I've Been Forgiven? Wow, I'd Forgotten
If you had nearly died from a strange illness and the doctors had given up hope, then suddenly you recovered and were able to get on with your life, could you ever ever forget that?
If you had suffered on death's row at Angola Prison, and the prison chaplain was preparing a final prayer and the chef had laid out your last meal, when suddenly the governor pardoned you and you walked outside a free man, and then got on with your life, could you ever forget it?
Apparently some people can forget the most momentuous events in their lives.
Consider this line: For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten that he was forgiven from his past sins. (II Peter 1:9)
It appears that some calling themselves Christians no longer remember that they have been forgiven of their sins. How strange is that? And how does it happen?
I think we know.
The Apostle Peter saw professing Christians around him living as though they had no past, as though they had dropped full-grown into the Christian life out of heaven.
It was a bizarre thought to him, as it is to us.
Peter identifies qualities which make for fruitfulness and usefulness in a believer's life: Applying all diligence, add to your faith moral excellence, and to your moral excellence knowledge, and to your knowledge, self-control....perseverance....godliness....brotherly kindness....love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)
Believers exhibiting such godly traits have great influence for the Lord in this world. However, some who call themselves believers show no evidence of moral excellence (virtue), have no knowledge, little or no self-control, a complete lack of perseverance, and so forth (vs. 8). That is, they are living in sin, are ignorant of God's word, indulge every passion, cannot stay with anything they start, show no signs of Christlikeness or simple kindness or a love for other believers. And yet they call themselves Christians. How could this be?
Barren, unproductive, lifeless believers--could there be such a thing?--are either blind or short-sighted, and have clearly forgotten they were ever forgiven for their sins in the first place.
Growing up on the farm, I plowed our family's mule Toby throughout the summers of my 15th, 16th, and 17th years. (This was an experience you never forget, often relish, but would not want to repeat for love or money.) Anyone who has guided a plow behind a mule will know the abrupt feeling when the plowpoint suddenly snags an underground root. The mule is yanked backward, the plowboy is thrown over the crossbar, and the breath is knocked out of him.
You never ever forget that feeling.
That's somewhat the way it is for me with Scripture. I'm cruising along, enjoying the Word, and suddenly a verse, a sentence, a phrase or even a word snags my attention and takes my breath away. I am captivated by that.
That's how I know the Holy Spirit is sending me a message. For the rest of the day or many days, my mind dwells on little else but that text.
They have forgotten they were forgiven for their sins.
How could anyone forget such a critical, life-changing event in their lives?
I think we know.
There are two primary ways by which professing Christians tend to forget that Christ forgave--wiped out, erased, washed thoroughly, and completely dealt with forever--their lengthy list of sins.
1. Some refuse to let themselves believe those old sins are truly forgiven.
These are good church people. They read the Bible and go to church. But as for the sins in their past, even though they have done the repenting and confessing and praying, they cannot turn loose of the guilt. They are fearfully sure those old sins are still on God's ledgers as outstanding debts against them.
These people are the guilt-ridden among us. They are self-absorbed.
They grovel in their sad past, tormented by memories of what they did, worried about what will happen to them at judgement. Somehow or other, they have convinced themselves that God's forgiveness is temporary or conditioned on how they feel or given in installments or inadequate for their great needs. "Sure, He can forgive others, but I'm different."
Tell them this is unbelief and they would be offended. And yet, it is nothing but unbelief which refuses to take at face value the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus shed at Calvary.
In the hospital, a church member poured out the story of her affair with a co-worker. She was tormented by guilt over the sad business which was long over. The stress and worry had made her ill. I was her young pastor, still trying to figure out how to shepherd the Lord's sheep.
I said, "And have you confessed this to the Lord?" She had.
"And has He forgiven you?"
"Yes, I think He has, pastor. But I just can't forgive myself."
I said, "You have higher standards than God?"
