God’s Encouragement for Today’s Christian – What Does God’s Word Say about Forgiveness
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1999|
|Many Christians are nearly crippled by guilt over past sins in their lives. Does the Bible offer any hope for them?|
God’s Encouragement for Today’s Christian
What Does God’s Word Say About Forgiveness?
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?” This article will answer the question: “How can you know for sure that God has forgiven you of your sins?”
I want to talk to those of you who are Christians but feel depressed, guilty and unforgiven by God. That’s right. I believe you can be a Christian and still feel that way anyway. It’s not how God wants you to think and feel, but you feel that way.
Many sincere Christian people secretly will say, “John, I really don’t know if God has forgiven me of my sins. I would like to know, but for some reason I just don’t seem to experience God’s love and acceptance.”
It’s not uncommon for them to listen to other Christians give testimony of knowing the reality and wonderful forgiveness of Christ, and wonder why they don’t know that same reality.
Right along this line some Christians say that they constantly feel guilty, especially when they think of standing before God at the judgment.
They have told me, “I just know God will not be pleased with my life. He’s going to give me a stern, disappointed look and put me a long way off from Him in heaven.”
Other Christian friends experience spiritual depression and wonder why. They are almost always unhappy and never really seem to enjoy their Christian life. Is any of this true of you? If it is, I want to try and turn your attention to some good news from God’s Word that will encourage and help you.
Now, one reason why some Christians are unhappy and do not feel forgiven is that they wrongly assume that as long as people put up their hands in a meeting and sign a decision card that they are Christians and should be perfectly happy. Having done that themselves, they wonder why they aren’t happy.
In fact, all kinds of difficulties seem to come their way and they ask, “How can all of this be happening to me since I am supposed to be a child of God?”
Let me say such feelings and experiences do come to real Christians. The Bible, church history, and experience clearly show us that true believers do experience problems; they can have doubts, they do get depressed and feel guilty. Moses, David, and Peter are just three quick examples of this.
Further, if all we have to do is believe and accept salvation and as a result we automatically live happily ever after, then the New Testament epistles would never have needed to be written. People would just get saved and go on happily for the rest of their lives with no problems. But there is abundant evidence in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, that this is not the case.
Almost all of the New Testament was written to people who were in trouble in one way or another, who were unhappy for various reasons, who were tempted to look back to the life out of which they had been saved. They were unhappy and troubled even though they were Christians. They didn’t know what to do or believe, and they needed help. In other words, the apostles were writing to real people just like us and giving them God’s answers to the same kinds of problems we face. What did they tell them? One of the primary questions they answered over and over had to do with God’s forgiveness.
Apparently, these people had committed so much sin so many different times, they were worried and wondered if God would still love them, forgive them, and let them into heaven. Some of the people the apostles were writing to were saying, “God couldn’t love me. After all, I stole something. I had an abortion. I’ve told a lot of lies. I’ve had premarital sex, I’ve committed adultery or been involved in homosexuality.”
Like these people, maybe there is some sin in your life that constantly makes you think God couldn’t love you and He just wouldn’t forgive you.
Well, the Bible says you are wrong about God. He knows all about your sins and still loves you. He wants you to come to Him for complete forgiveness and for His help and guidance. Now I’m going to try and show you from both the Old and New Testaments that this is true. We will also see the basis upon which God says He is willing to forgive all of our sins.
In his book, “The Grace Awakening”, Chuck Swindoll relates one of his all-time favorite stories in the Old Testament that illustrates God’s kindness to us. It is about a fellow by the name of Mephibosheth. Do you remember King Saul? Well, he had a son by the name of Jonathan, who had a son whose name was Mephibosheth. Jonathan’s boy was crippled almost at birth, when the nurse who was taking care of him fled from some soldiers, fell, and dropped him. The nurse had no medical help available to her, and therefore the little baby boy suffered a permanent injury. He lived the rest of his life lame in both his feet. Nothing is said in Scripture about this boy for the next 15 to 20 years. But then all of a sudden, in describing King David’s reign, his name appears again.
Now keep in mind the background to this story. Three thousand years ago in the ancient East, when a new king took the throne, the previous king’s family members were usually exterminated at once. The former monarch’s family had every reason to live in fear of their lives once a new king took the throne. Also, King Saul, the previous king, had tried to kill David on numerous occasions. So Mephibosheth must have been living each day not only with his handicap, but also in fear for his life.
But the Scripture tells us that one day King David began thinking back on the great friendship he had with Saul’s son Jonathan. As a result, in 2 Samuel 9:1, David asked, “Is there yet anyone left of the household of Saul that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
The Hebrew word for “kindness” is “chesed.” It is often rendered “grace, mercy, or lovingkindness” in other parts of the Old Testament. It meant David wasn’t asking, “Is there anyone left of Saul’s household who is deserving? No. He simply asked, “Is there anyone out there that I can show kindness to for Jonathan’s sake?” He was told by one of his aides that there was one boy who had survived.
