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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Image by sspiehs3 from Pixabay

THEN WHY READ IT?

One of the reasons I like to read articles and books by good Christian writers is because they teach, challenge, warn, convict, encourage, and affirm me.

The last few days I have been reading a book by Timothy Keller entitled The Prodigal Prophet. If you are somewhat familiar with the Bible, and think about that title, you will eventually correctly guess that it is about Jonah.

What sparked my attention today was Keller’s observation that Jonah was “misusing the Bible” when he refers to God’s revelation to Moses’ that God is “compassionate and gracious” (Exodus 34:6). That was apparently one of the reasons Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. But Jonah did not continue and refer to what Exodus 34:7 says about God. Keller notes Jonah “reads the Bible selectively, ignoring” parts of it (p. 106).  I don’t think Jonah was the first or last to do that, do you?

On the next page Keller writes about Christians reading the Bible today and really got my attention by suggesting “if we feel more righteous as we read the Bible, we are misreading it; we are missing its central message. We are reading and using the Bible rightly only when it humbles us, critiques us, and encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws” (p. 107).

In all honesty I must say I very rarely feel more righteous after reading the Bible. Do you? (Please note I did intimate that every once and awhile I do feel more righteous.)

But what about Keller’s suggestion that we’re correctly reading the Bible only when it humbles us and critiques us. Who wants to be critiqued and humbled? I certainly don’t. As I suggest in the title of this post, if we’re reading the Bible to be humbled and critiqued, then why read it? I can think of two reasons.

One is that most of us need to be humbled and critiqued. I know I do. And who better to do that than the Holy Spirit through the reading of God’s Word? The prerequisite, of course, is that in coming to the Bible we have to be open to and willing to accept God’s humbling and critiquing of us.

The other reason we should read the Bible is the rest of what Keller says: reading the Bible “encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws.” Who doesn’t want to be encouraged by God’s love and grace? And don’t overlook Keller’s added truth that God does this even with our shortcomings and failures.

Because of my “job” as a pastor, I have had much opportunity to read and study the Bible the last 46 years. Even though I am still reading it in order to teach others, these days I find myself getting a lot more out of it for myself. Perhaps you would like to join me in praying that as we read his word God will continue to humble us, critique us, and encourage us with his love and grace even with our flaws. Need a suggestion where to start? How about Jonah?

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