God Forgives Us
Please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 103 and follow along as I read verses 8-10.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
At the height of a political corruption trial, the prosecuting attorney attacked a witness. "Isn't it true," he bellowed, "that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?"
The witness stared out the window, as though she hadn't heard the question.
"Isn't it true that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?" the lawyer repeated loudly.
The witness still did not respond.
Finally, the judge leaned over and said, "Maam, you must answer the question."
"Oh," the startled witness said, "I thought he was talking to you.”
My father used to have a certain bitter humor when it comes to politics. He would say only half jokingly: “Vote for the incumbent. He has already robbed the public, and maybe he won’t need to rob us anymore.” Or, he would say, “Vote for a rich man, he does not need to rob the treasury.” Unfortunately, there has been plenty of real life corruption that would seem to justify my father’s low opinion of politics.
Do you remember the voting scandal down in Darlington SC? This must have been 20 years ago. It was the custom in those parts for candidates to gather at the voting booths and offer people money to vote for them. The going price for a vote was ten dollars. This went on for years, and, apparently, no one saw anything wrong with it, neither the candidates nor the voters—until finally the courts intervened and started putting people in jail. I don’t know which is the saddest thing about that incident—that the people would sell their votes at all, or that they would sell their vote for only ten dollars.
But the biggest scandal in recent South Carolina history was operation “Lost Trust” in 1990. “Lost Trust” was a sting operation that resulted in a multitude of public officials being indicted on bribery and corruption charges. The US attorney for South Carolina indicted 17 members of the General Assembly, and a number of other folks who held important state offices. (See Walter Edgar, South Carolina, a History, p557). For awhile, there was a saying going around Columbia that the last legislator indicted should turn out the lights and lock the doors of the State House.
Now you might say, well those politicians, they are all corrupt, but I suspect that they are no more corrupt than the people who vote for them. Politicians usually get elected to office because they reflect the morals, values, and prejudices of their communities. They are usually no worse than and no better than the people who elect them.
So what am I saying then? That everyone is dishonest? That everyone is untrustworthy? Not at all. There are many honest people, and many people who are worthy of trust; but what I am saying is that corruption and sin are part of human nature, and we need to recognize that.
One of the first things you notice when you start to read the Bible is that it has a realistic view of people. The heroes of the Bible all have feet of clay. They are people who made mistakes, who committed sins, who failed. Moses committed murder. Jacob was a con man who deceived his own father. The Apostle Paul persecuted the church. The Bible pulls no punches, it shows us people as they are, and that means that it shows us people as sinners, as moral and ethical failures. It shows us the darker side of human nature.
The theological name for this dark side is Original Sin. The doctrine of Original Sin says that all human endeavor, everything we do, is tainted to some degree by our sinfulness. This does not mean that we cannot do good things. Obviously, many people do many good things, but they act from the wrong motives or the wrong reasons and so their good acts are not entirely good. This applies to even the best things we do. In our purest and best acts, we want at least recognition, which is pride, which is a sin. Or, some people are proud when they do something for which they get no recognition—they are proud, which is a sin.
The contamination of sin effects not only people and not only planet earth. It effects everything that exists. I am not saying that nothing good exists. There is much good in the world around us, but the good is always to some extent marred by injustice and wrong.
The whole universe is in the process of becoming. We are moving toward that final consummation of all things in Jesus Christ. At the end of the age, at Omega, all things will be renovated and made new. There will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more death, and no more sin obviously because there cannot be sin in Christ. But all of that is not yet. As believers, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, but the kingdom is not yet, now we live by faith and work for the kingdom.
We are called to live a certain way, to think a certain way—God’s way of love—in preparation for the Kingdom, but we don’t always do that. In spite of our best intentions, sometimes we fail Jesus. We know we are supposed to act toward others with love, but we sometimes are tired, we sometimes are anxious about our own problems, we sometimes are irritated at the world, and we vent our frustrations on them. Usually we wind up being mean and cruel toward people we are supposed to love the most, and then we feel guilty. We know that we are supposed to be always loving and kind, but sometimes we are thoughtless and insensitive.
That is our reality. We wish we could say that we were always devoted to the cause of the Kingdom. We would like to see ourselves as shining heroes who never once wavered in service to our God, but we are sinners even on our best days, and God knows that.