"Pastor! What a thing to say! Of course not."
"That's what you are saying. 'Oh sure, God can forgive. But I have higher standards. I don't forgive so easily.'"
She was quiet a moment. "I never thought of it like that."
We prayed and thanked God for the complete way in which He has dealt with our sins: burying them in the deepest ocean (Micah 7:19), separating them from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:14), nailing them to the cross (Colossians 2:14), and then, forgetting what He has forgiven (Hebrews 10:17).
Accepting the Lord's forgiveness as total allows us to turn loose of our flawed past. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
One year later, a note from this lady said, "Today is the anniversary of our conversation in the hospital. This has been the most wonderful year of my life, just relishing the wonderful gift from my precious Lord."
Imagine an adult pouring out grief to you because of some past sin. You probe a little and are amazed to discover your friend is tormented because in kindergarten she hit another child. You want to shake her and say, "You were a kid! Kids do that. Get over it. I'm sure the person you hit is fine and doesn't remember it. God forgave it, if He ever noticed it in the first place. Now, put it out of your mind and go forward! Sheesh!"
Accept His forgiveness, friend, and enjoy the freedom. But don't ever quit thanking Him (read on; more about this below). And don't forget what He has done for you.
2. Others act as though they have not sinned once in the time since they were forgiven, and sin no longer has any relevance to them.
These are the Pharisees among us. They are self-righteous.
Given a choice between living with the self-absorbed who cannot believe God has truly erased their sins and the self-righteous who cannot remember they ever sinned in the first place, choose the former.
The church member (or family member or co-worker) without a sense of past--with no memory of having failed and gotten back up, no knowledge of having sinned and been forgiven--will be a pain to everyone.
The self-righteous Pharisee among us has blotted out the past, has deleted his/her failures from their memory-bank. Thoughts of what they did previously and the humbling experience of repenting and receiving forgiveness are so painful they don't think about it any more. They made that choice--which on the surface sounds good, but in actuality turns them into a self-righteous prig.
The Pharisee has no mercy toward the sinner, exhibits no compassion toward the needy, and feels no sympathy toward the addict who is going to try once more--for the umpteenth time--to get back on his feet and try one more time to do right.
Pity the church which has such a pastor, the Sunday School class with such a teacher, the family with such a parent. They are--as the Apostle Peter said--unproductive and unfruitful for the Lord, and a burden to all around them.
The upshot of all this is that Christians need to believe and preach a) that forgiveness from the Savior is readily available, that it is full and free and final and available; and b) that remembering that we were forgiven does something positive and helpful in our relationship to God and others.
Let's dwell on these two truths a moment: The Lord loves to forgive and loves it when we remember that He has forgiven us.
1. Jesus loves to forgive. Do not miss this.
One of Satan's favorite lies goes: "The Lord just might forgive you, but He doesn't want to. He is disgusted with you over what you did. You will need to feel guilty for a long, long time before you earn His forgiveness."
And then you read the Bible and see what a liar he is.
You see Jesus forgiving the paralyzed fellow (who has been brought to Him for healing) without the man even asking. (Mark 2:5)
You see Jesus on the cross asking God to forgive His executioners, even though they're still in the act of killing Him. (Luke 23:34)
You see in Exodus 34:6-7 that God's very nature is to "forgive iniquity, transgression and sin." He is "compassionate and gracious" and says so Himself.
Forgiveness is not against God's nature; it is His very nature.
The chapter in which God gives us the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) also contains provisions for an altar (20:24-26). The implications of this are enormous. The righteous God knew from the first the kind of people He was dealing with. He knew we could not live up to His righteous standard. So He built in a way back into His presence after we had sinned. How wonderful is that?
"He Himself knows our frame. He is mindful that we are but dust." (Psalm 103:14)
When you sin, the only one surprised is you.
God is under no illusions about you and me. He knew from the first how flawed we were. Yet, "God is love," and "gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
You are so blessed, believer. Why aren't you thanking Him every day, in fact, every moment of every day?