But his aide added, “You really wouldn’t want this boy around. You see, he’s crippled.” But I love the response David gave. He didn’t say, “How badly is the man crippled? No. David said, “Go and get him. Bring him here. Where does he live?”
David’s aide told him that this man was living in a place called “Lodebar.” The very name of this place where Mephibosheth was living was identified with stark barrenness; where there were no crops; a place that was a wilderness, a wasteland. In today’s terms, you could say Mephibosheth was living “in the pits.” He was a man on the run and was living underground. But David sent for this crippled man anyway.
Now, think about what was going through Mephibosheth’s mind as he arrived at the king’s palace in Jerusalem. He had been a man who wanted to remain anonymous. He had never wanted to be found and certainly not by the king who succeeded his grandfather. He thought that he was now headed for death. After all, there was no reason why the new king would love him and every reason why David should hate him. But Mephibosheth was whisked away in a chariot and before he knew it, he was standing before the king.
The Bible says he fell on his face before David in great fear and trembling. He had no idea of David’s kind intentions toward him. Can you imagine how he must have felt when he heard the king say to him, “Don’t be afraid. I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan.”
Here is that word “chesed” again, which means kindness, undeserved favor, grace. David hadn’t sought out this crippled man to punish him. He only had good in mind for him, not harm. He only wanted to lift him up, not tear him down. Why did David want to treat him this way? David wanted to show kindness to Mephibosheth, not because of anything he had done, but for the sake of his father Jonathan. David’s showering of kindness on Mephibosheth is a good illustration of the undeserved kindness that God extends to every one of us today. God extends His kindness to us not because of anything we have done, but because of His Son’s life and death on our behalf.
The Apostle Peter writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade— kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3,4).
But I want you to notice what Mephibosheth’s response was to David’s kindness. Maybe it’s like your response to God’s grace and kindness. He told David, “What is your servant that you should regard a dead dog like me?” (2 Sam. 9:8)
In calling himself a dead dog, he used the most descriptive words he could think of to tell David he still felt like a contemptuous, despicable, worthless creature. Why? Because he knew that he was unknown, a man of no consequence to the king; he was crippled in both of his feet; he could give nothing of benefit to David in terms of money or physical strength. He had absolutely zero personal appeal. All of this was true, but he was missing the main point. The king wanted to embrace him in kindness and favor because he was Jonathan’s son. In fact, David gave to this crippled man the privileges and benefits he gave to his other sons.
The Bible tells us, “So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem where he ate at the king’s table regularly. Now he was lame in both his feet.”
Isn’t that a terrific scene? What grace. Mephibosheth was undeserving, yet unconditionally loved by David. It is a great illustration of the kindness, the unconditional love and grace that God has poured out on you and me because of His Son’s death on the cross. Mephibosheth was a crippled man who had nothing and deserved nothing from the king. He didn’t even try to win his favor. All he could do was humbly accept the king’s kindness and favor when it was given to him.
The Bible tells us that we, too, are sinners without hope, totally undeserving and in no way worthy of God’s favor and forgiveness. But He has extended this kindness to us and we are instructed to gladly and humbly accept it and believe that He loves us.
But maybe you’re saying, “John, that’s a great story from the Old Testament, but I really don’t think that’s the way God operates today. I mean, why would God, who is King of the Universe, extend grace, mercy and kindness to me? He just can’t be pleased with me when He knows all about my sin.”
Well, let’s talk about your sin. You will never have peace; you will never experience joy in the Christian life if you do not learn and believe some of the basic foundational facts of the Christian faith. To introduce those facts, let me ask you some questions. How do you picture God the Father when you think about your sin? What do you think His expression is when you come to Him with the same old sin time after time? Because most of us as Christians still think God is mad at us, and is going to punish us after we have done wrong, we feel guilty and shrink back from Him. But if you think this way as a Christian, you are wrong.
In Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, He teaches us what God the Father’s attitude is toward us when we sin against Him. This story is specifically for every Christian who is living under the awesome load of guilt, wondering where you stand with God, knowing you have sinned big time and displeased God. Well, in the story Jesus describes the relationship between a father and his son. The boy is selfish, egotistical, and boldly asks for his share of his father’s inheritance. In the culture of Jesus’ day, it would have been unheard of for a son to ask for his inheritance before his father was dead and his mother was provided for. But this boy took off with no regard for his family and he spent his inheritance on sinful pleasures in just a short period of time. The Pharisees living in Jesus’ day would at this point have said that this father had every right to justly write this son off as an embarrassment to the family.
But Jesus goes one step further. He describes the condition of this boy in the worst possible way. He says the prodigal son ended up working in the pig pen—feeding hogs. To the religious leaders, nothing could have been worse than that. Why did Jesus describe this young man in such a terrible fashion? It’s because He was trying to show that there was nothing left that this boy had to offer his father to move him to forgive and accept him. The son had completely blown it.
