In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace. (New American Standard Bible)
For our meditation this morning, I would like to meditate with you on the topic, "The Forgiveness of God", based mainly on our text which says: "In Him(Christ) we have redemption through the blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace." (Ephesians.1:7)
One great truth that Christian have felt, known, and experienced, is the fact that, God is rich in love, mercy, and forgiveness. From eternity to eternity, God is always full of love and forgiveness. This is evidenced in the life of a wayward Israel as portrayed in the book of Hosea. The Israelites wandered farther and farther away from God, but God was patiently following them in faith, in love, and in forgiveness.
The great Apostle Paul has also experienced this truth. As we read through his pre-Christian life story, we could see how far he was from God and how great was that wall that separated him from the Lord. But great was God's faithfulness and forgiveness for him. He was a sinner being saved by the forgiveness of God. He was a forgiven sinner. Then he wrote to the Christians at Ephesus,"In him (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace."
I. The first question that I would like to bring to you is, "What is meant by God's forgiveness?" As far as this question is concerned, there are two ideas that I would like to submit to this congregation this morning.
a.) The first idea is that, "God's forgiveness is any favorable thing a person experiences as an answer to his attempt of pleasing God. A person says to himself."I must do this and that, so that God will forgive me." He believes that the primary factor by which he could be forgiven by God, by which he could obtain God's forgiveness, is the ability to do good, such as reciting memorized prayers, giving alms, praying to all the saints, and etc. When he experiences that which is favorable to himself, then he believes that he has obtained the forgiveness of God.
b.) The second idea on the question, "What is meant by God's forgiveness?" is now present in the minds of evangelical Christians. In a book entitled, "A Handbook of Christian Theology", we read: "Forgiveness is the act by which God brings sinful men into a right relationship to Himself. It is an act of grace, that is, of undeserved favor, on the basis of the work of God in Jesus Christ, and is offered to the repentant sinner who trusts God's word of promise". From this definition of "God's forgiveness", let us try to see some facts that are involved in it, namely:
1. Forgiveness is God's own act of bringing sinful men to Himself. It is an act of God which is a part and parcel of His nature and character. He is not motivated by any outside force before He acts to forgive. He forgives us even before we ask forgiveness. When we ask for forgiveness, it is only an indication on our part that we are now ready to receive God's forgiveness which has long been offered to us.To illustrate this truth, let us recall the story of the Prodigal Son. The Parable tells us that after much suffering from lack of food, the prodigal son came to himself and said; "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants." And he rose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 15:17-20) Brethren, forgiveness is God's own act of bringing sinful men to Himself. It is offered to us long before we ask for it. It was offered to the prodigal son long before he said, "I will arise and go to my father." Note what the Bible says; While the son was yet at a distance, the father saw him and had compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him." So, forgiveness is God's own act of bringing sinful men to Himself.
2. Secondly, forgiveness is an act of grace. An author defines grace as "God's personal attitude toward man, His action and influence upon him." Grace is something that is freely offered to a sinful world similar to our world. That is why the Bible says,"God so loved the world that He gave His only Son...". Forgiveness is given to us as a gift, it is given to us as an act of grace and that we receive it only through faith in Jesus Christ.
3.Thirdly, God's forgiveness is declared, manifested, given and offered to us through Jesus Christ. What God has done on the Calvary Cross through His Son Jesus Christ was an act of forgiveness. That is why we receive, we feel, we experience God's forgiveness only through Jesus Christ and him alone. The Bible tells us that there is no other name given under heaven by which we shall be saved; it is only in the name of Jesus Christ.
4. Finally, God's forgiveness can be experienced only by a repentant sinner. It can be received only by those who are ready to receive it. For instance, the prodigal son received his father's forgiveness only because he was ready to receive it. He came to himself and acknowledged his sinfulness, he repented from his sins, and he went back to his father's fold.
Brethren, what was the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea? He said, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Friends, it is only when we acknowledge our sinfulness, and repent from our sins that we shall receive God's forgiveness. Paul has said, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Man has turned away from God, and exalted himself for his own glory. He came to a point of his life wherein he had forgotten the truth that he was created by and for God. He went on his way with a rebellious spirit against his Creator. He was always, in all aspects of his life, in rebellion against God and consequently he found himself trapped into a situation and condition wherein he could not get out of it, which means that, man can not save himself from his sinful condition. But at this point, that man cannot save himself from his sinful condition, God has to come to seek and to save him. That is why Paul said to the Corinthians: "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." And Jesus himself said: "For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10)
Let us therefore consider that God came to offer us His heavenly forgiveness not because man cannot save himself, but because forgiveness is part and parcel of God's gracious life. He forgives not on the basis of man's incapability to save himself, but He forgives on the basis of His out going, overflowing, and self-imparting love. Bible scholars would say along the line that, God's forgiveness is a part of His absolute attribute as Holy and Righteous God. And the fact that He is a Holy and Righteous God, it follows that He is full of love and forgiveness. In fact, we read from the "Letter of John" that "God is love", and that His love carries with it the idea of forgiveness.
But then let us consider another thing which is very important along this line. It is true that God's forgiveness is offered to us freely and graciously but this offering does not carry with it the idea of compulsion. It is offered to man either to be rejected or to be received. And only those who are ready to receive it, those who receive it by faith, are the ones that can be forgiven.
II. The last question that I would like to bring to you is this, "What would be an indication in our lives that we have already received God's forgiveness?
What would be an indication in our lives that we are already living under God's forgiveness? Is it when we go to church fairly regularly? Going to church is a Christian duty, and we have to do it by all means. But I am not saying that to go to church regularly is a 100% guarantee that we have already received God's forgiveness. It is possible for any person to go to church regularly without being forgiven from his sin.What then is an indication that we are already living under God's forgiveness? My friends, I don't know of any indication except if a person has received the love of God, naturally he has to love God and his fellow men. An author says, "Love to God and love to men are so inseparable that the presence of either is the evidence of the other." So we cannot love God without loving our fellow men.
With regards to this matter of loving our fellow men, there are two things that I would like to say:
1. First, to love our fellow men is to have a forgiving spirit. In other words, if we say we love God and our fellow men, we must always have a forgiving spirit. In John 4:20, we read: "If anyone says., I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." Brethren, there should be no room for hatred in the heart of any Christian because the love of God is there constantly creating a forgiving sprit.
2. Second, to love our fellow men is to be concerned with their spiritual well-being. God in Christ laid down his life for our welfare. He loved us so much even to the point of death. And so, those, who have received the love of God, should also be concerned for the spiritual well-being of their fellow men, even if it means death. Again in 1 John 3:16 we read, "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
Who then is forgiven of his sins? The Bible says, he who has received the love of God in spirit and in truth is he who has received the forgiveness of God.
As I close this message, I wish to repeat that the forgiveness God has come to us in this wicked world through the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we believe in Him in confidence, we receive God's forgiveness. Those who have experienced and are experiencing God's forgiveness and are living under His overflowing grace, could not help but have a forgiving spirit. They are those whose lives are easy to forgive. They forgive not to seek God's forgiveness, but they forgive because they are forgiven by God.
Our text says, "In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace."
Delivered on October 22, 1969 at The Methodist Church, Baguio City, Philippines