THE COMFORT OF GOD’S FORGIVENESS

Last month as I was reading the last several chapters of the book of Psalms I came across a couple of verses I don’t remember ever having read before.  Psalm 130:3 and 4 grabbed my attention, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you” NIV).

I thought to myself how grateful I am that God does not keep a record of my sins, but that he forgives me when I fail and fall short. Through the years I have spoken with a number of Christians who shared with me their concern that God may not have forgiven them. My response has always been not to chastise them, but to encourage and affirm them.

The reality is that all of us are guilty of sin. Romans 3:23 makes that clear: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT). Not only have we all sinned, we also continue to sin. Hopefully we make progress as we live the Christian life, but we do not reach perfection.

The fact that God forgives us and does not keep a record of our sins is an expression of his love, mercy, and amazing grace.  In Romans 6:23 the Apostle Paul reassures us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (NLT). Our forgiveness is provided through the sacrifice of Jesus. The most famous verse in the Bible makes that clear: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I think a couple of observations are important to note in claiming the comfort and beauty of Psalm 130:3 and 4 and other verses. One is that it is entirely inappropriate and to miss the point to assume that God automatically forgives everyone’s sins. No real Christian will freely sin presumptuously thinking God will forgive no matter what.

The criteria for forgiveness is awareness, admission, and confession of sin as well as real and heartfelt repentance. I’m not suggesting that God won’t or doesn’t forgive us, only that we need to take seriously our part and guard ourselves from hardened and unrepentant hearts.

To any reader who has doubts or concerns about God’s forgiveness and salvation I would like to recommend the best book I have ever read about God’s love and assurance. GENTLE and LOWLY: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers was written by Dane Ortlund and published last year by Crossway. Ortlund cites and explains many passages from both the Old and New Testaments that bathes readers in God’s love and comfort for our sins.

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WHICH IS BETTER?

Driving home earlier this summer from a Men’s Retreat I was listening to a CD of some old songs and hymns. One of our seniors had loaned it to me and wanted me to listen to it. I was on something of a spiritual high from the retreat and thought it would be a good time to listen. While I didn’t enjoy all of the selections, there were a few that inspired me as well as caused me to think. One song in particular got my attention and I have been thinking about it on and off since that Sunday morning.

Here are the words of one of the verses and the chorus:

I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus,
Since I found in Him a friend so strong and true.
I would tell you how He changed my life completely;
He did something no other friend could do.

Chorus

No one ever cared for me like Jesus;
There’s no other friend so kind as He.
No one else could take the sin and darkness from me;
O how much He cared for me.

All my life was full of sin when Jesus found me;
All my heart was full of misery and woe,
Jesus placed His strong arms about me
And He led me in the way I ought to go.

As beautiful and powerful as the words are, it is not my story. I became a Christian and was baptized a few months short of becoming a teenager. Stay with me on this, but my life was not completely changed that day (as the song writer meant it). At that point my life was not full of sin, my heart was not full of misery and woe, and I don’t recall the sin and darkness being taken from me as the song notes. All I knew was that my older brother was going forward that Sunday morning to be baptized and I was going to do it too.

I had started attending the church at the invitation of my best friend. It was a small church with no children’s or youth ministry beyond Sundays, but it was a warm and welcoming church. My brother and I were accepted and loved without either of our parents accompanying us. The people rejoiced in our decision and congratulated us like we were their own. And we were.

The small church we began attending grew in every way eventually bringing on staff a part time youth minister God greatly used in my life. I stayed an active member of Forest Dale Church of Christ until I left following high school graduation to attend Cincinnati Bible College.

Here’s what sometimes troubles me when I hear songs like No One Ever Cared for Me like Jesus, Amazing Grace, and many others: I don’t have a testimony that matches those words. In my life I have committed my worst sins since I became a Christian. We wouldn’t describe too many 12 year olds as wretches, would we?

Not to be presumptuous, but isn’t my story similar to many Christians who are reading this? Churches, parents, pastors, and children’s ministry leaders have done and do a great job of leading young people to accept Jesus and make a faith commitment to him.

I was baptized at the age of 12, but my father came to Christ in his forties a few years after my brother and I did. If I could talk with him about what I am writing, I’m confident he would identify with Amazing Grace and No one Ever Cared for Me like Jesus far greater than I can.

So let’s ask the question that is the title of this post: which is better? Some may disagree with me, but I don’t have an answer. Regardless of when we came or come to Christ, what is most important is that we have done so or do come to Christ.

Going back to the song, in my case Jesus did change my life completely. He changed it from what it would have been had I not started going to that little church. In my dad’s case, the Lord changed his life completely as a father with two teenage sons from that moment forward.

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