Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Process of Change: Forgiveness

So far in our look at the change process – how we kill sin in our lives and pursue righteousness – we have looked at the concepts of biblical guilt and repentance. The next step in the process is to seek forgiveness.

This post is not intended to be an exhaustive study on the subject of forgiveness in general. That would take a really long time. Rather, we simply want to understand our responsibility to seek forgiveness in our fight against sin.

Of course, every sin is a sin against God. David underscored that truth in Psalm 51 as he sought the Lord’s forgiveness for his sins of adultery and murder: Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight… Our offense against another human being is meaningless compared to our offense against our infinitely holy God. Whenever we sin, no matter what the offense, we must recognize that our sin was first and foremost committed against God. Therefore, we should seek His forgiveness first.

The Bible is a seemingly unending stream of reassurance that God is a Father eager to forgive those who repent, confess, and seek His forgiveness. The classic reference that many would turn to is 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

But aren’t all our sins forgiven at the time of our conversion? If we have to confess our sins to God on an ongoing basis, does that mean if we have unconfessed sin, we are not saved? Well, some have termed the forgiveness that God grants at our conversion “judicial forgiveness”. It is the forgiveness spoken of in Romans 4:3-8. This is a forgiveness of all sin that takes place in our justification. All our sin is removed from our account, and Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account. Once this has been done, it cannot be undone – we are saved and will inevitably be glorified, that is, we will be taken to heaven and given a glorified body when Christ returns (Rom 8:30). So no, unconfessed sin in the life of the believer cannot cause him to forfeit his salvation.

Unconfessed sin does cause a break in fellowship with the Father, though. Again, Psalm 51 is helpful here. David views his grievous sin as having come between Him and the Lord and he seeks to reestablish that fellowship: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (vv10-12). Therefore, if we are to enjoy full fellowship with the Lord, we should confess our sins and seek His forgiveness as a pattern of our lives.

What is it that God does when He forgives? Isa 43:25 tells us that God promises “I will not remember your sins.” How can an omniscient God not remember something? There is a difference between forgetting and not remembering. When He promises to not remember our sins, He is simply choosing to never use that sin against us. He leaves it in the past and covers it (Psa 32:1, 85:2).

Once we have sought forgiveness from the Lord, we need to determine if there is anyone else whose forgiveness we should seek. It is our responsibility to seek reconciliation with those whom we have wronged (Matt 5:23-24). Let me caution you against “apologizing”. I’m not aware of such a concept in Scripture. It’s really quite meaningless. When you apologize, you are not explicitly expressing repentance or asking for forgiveness, both of which are necessary in order for someone to give you biblical forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4). We must love that person enough to let them know that we understand that we sinned against them, that we have repented of that sin, and that we are asking for forgiveness. Then that brother or sister can have the assurance that they are biblically cleared to forgive us. (For a message on the conditional nature of forgiveness, download the sermon from Jan 11.)

Be sure to use biblical language when asking for forgiveness. Don’t soften your offense by calling it anything other than what it is. Rather than “I’m sorry I was in a bad mood”, say “It was wrong for me to be sinfully angry with you.” Rather than “I apologize for fibbing,” say “I sinned against you by lying to you.” Don’t whitewash the sin. Confess it. Express repentance. Ask for forgiveness.

If you get through this point in the change process, the work has only just begun. But by God’s grace, you can kill that sin and pursue righteousness in your life.

Next week comes the next step, Replacement.

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