God’s Encouragement for Today’s Christian – Program 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1997
Do you think you’re one of the “big” sinners? Do you think you are better than other sinners? Are you consumed by guilt and see no way out of it? How can the Bible help you understand yourself as God sees you?

What is Real Guilt, and What is False Guilt?

Do you need to experience God’s encouragement for what you are facing? Many Christians go about their daily lives feeling as if they are carrying the whole world on their shoulders. They seem to be surrounded by troubles that make them sad and confused. They also worry a lot. Life seems to overwhelm them at times. As a result, they have a hard time controlling their feelings and very seldom feel any joy. Is that what you’re feeling right now? Others have nagging doubts. How can you know for sure that God has forgiven you of your past sins? Or, maybe you’re asking, “How can I live victoriously and actually experience Christ’s joy and peace moment by moment?” On this edition of The John Ankerberg Show we will answer the question: “How can you know for sure that God has forgiven you of your sins?” We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Welcome. Many Christians go about their daily lives feeling as if they are carrying the whole world on their shoulders. They seem to be surrounded by troubles that make them sad and confused. They also worry a lot. Life seems to overwhelm them. As a result, they have a hard time controlling their feelings and very seldom feel any joy. Maybe you’re like one Christian friend who admitted that even though he had invited Christ to come into his life, he felt a lot of guilt; the reason being, the more he read his Bible and attended church, the more he recognized how much he was failing God’s standards. Many Christians live with guilt since they have committed great sins in the past, or even since becoming Christians. They wonder if God still loves them, will forgive them, and help them start once again.
Right now, when you think about God looking at your life, what sin comes to mind? What are you embarrassed about? What keeps you from fellowship with your heavenly Father? Do you feel depressed and guilty? If so, I want you to understand the promises God makes to all of us. This information comes from God’s Word and is to encourage you, so I hope you will listen to this whole program and the rest of the programs in this series.
Let me begin by asking you a question: Do you think that you’re a small sinner or a big sinner? Most people believe they are small sinners. They have committed sins, but just the small ones, not the big ones. They don’t think that God is super-mad at them. They admit they have told a few white lies, lost their temper once in a while, but they are quick to tell you they go to church, pray and give a little money to God. They haven’t committed adultery, robbed a bank or committed murder. They consider those sins as the big sins. Is that you?
Then on the other hand, there are some of you listening now who consider yourself to be one of the big sinners. You’ve done it all, over and over again. You have committed adultery or had premarital sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend. You are a slave to drugs or alcohol. Maybe you’ve had a secret abortion, you’ve indulged in homosexuality, or you’ve stolen money from someone, or worse, in anger you tried to hurt or kill someone. Because you’ve done, and are still doing these sins, you have put yourself in the category of being a big sinner. You assume God doesn’t love you, and would never forgive you.
Well, now I want to make a statement to all of you that may surprise you. If you have never seen yourself as a big sinner, standing before God with no hope of impressing Him by your life and actions, then I believe you will never understand why the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. You will never really experience God’s joy and peace. Only when you realize you are in desperate need of God’s mercy will you ever come to God the way you need to come.
Let me see if I can illustrate for you what I mean. In Galatians 5 there is a list of fifteen sins which Scripture says, “Those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” [Gal. 5:19-21] The first five are what many see as the big sins. They are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry and witchcraft. At the end of the list are the sins of drunkenness and orgies. But right in the middle of these so called big sins, the Bible lists the sins of hatred, strife, jealousy, anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy. Any of these sins can also keep you out of heaven. You might not think they are big, but God does.
Look at these sins a little more closely. Have you ever said you hated anyone? Hatred includes taking out one’s own vengeance on another person by some action, then by trying to hurt or destroy that person by what you say. Have you committed that sin? Strife or discord means a person has a contentious attitude toward others and keeps stirring things up between people. The sin of jealousy is the sick feeling you get when you are offended that someone is living a higher lifestyle than you are able to live. They have a bigger home, drive a nicer car, and work at a better job than you do. And you don’t like that one little bit. The Bible then lists rage or outbursts of anger. How often have you lost your temper? Next is the sin of selfish ambition. Do you only really care about accumulating things for yourself? Are you more concerned about what people think of you than what they think about God? Rounding out this list of sins that can keep you out of heaven are dissensions (those who argue and constantly disagree), factions, and envy (the desire to have some advantage or possession which belongs to another).
