There are two ways of being religious. One is to believe that God is in debt to us. Because of our goodness, our piety, or our trying real hard to be fair, God owes us his approval and his love, which he pays by giving us eternal life.
The other way is to acknowledge the depths of our debt to God. It is to know that only by the giving of his Son, Jesus Christ, that we are free from sin — that which prevents us from coming to him. Thereby he allows, gives, grants, us to have an eternal relationship with him.
Which do you believe? It does make a difference.
In this time of tolerant talk and inclusive thinking about the christian church and what she stands for, it is unusual to encounter a person who perceives himself or herself to be condemned on account of sin. A Christian understands that unite with a congregation, to become a member of a fellowship of believers, is not merely a start toward becoming a better person or finding a group where good deeds can be practiced. Rather, to be a Christian is to know through public confession that Christ died for sins, and that cleansing and forgiveness are received by the grace of Christ only.
Becoming a Christian means believing in Christ as the one who can, and does, forgive sin. All other acts performed by us, are carried out in light of that knowledge.
Forgiveness And Judgment
If God forgives, why is there judgment? Because the Bible never says, “Forget the past, ignore it, God has forgotten so you can too.” Rather, the truth is this: what we have done, we have done. Who we are, and what we did are historical facts.
But this is the Gospel: all that we are; the wasted years; the bad soil from which grew deceit, pain, and transgression; the days when we were sinners beyond recognition, and saints beyond belief — all of that is with Christ. And what does He do with it? Our self-absorbing pride becomes reverence; our self-centeredness becomes dedication; our self-aggrandizement becomes devotion for Him.
Christ forgives it all so that He can be with us. He transforms it all so that we can know the companionship of His presence.
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” —Galatians 2:20
God Forgives But the World May Not
Though our sins are forgiven by God, the penalties imposed by the world for our sins may afflict us through life. God may choose to remember our wrongs no more, but the effect which we have on those who surround us in this world, and the effect which the world has on us in return, are things which may be borne by us to the end of our days. Christians often believe that if our sins have been forgiven, then all is forgotten, and there are no further consequences to our actions. But that is not always so — nor should it be.
“The sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me.” —II Samuel 12:10
Forgiveness V. Justice
It may be that the supreme trials of life come after sin. After a person has yielded to temptation, or following a transgression when the person is wounded, cut, and torn is when the true character is known.
Sincere repentance brings with it great forgiveness. God’s love and mercy wait for all who truly repent — holding nothing back. But also know this: God is just, and his judgments in this world must be satisfied.
“If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me.” —Jeremiah 15:19
Often, people express the desire to live life over again. Most remember doing things which are now regretted, situations which were not taken seriously, goals to which great energy was expended that are now viewed as being insignificant.
But life cannot be lived again, and the past remains the past. The Christian knows this and commits to living future days earnestly and carefully, looking to Christ with all trust. Christ is the great end of life, and faith in Him is the true goal. Regret for yesterday is not the Christians calling, rather acknowledgement and acceptance of past mistakes, and the sure belief that Christ calls us to Himself — eternally, in the future.
“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 3:13-14
We all have feet of clay. We make mistakes as we walk through life. Too many Christians do not take these mistakes seriously. They echo the words of James, “we all make mistakes…” and go on with life believing that God accepts this fact and forgives because of it.
But the truth is that God wants us to not stumble and fall in the first place. Therefore, He wants to be our Keeper, our Helper, and the One who teaches us to see what is wrong, thus causing us to live by what is right. True, forgiveness can be ours — but isn’t it better not to fall in the first place?
“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling” —Jude 24
Done For Us
Centuries before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah said, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” ( Isaiah 9:6 ) As hard as it is for us to believe that Jesus was God — that God did become a person like us, perhaps the harder truth is that He is ours. That this child belongs to us. That through this child, born at Christmas, God gives forgiveness and peace to a struggling world. That this child was born so that we might be transformed. God did not do it for Himself — He did it for us.
Many people, and Christians are among them, think of forgiveness as a common, ordinary thing. Forgiveness is seen as a way to be excused from punishment, an avoidance of the consequences for doing wrong. But true forgiveness must be much more.
If forgiveness is to be more than just not facing consequences, then what is it? It is the hostility which results from wrong, gone away. It is trust restored. It is reconciliation in the highest form. While the president may pardon a criminal, that person is still a criminal; but when God forgives, the sin is gone completely, and the person becomes a new creation in Christ.