Thursday, 21 May 2015

God loves to forgive

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. Psalm 130:3-4.

Here's a question that calls for painful honesty by way of reply: Do you ever harbour grudges? Carry chips on your shoulder? Do you allow things people have done to you, or perhaps said about you, to rankle months or even years after they happened?

I suspect that even the most easy-going of us might have to say yes in reply. Even if we don't allow our grievance to eat us up inside, deep down it is still there, working its poison. Yes, it's very easy to "keep a record of sins".

The good news is that this is something God doesn't do. I suppose that if anyone was entitled to, it would be him. But the Psalmist glories in the fact that the opposite is true. "With you there is forgiveness," he says. How we need to drive this great truth into our thick skulls - our God is a God who delights to forgive. Got it? Really?

There are at least three things we need to do following on from this.

First, accept God's forgiveness with pleasure and delight.

Don't go on for ever carrying that burden of guilt. Bring it to God, lay it at his feet, tell him from the bottom of your heart how truly sorry you are... and you are free! Don't keep returning to your guilt and picking over it like an old scab that is never allowed to heal. If God has blotted it out of his mind, well, why shouldn't you do the same?

Second, move on from your failure with a new determination never to fail again.

I think this is partly what the Psalmist means by "...therefore you are feared". In some ways it seems a little odd to fear a God who loves us so much as to forgive us.

But sin and guilt are serious matters, so our reverence and respect for such a God should instil in us a deeply serious attitude towards life and how we live it. A person who has had a massive debt wiped out should be all the more determined never to get into such a position again.

Third, extend to others the same forgiveness God has extended to you.

The forgiven person must become the forgiving person. Isn't it hypocritical to receive forgiveness from God only then to withhold it from someone else? Remember how we pray in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive others the wrongs they have done to us." That second part is absolutely crucial.

Hatred breeds hatred. Vengeance breeds vengeance. Violence breeds violence. That is the sorry story of our world. But, thank God, the opposite is also true: love breeds love, and forgiveness breeds forgiveness.

Suppose God was in the business of totting up all our misdeeds? As I look at my own life, I can only imagine him sitting there in heaven licking his pencil, so to speak, and adding yet another item to the grim catalogue. I can only say that by this time in my life he would need a pretty long piece of paper... As the Psalmist puts, who indeed could stand? But that is exactly the way it isn't.

Here are two other Bible verses that drive home the same wonderful truth. First, "You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19).

I love those verbs, don’t you? God will tread our sins underfoot. Can you see him - stomp, stomp, stomp? And he will hurl them into the depths of the sea. Can you see him, like a discus thrower, and our sins disappearing over the horizon?

Second, and rather more prosaically, he also says: "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). Thank God for his long-term memory loss!

Don't - please! - spend too long thinking about those verses. Just grab them in both hands and run with them.

Lord God, the tally of my sins would be massive by now - it would need a computer to add them all up. So thank you for the free grace of your wonderful forgiveness. Help me to live every day in the joy of that forgiveness. Amen.

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