Defining the Gospel
Chapter 3: The Forgiveness of Sins
As we sink our teeth into this meaty subject, it bears remembering once again that, if we have no sins to confess, this good news is irrelevant. But if we indeed recognize that we are poor, miserable sinners, unclean in thought, word, and deed, sinning both in what we have done as well as what we have left undone, then this news of redemption is… well, beyond words good.
And of course the truth is that this good new is relevant to everyone. As the Apostle John said,
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
– 1 John 1:8-9
Forgiveness? At what price?
As we Christians know, the forgiveness of our sins did not come cheaply. This is because when sin is committed, blood must be shed.
We see this in the Garden, when an animal was killed to provide clothing for the now-shamed and sinful first man and woman.
We see it in the Exodus, when the Passover lambs were slaughtered in order to mark the houses that the Angel of Death would pass-over, leaving alive the sinners inside.
We see it in the covenant at mount Sinai, where God established ritual sacrifice for His people Israel to make atonement for their sins at His altar.
And we see it in the new, better covenant at Calvary, where the one and only Son of God was put to death as a criminal for you, and for me.
Forgiveness of sins did not come cheaply, which is why it pains me so to see congregations trivializing it be not even mentioning the crucifixion and Christ’s atoning work thereupon in the service, much less proclaiming it with gusto. In the context of the Church, taking the crucifixion – Christ spilling His blood to pay the price for your wrongs – for granted by just assuming it (“yep, we all know Jesus died for us and stuff, now bring on the liturgical dancing and grape juice!”) instead of proclaiming it from the pulpit week after week after week is equivalent to trampling underfoot the precious blood of our Savior; making it of no account.
This is why I have undertaken to write this “Defining the Gospel” series: to pull us away from the “little g” gospel of social reform and being really swell folks and point us back to the Man on the cross, in the tomb, and now out of the tomb forever.
Forgiveness for real?
Yes, Virginia, you are forgiven in Christ. As bad as some of us (read: all of us) have screwed up in our lives, we can never say, “I’ve sinned too much, I can’t be forgiven.”
You’ve coveted your neighbor’s car? You’ve been driven to jealousy over wanting a boat like Duke across the street, or pined after Monica’s designer purse?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, who stepped down from His rightful place in heaven… for YOU.
You’ve coveted your neighbor’s house? Wished that you had his yard, his home gym, his pool?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, who became incarnate and experienced the fleshly limitations of our mortal existence and had to “do without”… for YOU.
You’ve lied? You’ve told your mother, your friend, your boss that you didn’t do something when you actually did? You’ve taken credit for something you didn’t do? You’ve given someone else a bad reputation by spreading rumors you know weren’t true?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, who worked as a simple carpenter in Galilee, enduring splinters and dust and exhaustion… for YOU.
You’ve taken something that wasn’t yours? You’ve swiped an item from the store? You’ve stolen from your place of employment – including stolen time as you surf the internet instead of doing what you were hired to do?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, who took up the sins of the world – that weren’t His – at His baptism and carried them into the wilderness to endure starvation and temptation by Satan as the scapegoat… for YOU.
You’ve slept with someone to whom you were not married? You’ve seen some little thing in a mini skirt, or some big thing in a shirtless fight scene, and lusted after what you saw?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, who endured the taunts and disgust of “righteous” men who snidely remarked, “This man eats with sinners”… for YOU.
You’ve killed another? Even just with your eyes and the hatred in your heart?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, who was taken captive while His people set a murderer free… for YOU.
You’ve failed to honor your parents? You’ve disobeyed, disregarded, and dispossessed their instructions and council? You’ve rebelled, regarding as no account their position of God-given authority in your life?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, who honored and obeyed His own Father by walking up the dusty road to calvary… for YOU.
You’ve neglected your rest in Christ? You’ve worried about your life, what you will eat and what you will wear, and in so doing refused to trust in God to provide for your needs and instead pushed yourself without respite out of fear for tomorrow?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, who rested in God the Father completely by commending all things to Him, even His own Spirit… for YOU.
You’ve used the Name of God flippantly? As a curse, a swear, or even a false blessing?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, who even upon the cross in the seat of torment, refused to curse God and die, but instead promised a baptism in that Name which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit… for YOU.
You’ve held other priorities higher than God? You’ve made money, sex, drugs, video games, cars, or even your philanthropy into a god to be served, instead of a tool subservient to the One God for His glory?
You’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus, whose everything was dedicated to doing the will of the Father, even when it involved suffering and dying… for YOU.
“You’ve been covered”
I will never forget one day, not too long past now, when I believed I had made the biggest mistake of my life and went to my father for advice. (Now, in point of fact it was not the biggest mistake of my life, and was probably one of the best things I ever did, but that’s beside the point – the point is that at that time I thought it was my biggest mistake.)
As I sat in his living room in anguish over my “mistake”, wondering aloud what I could have done differently and just generally beating myself up, my dad spoke:
“Thomas, I’ll do my best to advise you and give you what feedback I can offer, but first you need to remember something. Jesus already died for you, and regardless of how bad you feel or how much other people might try to rub your nose in it, the fact is that you are covered. Don’t forget that.”
It was like a light went on. Of course. My perfectionist tendencies were killing me as I held myself up to an impossible standard, but as I was drowning in the Law – which pointed out to me that I was a failure at doing the right thing – my father knew I needed to hear the Gospel again. He knew that I was a broken sobbing mess of an individual, and the first thing out of his mouth as I sat in front of him looking for help was…
Not some “try it you’ll like it” flavor-of-the-week mantra.
Not some vapid platitude about how “we all make mistakes – you just need to learn to forgive yourself and not hold yourself up to impossible standards”.
Not some lecture about the ten principles to apply in my life to make sure I never make a similar mistake again.
No. Rather, the TRUE Gospel: Christ and Him crucified for sinners, i.e. ME.
That’s what I needed to hear.
That’s what millions of people who go to church looking for some word of comfort need to hear.
Not that it’s okay because everyone makes mistakes, but rather that it’s okay because God bled for those mistakes. And not only that, but He rose from the dead, and He promises to do the same… for YOU.
That’s the Gospel, folks.
That’s the Gospel.