Have you committed any of these? Remember, these sins are right up there with idolatry and witchcraft. By the way, the sin of idolatry includes putting anything first before God. It can be sports, television, material things, your job, pride. If you put these things first before God, that’s idolatry. So be objective for a moment. Step back and look at your life. If God were to judge your life up to this point, and you have committed more than one of these sins and committed them over and over again, what would He conclude about your life? Would He let you into heaven?
While you’re thinking about that, let me give you another example that is kind of surprising. In 1 Corinthians 6 there is a list of sins which if people do them, they are called “wicked.” This list includes the sexually immoral, idolaters, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, and thieves. But right after these sins it mentions “those who are greedy.” Greed is the desire to acquire more than you need or deserve. Then it mentions “slanderers,” those who utter false statements about other people’s character to ruin their reputation. Next it mentions “swindlers,” those who cheat others to get money, property or something else under false pretenses. Are you guilty of any of these sins? Well, these so-called little sins are listed right along with the big sins. [1 Cor. 6:9-10]
The point the Bible is making is that in this life some sins may bring more disastrous consequences. Some sins may hurt the ones we love more than others. Some sins may bring more dire health consequences than others. Before God, there may be different kinds of sin, but they are all damning sin. The reason that we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking we are not big sinners, terrible sinners, is that we constantly compare ourselves with others and not God’s standard.
Have you ever said, “Well, I’m as good as that person; if he makes it, I’ll make it”? That may be true, but if he doesn’t make it, you won’t make it either. In fact, let’s say that you’ve died and are standing at God’s judgment. Your neighbor, the one you were comparing yourself with, goes before God. God examines his life, sees all of his so-called small sins, and sadly gives the verdict that he is to be sent to hell. As God ushers him out, you begin to realize that according to God’s standards and laws He gave in the Bible, your neighbor was one of the worst sinners. You know you have done the same sins as your neighbor and you’re next in line. How are you going to feel then? If you wait till you die to figure it out, it will be too late. You need to see yourself through God’s eyes, now.
Let me give you another example of our true status before God. For a moment, think of all the commandments in the Bible. Which do you think is the greatest commandment, the most important commandment we are to keep? In Matthew 22 Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment; and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matt. 22:37-39]
Well, if these are the two greatest commandments in the entire Bible, have you kept them? Have you loved God with all your heart, mind and soul every moment that you’ve lived? If you say no, then you’ve broken the greatest commandment God has given to man. If so, we’re all big sinners deserving God’s judgment. You probably are saying, “John, thanks for telling me that. I needed an upper today. I’m sure glad I tuned into your program. Is there any good news from God? The answer is yes!
Why is it that we must understand how much we have blown it, how much we have sinned before we can experience God’s peace and forgiveness? The reason is, until you recognize how much trouble you are in before a holy God, and until you realize that there is nothing you have that you can bring to God to impress Him, to motivate Him to forgive you of your sins, you’ll never understand the wonderful salvation that God offers to you. You have to give up the idea that because you’ve done something, because you went to church, because you tried to be the best person you could be, these good deeds cancel out your sins. They don’t.
For example, let’s say you’re driving down the road and you’re caught by a policeman using radar. You’re going twenty miles an hour over the speed limit. If you told him, “Yes, you’re right, officer. I broke the law this time, but for the last three years I obeyed the speed limit every day. Isn’t that good enough to let me off?” You know what the policeman would say. He’d say, “It doesn’t work that way. You may have kept the speed limit in the past, but that was only what was expected of you. Your good driving behavior doesn’t cancel out your violation today.”
