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DO WE REALLY UNDERSTAND THE MECHANISM OF FORGIVENESS?

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT

THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
American Baptist - United Methodist

5 MAY 1996

BY: Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Genesis 15:6
Psalm 32:1-5
Proverbs 19:11
Isaiah 1:16-20
Luke 7:37-50
John 10:9

Some people mistakenly believe that God will forgive everyone, that they can live any way they choose, and that everyone really goes to heaven.

But that's not the way the Bible tells us that it works.

Yes, Jesus came to save everyone, and yes, He died for our sins; but that is only part of the equation.

The relationship of Abraham with God is probably the simplest form of how this equation of forgiveness works (Genesis 15:6):

6. Then he [Abram] believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Simply because Abraham [Abram] believed in the Lord, the Lord considered it equal to righteousness.

Thus, He had to have forgiven Abraham's sins in the process.

Because Abraham believed, he was forgiven.

Now listen to what Jesus tells us (John 10:9):

9. "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

Since Jesus came and paid the price of our sins, there is a somewhat new aspect to the mechanism of forgiveness.

We are to enter in to the kingdom through Jesus.

In one respect, this is really the same thing as with Abraham: it involves simple belief.

But on the other hand, it involves a more active participation; for in order to enter through Jesus, we must now also be a part of His participation in our forgiveness.

We must repent.

Abraham also repented as part of his belief; but somewhere along the way, most people lost sight of what true belief and faith involves.

A person can't really have faith in God and not want to walk away from their sins, and then to continue to strive to become a new person in the Lord.

Itís just as we are told in Proverbs 19:11:

11. A man's discretion makes him slow to anger,

And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.

In our process of becoming a changed person, we not only receive our own forgiveness from the Lord, but we learn to forgive others in the same way.

But in what way?

Listen to how the psalmist explains it in 32: 1-5:

1. How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,

Whose sin is covered!

2. How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,

And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

Here's the first key to unlocking the door to forgiveness.

We are not to have a deceitful spirit; we're to be free of deceit.

And when we are this way, something takes place within us.

3. When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away

Through my groaning all day long.

4. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me;

My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.  

Selah.

A person who is open to hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit cannot do something wrong without its causing that person to have such an inner disturbed state of being, that they have to do something about their sin.

This happens because the Holy Spirit constantly reminds us of what we have done.

And this, in turn, leads us to repentance.

5. I acknowledged my sin to Thee,

And my iniquity I did not hide;

I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord";

And Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.

Selah.

This is the mechanism of forgiveness.

In Isaiah 1:16-20, the Lord expresses it another way to those who are reluctant to listen.

16. "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;

Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.

Cease to do evil,

17. Learn to do good;

Seek justice,

Reprove the ruthless;

Defend the orphan,

Plead for the widow.

And the Lord, knowing that most people want to argue with Him or blame someone else, or simply defend their actions, goes on and even offers them a way of receiving His forgiveness.

18. Come now, and let us reason together,"

Says the Lord,

"Though your sins are as scarlet,

They will be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson,

They will be like wool.

19."If you consent and obey,

You will eat the best of the land;

20. "But if you refuse and rebel,

You will be devoured by the sword."

Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

It is here that we see the opposite side of this mechanism of forgiveness, which most people don't want to hear about.

If we don't repent, if we don't turn from our evil ways, we are not forgiven; we do not receive salvation.

To put it another way, you go directly to jail; you don't pass "Go," and you don't get your $200.00.

In a few minutes we are going to eat at the Lord's table. In Luke 7:37-50 we are told of another gathering at a table with the Lord; and at this gathering, Jesus explains how this mechanism of forgiveness works.

37. And behold, there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,

38. and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet, and anointing them with the perfume.

I have heard people say that they are not good enough to go to church.

These two verses should dispel any such thought.

I have heard people say that they didn't come to church because they were angry or frustrated because of something.

These two verses should dispel those thoughts, as well.

When something isn't right in our life, we are to come to Jesus, and not run away from Him.

But sometimes people let the sins of others keep them away, too, as the host of the dinner is attempting to do:

39. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner."

Even though we don't say everything out loud, we do telegraph our inner thoughts and feelings that others perceive, as did Jesus.

40. And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, "Say it, Teacher."

41. "A certain moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.

42. "When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him more?"

43. Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly."

44. And turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair.

45. "You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.

46. "You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.

47. "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."

This is another part of the mechanism of forgiveness: if we do not have the power of love within us, neither do we have the power to either receive forgiveness for ourselves or to pass it on to others.

48. And He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven."

49. And those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?"

50. And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

To summarize:

Everyone needs to come before the Lord with a humble heart and with no deceit within them.

Everyone needs to freely confess their sins and innermost thoughts to the Lord, and to seek His love and forgiveness and guidance.

And everyone needs to have a place of sanctuary, a place to go where they feel safe and comforted.

We are such a place, and others in our community need to know this.

As we come before the Lord's table, let each of us consider about ourselves:

"What innermost thoughts and feelings do others Ďreadí in me?

Am I the beacon of light to lead others through the Door of everlasting life?

Am I part of the mechanism of God's forgiveness?"

If the answer to these reflective questions is positive, then we can say, "Amen."

Amen.

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