result from being forgiven. If it doesn’t bring us a deep sense of joy, then perhaps were not fully understanding what it means when God call us forgiven.
Let’s look at some more definitions:
- Transgression: a legal term referring to an offence against God’s law
- Sin: a broader term indicating to an offence against God Himself.
- Iniquity: likely referring to defilement of the soul, an internal guilt
- Deceit: a lack of honesty with self and God, likely arising from insufficiently dealing with sin
Putting it all together, we see God dealing with the legal and broader, including relational, consequences of our sin. He forgives- or carries- our trespasses so we stand before Him righteous and able to enter His presence freely without being destroyed (Ephesians 3:12, Hebrews 4:16, 10:19). He covers our sin, restoring relationship with Himself so we can know Him and experience His love (John 1:12, Ephesians 3:14-19). He removes the weight of our iniquity so our consciences are free to worship and enjoy Him (Matthew 11:28-30, Hebrews 9:14). He guarantees the completeness of our purification so that we stand before Him completely clean, with nothing to hide before Him and the world (Romans 8:33-34, Hebrews 7:25).
Does this bring joy yet? It gets better when contrasted with the alternate ways of dealing with our sins.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin – Psalm 32:3-5
We as humans know that we need to deal with our sin somehow; imperfection is common to us all and we all want to remove it far from ourselves. A large part of the human experience is bound up in wrestling with our penchant for missing the mark. At various points in my life, I’ve tried to hide some or all of my sin. This continues even till today sometimes. If I can keep my weakness from the eyes of people or even God, then maybe I can make it go away. Maybe if I confess most of my sin, just enough not to look too bad, then I can deal with the rest myself and earn a measure of righteousness. And sometimes after I do something wrong, I draw back from God long enough to do some good deeds to show Him how sorry I am.
King David knew all too well the folly of this. Covering up his sin drained him. It left him feeling weak and overwhelmed. He wasn’t strong enough to bear his sin and it gnawed at his insides. They say confession is good for the soul, and this psalm bears witness to that.
The recipient of confession matters as well as the act of confession. God forgives more graciously and more completely than any person can. In fact, He is the only one who can really forgive us of our sin because sin is primarily an offence against His holiness. I cannot forgive you for offences against my sister, not matter how close we are; It’s simply not mine to give. This is why people were so amazed by Jesus’ statement, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20-25). They recognized that no man had the right to make such a statement.
Hebrews teaches that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). He doesn’t simply offer us words of solace, or tell us to do better next time; He removes the stain of our sin. We may still bear the natural consequences of our actions for disciplinary purposes to build our character, but the guilt of our sin is removed. We are not longer known as liars, schemers, fornicators, murderers, blasphemers, haters of God, etc; we are saints in Christ. He changes our identity.
It’s not fair, and it’s not easy to understand. I still want to take stock of all I’ve done wrong. I still want to grieve for those I’ve hurt, or whose trust I’ve broken or the circumstances I’ve set in motion. But godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). And in repentance, we are made pure again.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous!
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!