In terms of God’s moral law, we have broken His law over and over again. When we live right, we’re only doing what is expected of us. We don’t build up brownie points with God. Our good behavior doesn’t cancel out our many violations.
The apostle Paul in Romans 3:19 wrote that someday every mouth will be silenced. No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law. In other words, by our deeds, by how we have lived our lives, none of us have been good enough to measure up to God’s standards.
But then in verse 21 Paul tells us, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.” That is, God has provided a righteousness for us not based on our efforts to live up to His standards. Where did this righteousness come from that God is providing? Let me answer by asking you a question. If you were to stand before God someday at the judgment and Jesus offered to let you use His track record, His perfect life so you could get credit for it before God, do you think God would be pleased? Sure He would. According to the Bible this is part of what God provides.
But we still have another problem, our sins. God can’t just close His eyes to our many violations. They must be punished or He would be a crooked judge in the universe, not a holy and righteous God. So what did God do? The answer again is Jesus. After He lived a perfect life, Jesus went to the cross and allowed the Father to put your sin and mine on Him. Then the Father punished Jesus in full for everything you and I have ever done wrong or will do wrong. Do you realize that all of God’s pent-up anger, all of His wrath, the hell we deserve, was placed on Jesus while He was on the cross? He paid the full penalty for our sin that God required that we could never pay.
Jesus now offers all sinners a choice. First, He asks, “Would you trust Me to take care of your sin problem? Would you allow Me into your life to change you from the inside?” Or second, “Do you want to keep your sins, die and come before God at the judgment, where you will be judged fairly, found to be guilty, and sentenced to hell to experience the full anger and wrath of God in punishment of your sins?” Is there any reason why you wouldn’t accept Jesus’ first offer right now?
The Bible promises, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” [John 3:16-17]
Do you remember when we read Romans 3:19 where Paul wrote that no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight because of our sins? The word “declared” is actually the legal word “justified.” In a courtroom, when all the evidence is in, a judge can either pronounce a verdict of guilt and condemn the person to punishment, or the judge can pronounce him justified. The judge’s verdict, his legal pronouncement that the defendant is declared justified, means he is now seen by the court as free of all guilt or blame; he is absolved; he is cleared.
In the Bible the apostles used the word “justify” over and over again to show that when a man or woman puts his or her faith in Christ, God makes a judicial pronouncement, an eternal judgment about their sin. God says they are justified. That is, the moment a sinner puts his faith in Christ, that person is declared by God to be free of any future penalty or punishment as a result of his sin.
Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
Paul says in Romans 4:5, “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” This means the moment we trust Christ, God also provides us a new status, a new standing, a new righteousness we didn’t have before. He credits to us the very righteousness of Christ. How do we get it?
Paul says in Romans 3:22, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
When we admit to God what He already knows, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” [Rom. 3:23] when we tell God we recognize our position, “that the wages of sin is death,” that is, separation from God, hell, and trust the fact that “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” [Rom. 6:23] we should act and believe God’s promise to us: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Rom. 10:13]
God invites you to come to Him and tell Him you are putting all of your faith in Christ and His substitutionary death on the cross for your sins. When you ask God to cleanse and forgive you of all the sins of your life, He will. He promises. But some of you have done that, but have fallen back and committed the “so called” big sins. You assume the greater your sin, the lesser God’s forgiveness; similarly, the lesser your sins, the greater your forgiveness. I want you to know, God’s Son and His death and shed blood on your behalf is worth a whole lot more than any sin you have ever committed. Nowhere in the Bible does God say He has forgiven us all our sins except the ones you’ve committed. Jesus paid it all.
Remember the list of big sins in 1 Corinthians 6:9 which included “the sexually immoral, idolaters, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers”? Look at what the next verse says: “And that is what some of you were.” In other words, when they came to Christ, God forgave them, changed them and cleansed them. Then it says, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.” [1 Cor. 6:11] They were fully forgiven. Until you settle this issue of forgiveness, you will never experience God’s joy! If a seed of doubt remains that all your personal sins are really forgiven, you will never have peace.