Psalm 103:14 “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” God knows us. God knows our situation and circumstances and our sinfulness, and God forgives us. Some people have the impression that the God of the Old Testament was always harsh, demanding, judgmental, and that it was Jesus who first taught us about a God of love and kindness.
Not so, let the Old Testament psalm speak to us. Psalm 103:8 says that God’s nature is to forgive, “The Lord is merciful and gracious.” That is God’s way. During the Exodus, Moses said to God. “Show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight” (Ex. 33:13). Then we read in the next chapter, “The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (6). God revealed himself to Moses as merciful and gracious, patient and loving.
Again, in Psalm 103, v8 says God is “slow to anger.” Sometimes I think people have a picture of God as a ferocious-looking being with a book open to our name, eagerly marking down in letters of fire, every little transgression we commit. Not all. The psalmist shows us a God who is on our side. God bears with us, even in our sins, even when we provoke God, even when we deserve punishment.
Thus, God is “plenteous in mercy.” II Cor. 1:3 calls God “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation.” God is more interested in helping us and comforting us than he is in condemning us and hurting us.
Returning to the psalm, v9 says, God “will not always chide.” God is not always going to threaten us because of our sins, even though we are sinners who perhaps deserve to be threatened.
V10 says God does not deal with us “after our sins.” God does not punish us the way we ought to be punished. God forgives. We know that is true. If we have thought at all about what we deserved from God, we know that but for the forgiveness of God we would have been in hell long ago. The psalmist hits this same subject again when he says, God “has not rewarded us after our iniquities.” If we have any inkling of what punishment we deserve, we say, with the psalmist, thanks be to God that God has not required payment for every sin and every wrong. God has not inflicted the judgment which we merited, which should make us praise God and turn to God in repentance and seek anew his forgiveness.
The psalmist waxes eloquent as he describes the mercy of God. In vs11 and 12, we read, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.” The psalmist is trying to express how much God loves us, and how much God forgives us. His love is beyond measure. His forgiveness knows no bounds.
And his forgiveness is eternal. One of the big human problems in forgiveness is that we tend to be very “historical.” That is, we may forgive a sin, but we have still got it stored somewhere in the back of our minds, so if that person we forgave ever sins again, we read anew their “history.” We bring all their other sins right back and say, I remember, you did this other thing too. God is not like that. When God forgives a sin, that sin will never be brought up again. It will never be laid to our charge, we will never be judged for that sin.
In v13, the psalmist tells us that God pities those that fear him. God is kind and compassionate to those who honor and worship him. As sinners, we approach God with fear and trembling, and God receives us as a father receives his children.
Jesus, of course, taught us to think of God primarily as father. God loves us and cares for us as a father loves and cares for his children. God forgives as a loving father forgives. Make no mistake here. The children are guilty and do not deserve forgiveness. But God has mercy anyway.
The story is told of a young man in Napoleon’s army who was to be executed. The day before he was scheduled to stand before the firing squad, the young man’s mother went to Napoleon and pleaded for mercy for her son. Napoleon replied, “Woman, your son does not deserve mercy.” “I know” she answered, “If he deserved it, then it would not be mercy.”
That woman’s understanding of mercy is close to God’s understanding of mercy. Mercy is forgiving those who do not deserve forgiveness. God’s Mercy is founded on God’s steadfast love. This is demonstrated by the fact that God has entered into a covenant relationship with his children. The result of this relationship is a readiness on God’s part to pardon the guilty. Although guilty and deserving punishment, God extends mercy to his children, and when accepted, this results in pardon. God declares us not guilty and we are liberated from the consequences of our sin.
That is what Jesus is about. Jesus is about the mercy of God. Jesus shows us God’s unmerited love for undeserving people. It does not make sense that God would love sinners like you and me. But he does, and he sent Jesus to us to tell us about that love and to make a covenant of forgiveness with us. In and through Jesus Christ, we are rescued and ransomed from sin and death. In and through Jesus Christ, our sins are forever forgiven and we are reconciled with God, and accepted as God’s children.
Let’s summarize then: We are sinners, all of us. God hates our sins. Our sins put up a wall between us and God, and we can have no relationship with God. But, in Christ, we find God’s love and mercy. In Christ, God accepts us into his family.
It’s a no-brainer. Believe in Jesus. Confess Jesus as lord of your life and experience the joy that can only come from knowing that the price has been paid, our sins are forgiven and God is at the center of our heart and life. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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Last modified 08/19/06