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
2. Remembering that He forgave us--and what He forgave--instills four essential qualities in believers.
Never again will you live in self-sufficiency. You have been given a good look at yourself and see what a bum you are. You are a sinner and have not ceased to be one since coming to Christ either. When Jesus says, "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), everything inside you cries out, "So true."
You read the story of the two men praying in the Temple (Luke 18:9-14) and need no prompting from anyone to find yourself in that picture.
You have lost forever your sense of entitlement. You do not want "what I deserve." You have been shown great mercy, you have not received the judgment you had coming, and you are overwhelmed with gratitude.
Your prayer is often so simple as "Thank you, Jesus," but one you find yourself praying again and again. It says what you are feeling so well.
You have lost forever that independent streak that characterized your pre-forgiven life. When Christ forgave you your sins, and when you began to realize what He had done and all it means, you found your heart filled with an overwhelming love for Christ and an affection for His people. You soon realized that one of the best ways of loving Him is by loving His people.
You have lost for all time the resistance to the commands of God and the leadership of His Spirit. You know full well what that kind of head-strongness leads to and you want no part of it. You love the Word and you enjoy finding out how to serve the Lord. You read where Jesus said "if you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15 and similar places in that chapter and the next), and you know what it means.
Here's how this all plays out....
The woman who slipped into the house where the Lord Jesus dined had hoped not to disturb anyone. As the men reclined toward the center table, she sat behind them, at the Lord's feet and simply worshiped. Just being in His presence was enough.
As the tears dropped onto His feet, she gradually became aware of that and loosened her hair for a towel. Then, overcome by her volcanic emotions, she begins kissing the Lord's feet. Soon--in for a dime, in for a dollar--she brings out of her pocket a small vial of perfume, breaks it open and anoints His feet. (Luke 7:36-50)
The fragrance quickly saturated every nook and cranny of the house. It got into the clothing of everyone present. Her presence could no longer be ignored.
The host, a Pharisee, was indignant that Jesus would receive worship from a woman with such a sordid past.
The Lord, knowing the man's thoughts, said, "Simon, I have a question for you. If you forgive two debtors--one who owes you 10 dollars and the other one owing you 10,000 dollars--which one will love you more?"
Simon said, "I suppose the one you forgive more."
"Correct," Jesus said. And then He made application.
"See this woman? When I came into your house, you did not give me a kiss of greeting, but she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not wash my feet (the way hosts would care for arriving guests), but she has not stopped bathing my feet in her tears. And you did not anoint my head with oil. But she has anointed my feet with this perfume."
"You're wondering why, aren't you, Simon?"
"She loves much because she has been forgiven much. It's that simple."
The Lord left unsaid what was apparent to everyone. Simon loved little because he had either been forgiven little or had forgotten that he had been forgiven anything. Or perhaps had never been forgiven anything.
Looking at your life--at the humility, the gratitude, the love, and the obedience--how do you rate on the remembering-His-forgiveness factor?
I used to have a man in my church who came to Christ at age 43 after a lifetime of proud sinning. He owned several companies and had plenty of money, but his life had been tormented by conflicting lusts and ambitions. Now, Jesus forgave him and washed away all his sin by His precious blood. Ten years later, I became his pastor.
What intrigued me about the man was how he would pray. We would sometimes pray in my office or in his car after an evening of church visitation together. His prayer would begin something like this: "Thank you, Lord Jesus. Oh, thank you, precious Lord Jesus." (Long pause) "Thank you, Lord. Oh, Lord, I'll never get over thanking you."
I tear up just remembering.
Lawrence Bryant never forgot that he had been redeemed from all his sins by the precious blood of Jesus. He never got through thanking the wonderful Savior. And his life bore great fruit for the Master from the time of his salvation at age 43 until he went to Heaven some four decades later.