In the book of Hebrews we are told, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God?” [Heb. 9:14]
Whatever sins you have committed, however guilty you might feel, God promises that the blood of Jesus Christ was shed for you. The moment you come to Him in faith and ask Him to forgive you, you are fully forgiven. God promises the Holy Spirit will take up residence in your life and cleanse your conscience from all “those acts that lead to death” that you were involved in. You say, “That’s too good to be true.” But that’s exactly what God promises in the Bible.
Now where does faith come in and what about repentance? Faith is not cleaning yourself up before you come to God, it is not a commitment to obey God’s commands, it is not repentance or your promise to live a new life for God. Faith produces all of these effects, but faith is not to be confused with that which flows out of it. Faith does not need works in order to become justifying faith before God; rather, faith is made up of knowledge of who Christ is, His life and death for you on the cross, and God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation to you because of Christ. But faith is not only believing intellectually the facts of salvation, it also includes agreement with those facts. And finally, it includes trust. These three parts make up saving faith.
The reason many of you have no joy or peace is because you are missing one of the three elements. You may have knowledge of what God says, you may agree with what God says, but some of you have never trusted yourself, and your eternal destiny to Christ. Let me illustrate.
The story is told about a famous tightrope walker who went to Niagara Falls and strung a heavy wire across the falls from the Canadian to the American side. Then he astonished the crowd watching him by walking on that wire across the falls and back.
Next, he took a wheelbarrow and put three heavy sandbags into it, about the same weight as a man. He then wheeled the wheelbarrow on that wire across the dangerous falls once again. The crowd went wild with applause.
When they calmed down, he said, “How many of you believe that if I wanted I could put a man in the wheelbarrow and safely wheel him across the falls and back?” Everybody in the audience quickly raised their hands.
Then he said, “Alright, if you believe that I can do it, who’ll be the first to get into the wheelbarrow?”
Nobody would! You see, they had intellectual faith that the man could safely take them across the falls, but they didn’t actually want to trust him by getting into the wheelbarrow themselves.
And some of you are the same way with Jesus. You know that Christ died for you and God promises to forgive you because of Him, and you agree with God you that are a sinner and are in need of a Savior, but you have never put yourself in Christ’s hands and trusted Him. In brief, your salvation and mine is based on the answer to one question and one question only: Am I willing by faith to receive Jesus Christ as my personal Savior based on the fact that when He died on Calvary, He paid my sin debt in full?
Repentance, on the other hand, comes as a result of true faith. I turn away from sin because something has happened in my heart, not so that something will happen in my heart. It is something I do by my will after, and as a result of, what God does in my heart when I receive Christ by faith. We repent as a result of accepting Jesus and experiencing His grace at work in us. The only thing that is required for you to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God; that He died on the cross to pay your sin debt; that He is your Savior and Lord. God does not put anything else on people as a requirement for their salvation. It would be burdening them down with works and diminishing the grace of God at work in their lives.
Romans 10:9 tells us plainly, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” We don’t perform for God; we don’t have to continue experiencing guilt over not doing enough to please God or being good enough for God to save us, we simply trust God to forgive us, and to declare us justified because of Christ.
Would you be willing to put your faith in Christ and trust Him to take away all your sins? If so, I’m going to say a prayer right now and I invite you to say it with me. “Dear God, I believe Jesus died and paid for all my sins. I believe you love me and are willing to forgive me, cleanse me, and change me. I have failed miserably in so many areas. I invite you to come into my life and I accept your gift of total forgiveness. I trust myself into your keeping, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd;… My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:14, 27-30).
Now, some of you who are Christians say, “John, I still sin. I don’t want to sin, but I still do.” What does God want me to do to correct this problem? First, if you feel guilty, if you have sinned, bring it to Christ and ask Him to forgive and cleanse you immediately.
Next week we’ll examine the power God provides in grace so we can live the Christian life, have peace and joy, and be able to break bad habits and sinful behavior. I hope that you’ll join me then.

Read Part 3

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