But when all hope seemed to be gone, Jesus put a surprise ending on this story that really shocked the Pharisees. He says, while the prodigal son is sitting in the pig pen and starving to death because of his own wrong choices, he begins to think of his father and decides to return home. He doesn’t attempt to clean himself up. He doesn’t try in any way to make himself presentable. He comes to his father dirty, ashamed, embarrassed, knowing that he has no right to be there, only requesting he be given some menial job so he can survive. The Pharisees, at this point, would have thought it right for the father not to pay any attention to this wayward, rebellious son. He had gone his own way and blown it. Now he deserved to be kicked out of the family and punished. But right here Jesus surprised them and taught that our heavenly Father’s love has no limits. If there had been a limit on how far the Father was willing to stretch before cutting his son off completely, certainly the young man in Jesus’ story would have passed that limit. He did everything wrong.
Jesus’ point is clear. A man or a woman cannot go so far that God’s love and forgiveness are no longer offered. You must realize that regardless of what you have done, you have not stretched God beyond His limits. His love for you knows no boundaries. Why? Because He has already dealt with your sin 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ died on the cross. If you will come to God and receive His forgiveness, He will love you, forgive you and embrace you.
The Apostle Paul firmly declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
In Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
In Ephesians 2, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ….For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”
Elsewhere Paul says, “He (God) saved us, not because of righteous things we had done but because of his mercy.”
In Jesus’ story He told how the father was in the habit of looking in the direction his rebellious boy had gone, hoping to see him return. He was willing to restore his son, no matter when he returned. In the same way, your heavenly Father waits patiently for you when you leave Him for sin. He watches for you. He desires to have unbroken fellowship with you. He wants you to return to Him so that He can love you. He wants you to take advantage of the relationship He has made possible for you through Christ.
One of the things that thrills me the most about this story is the fact that Jesus shows how eager our heavenly Father is to express His love to us. He said, “But while he (talking about the rebellious, sinful boy) was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
Today God will run to meet you if you will just begin to turn toward Him. The Pharisees thought Jesus was wrong in portraying the God of the universe as someone who would run to a sinner and throw His arms around him. They pictured God as One who delighted in chastising and punishing sinners. But according to Jesus, they were wrong. After you have sinned, God is more eager to reestablish fellowship with you than you are. He can’t wait for you to turn back to Him. He’s eagerly waiting for you to return so He can restore you and clean you up. He will fully forgive every one of your sins and start to guide and empower you to face your problems and circumstances.
The Apostle Paul writes about God, “He, who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32).
But you ask, “What about the prodigal son’s sin? What did the father do about that? When did he talk to him about it? What about all the money that he wasted? What about the embarrassment he caused the family?”
Once you turn back to God in faith, admitting your sins, asking for His help, the Bible promises God will take you back immediately. What you have done or how long you have done it will not hinder Him. He will forgive you immediately. How can God love us this way? How can He be just, holy and righteous and still love and accept us, when we have committed so much sin? The basic facts of Scripture and the Gospel say that the Father can treat us this way because He has already dealt with our sin. He has taken out all of His wrath, all of His anger on Christ when He was on the cross.
The Bible says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
The Apostle John says, “For 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 did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16,17).
It’s hard for us to comprehend that God loves us that much. It was probably difficult for many of those listening in Jesus’ day to change their ideas and thinking about God. For those who did, their lives were changed.
What about you? Are you willing to accept the description Christ gave about God our heavenly Father? According to Jesus you have a forgiving Father whose love and patience are unlimited. You cannot push Him too far. He is eager to have you return to Him and to have fellowship with you. He has fully dealt with all of your sin in Christ’s death on the cross. Because of Christ’s substitutionary death for us, God’s focus is on your having a love relationship with Him. It may take you some time for you to accept the biblical picture of who God is, his loving attitude toward you and how He has dealt with your sin. But even though it’s hard, I urge you to do so because it’s true. Look at what God urges you to do in Hebrews 4:16.
The Bible says, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”
Look at what God says in Psalm 103:10: “He has not dealt with us according to our sins nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame. He remembers that we are but dust.”
Maybe you would like to say a simple prayer right now and tell God your heavenly Father that you believe that He loves you; you believe Christ paid for all of your sins, and right now you are returning home to Him. Go ahead and admit your sins and needs to Him, tell Him you will trust Him and receive His gift of forgiveness and love because of Christ.
If you would like to tell God this right now, I invite you to say this prayer with me. “Heavenly Father, sometimes I find it hard to believe you really love me. But because I trust in the testimony of Jesus, I accept you now as my forgiving heavenly Father, a Father who loves me with unlimited love, a Father whose patience is inexhaustible, a Father who is eager to have fellowship with me, a Father who focuses on me and my position as your child in Christ, not on my past, a Father who rejoices when I now turn to you from my sins and ask for your guidance and help. Reveal to me other errors I might have in my thinking about you and lead me to live my life based only on your truth. Thank you for forgiving me of all my sin and extending your kindness and mercy to me. Amen.”