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THE JOY OF FORGIVENESS

December 2000 | by Roger Fellows

Does anyone want to be sad? There are some people who give that impression, but no one really wants to be miserable. We all want to be happy. David, King of Israel, did too.

A king has no shortage of wealth, servants or any other means to make him happy. David could have called for money, food, a choir, an orchestra or any other kind of entertainment to cheer him up if he felt sad. Perhaps there were times when he did just that.

However, what made him really happy was to know that his transgressions – his sins – were forgiven by God. He gives expression to his joy in Psalm 32:1: ‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven’, he declares.

The word ‘blessed’ is not used much today. It is hard to find an exact modern equivalent, but ‘happy’, ‘joyful’, or ‘to be envied’ give a fair idea of its meaning. David clearly includes himself among those who are forgiven and therefore supremely happy.

If this is so, it is worth taking time to consider what it really means to be forgiven. There are several words used in the Bible that help us understand forgiveness. Let us consider some of them.

Forgiven

The first word, ‘forgiven’, means ‘taken away’ or ‘carried off’. Every Tuesday morning our home is visited by the agents of ‘forgiveness’. They take away all the rubbish we want to get rid of! It is carried several miles away to be dumped and, as far as we are concerned, it has gone for ever. We feel a sense of relief and satisfaction when the dustmen or garbage collectors have removed all that we put out for them.

Similarly, in moral terms, our lives are polluted by all sorts of unclean things – habits, thoughts and words. When we believe that Christ died for our sins, and ask God to forgive us, he takes all our uncleanness and defilement far, far away. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us’, says Psalm 103:12.

We might have trouble grasping that: how far is east from west? The psalmist means that the Lord has taken away our sins as far as it is possible to take them. Our sins are gone for ever, never to be found again. The same idea is present in Micah 7:19: ‘You will … hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea’.

Have we confessed our sins to God? If we do this sincerely, trusting in Christ ‘who died for us and rose again’, they will never again be counted against us.

What a sense of relief this should give us! We can easily imagine the relief felt by Christian in John Bunyan’s allegory Pilgrim’s Progress when he gazed at the cross where Jesus died to bear our sins, and the great burden on his back fell off and disappeared into the tomb.

Covered

This second word, also found in Psalm 32:1, means exactly what it says – covered, concealed, not visible.

We were once decorating our dining room which had been a bedroom before we bought the house. As we stripped off the wallpaper we were surprised to find underneath a two-foot high picture of Bugs Bunny! Because it was covered up, we had no idea it was there.

So it is with our sins if we are true believers. They are covered. It is true that we are still sinners, but God does not ‘see’ our sins because of the covering.

What is the covering? It is the blood of Christ. Let me explain this in terms of an Old Testament picture.

On the Day of Atonement the Jewish high priest went into the innermost room of the tabernacle, carrying a bowl of blood from an animal sacrifice. He sprinkled the blood on the cover of the ark, a cabinet which contained the Ten Commandments.

Why this procedure? The people were guilty of breaking those commandments, thereby incurring God’s wrath. The commandments, so to speak, cried out in condemnation, calling for judgment on the people. But the sprinkled blood covered up those broken commandments, hiding the sins of the people from God’s sight.

This was only a picture, of course. It is impossible for the blood of animal sacrifices to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). But the procedure pointed to a better sacrifice – the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. There Jesus shed his own precious blood to blot out or cover our sins.

We are all guilty of breaking God’s commandments, and our sins cry out for judgment. But as we look to Christ alone for cleansing, they are blotted out and are no longer seen by God.

Remembered no more

God says: ‘I … will remember their sins no more’ (Jeremiah 31:4). That is an amazing statement. After all, God knows everything. As we get older we grow forgetful and do not remember things we should. But God does not forget things.

What, then, do these words mean? They mean that God deliberately chooses not to remember our sins. Of course, he knows we have sinned. He knows our every thought, word and deed; everything that passes through our minds. But, because of Christ’s atoning work, he does not consider the sins of those who trust in Christ. As far as he is concerned they no longer exist.

We need to keep balanced here. Properly understood, this truth will not encourage sinful behaviour. The Lord will still convict us of our failures by his Word and Spirit. What we are talking about here is the guilt of our sin. When we have confessed our sins and trusted in Christ, our guilt is removed, because Christ has taken our punishment and guilt upon himself.

Purified or cleansed

The apostle John wrote: ‘If we walk in the light as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, purifies us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7). The word ‘purify’ is sometimes used literally to mean ‘wash’, but often, as here, it is employed in a ceremonial sense. However, the picture is clear.

Little Johnny comes home from the football game with his clothes grimed with mud and grass stains. His mother groans, wondering if she will ever get them clean. Into the washing machine they go, and emerge almost as good as new. The stains are gone.

So it is with the stain and defilement of sin. Sin is a foul thing, not only incurring God’s wrath but also defiling our whole nature. We may well despair, finding no medium which will remove our sin.

But the blood of Christ will make us pure and clean. As the old hymn says: ‘What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus’. In Revelation 7:14 the apostle John was shown a great crowd of people with white robes. He asks who they are and is told:

‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’. We must not take this literally, of course. What it means is that when anyone believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, accepting that his blood brings forgiveness and cleansing, their sins are washed away and they are clean in God’s sight.

Another marvellous thing about forgiveness is that it is free. There is nothing for us to pay. It is all received through grace by faith. As Augustus Toplady wrote in his hymn Rock of Ages: ‘Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling’.

What a wonderful condition to be in! No wonder David calls such people ‘blessed’. There should be no happier people on the face of the earth than those who are forgiven. Are you among them?

Careless about sin?

Someone might say that if we emphasise forgiveness too much, we won’t be bothered when we sin. If this is our response, we have neither understood nor experienced forgiveness through Christ.

Anyone who has seen the awfulness of sin, and experienced the wonder of forgiveness, will be so filled with gratitude to God that they will want to please him. The psalmist says: ‘If you, O Lord, kept a record of sin, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared’ (Psalm 130:3-4).

Some might argue that if we have been forgiven there is no longer any need to fear God, but that is not the case. In the Bible, to fear God is to love and obey him. Knowledge of forgiveness will put us in awe of God as well as cause us to love him. If we love the Lord we will not lightly displease him.

A forgiven people will be a holy people, who love the one who died for them and shed his blood for their forgiveness.

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