“We All Need Forgiveness…Forgiveness”

TobyMac's 'Eye on It' Album Cover (Album Art from Amazon.com)

Driving a few hours too long

Back in September I had to get our Cube back from South Dakota to New Hampshire, and had decided to take three days for the trek. When it was time to stop on day two, by the time I found what would be a good location, it seemed like home was too close to stop—and I wanted to surprise my beautiful wife by arriving unexpectedly.

Now, whether it was actually wise for me have continued until the early hours of the morning is debatable. I suppose the fact that I did not fall asleep or otherwise crash means it couldn’t have been extremely stupid, but still a couple hours away from Antrim my car had plenty of gasoline, but I was running on fumes.

Well, fumes and loud music. 🙂

That’s when a song off TobyMac’s latest album, “Eye On It,” kicked in. It was a tune called, “Forgiveness” and featured the rap artist Lecrae. The chorus goes like this:

‘Cause we all make mistakes sometimes
And we’ve all stepped across that line
But nothing’s sweeter than the day we find
Forgiveness, forgiveness

And we all stumble and we fall
Bridges burn in the heat of it all
But nothing’s sweeter than the day,
Sweeter than the day we call
Out for forgiveness1
"Forgiveness" (Chorus)

I played that song over-and-over-and-over again as I navigated the strange route the GPS program gave me through Bennington. (Ask Michelle how often I can repeat a song…and the good news is that from the number of times Augie wanted to watch the lyric video for “Forgiveness” on YouTube with me, he’s got my music listening genes. :-))

Some of the repetition was because it is such an awesomely executed song…but in great measure its appeal is because it speaks to my heart.

I need forgiveness more often and in greater measure than I care to admit.

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Universality of Sin

TobyMac’s tune starts off with the the same lines its chorus begins with:

‘Cause we all make mistakes sometimes
And we’ve all stepped across that line

Anyone here disagree? I suspected not…but without spending too much time on it…how do we know for sure that everyone sins?

We go to the Bible of course…specifically Romans 3:9-18:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

11  no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

13  “Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

14  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

15  “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16  in their paths are ruin and misery,

17  and the way of peace they have not known.”

18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

None is righteous…

Not one.

And of course it goes downhill from there in those verses. Perhaps it would have been better…it definitely would have been shorter…for me for me to quote Paul’s famous words less than a half dozen verses later.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

All. Not some. Not many. Not most.

All.

And, sadly, we don’t stop after becoming Christians…

Universality of Forgiveness

Well, now we know that sin is universal…a disease which every human since Adam and Eve has been afflicted with…but what about forgiveness?

Is it also universal…as the so aptly named universalists claim?

To answer that question, first we have to define forgiveness. What exactly is it?

I first went to The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary to get a more clear definition than my brain itself could put together:

FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness is the wiping out of an offense from memory; it can be effected only by the one affronted. Once eradicated, the offense no longer conditions the relationship between the offender and the one affronted, and harmony is restored between the two. The Bible stresses both human forgiveness and divine forgiveness: The latter is the divine act by which the removal of sin and its consequences is effected.2

I’ll be upfront and admit that definition is disconcerting to me. Although I figured “wiping out of an offense from memory” could just mean you don’t hold it against them anymore, I had a hard time accepting that “the offense no longer conditions the relationship between the offender and the one affronted.”

It’s not that I’m an unforgiving person…but there are things that are done that have permanent consequences. If we heard someone sitting in these pews had molested a child…especially one of ours…we might forgive them for it, but we would never allow them to work alone with our youth…

And that would mean their sin still “conditions the relationship between the offender” and us. It has to until God fixes them completely.

So I continued to look through my Bible dictionaries, and a couple of more concise definitions fit better into my understanding, the first from Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

FORGIVENESS – the act of excusing or pardoning others in spite of their slights, shortcomings, and errors. As a theological term, forgiveness refers to God’s pardon of the sins of human beings.3

And the second from the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

FORGIVENESS Term used to indicate pardon for a fault or offense; to excuse from payment for a debt owed.4

Now those two are easier for me to live with, and if folks will allow me a preacher’s leeway, it’s what we are going to go with…although I would still argue that you could forgive someone without, as the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary says, “[excusing them] from payment for a debt owed.” You can forgive someone who rear-ended you do to negligence, but you would still expect them to pay for your car’s repairs and hospital bills.

Luckily divine forgiveness is more encompassing than human forgiveness…and God does excuse us from the debt we owe him every time we sin…

So, is forgiveness universal?

So, is forgiveness universal? I’m hoping everyone sitting here has heard Jesus’ words on the cross, where He…of all things…said of those who had crucified Him:

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

We know that not everyone at the cross believed in God…and if you then throw in a biblical statement like:

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2, emphasis mine).

Then you can see how some might claim with the universality of sin comes the universality of forgiveness.

And they would be terribly, terribly wrong…

And they would be terribly, terribly wrong.

For instance, if you want to take what John said in 1 John 2:2 to prove forgiveness is universal, then you would have to equally accept 1 John 1:8-10 (emphasis mine):

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Notice it does not say that there isn’t any prerequisite to being forgiven…instead if we confess our sins

No confession, no forgiveness.

And I would argue that not only if we claim we have not sinned we make God a liar…if we claim God forgives everyone you make Him a liar. It goes against the entire thrust of Scripture…and even when God wanted to broadcast His magnanimous character, He didn’t want folks to forget there are two fates, not one:

6 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, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7, emphasis mine).

God will by “no means clear the guilty”…and we are considered guilty until…well, let’s let Peter tell us:

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:37-39)

So, what about Jesus’ forgiving words on the cross? Didn’t He forgive everyone there without any conditions? A few things to consider:

  • First, the way I read it I suspect He was speaking to the ones who actually crucified Him…I assume Roman soldiers…who honestly may not have known what they were doing to the undeserving Son of God. Regardless, it is too ambiguous to have it somehow mean that Jesus was telling his Father to let everyone involved in falsely condemning and killing him off the hook.
  • Second, as usual context matters. Unlike a little bit later where He tells a thief he will be in heaven (Luke 23:43), Jesus isn’t using “forgive” in a salvific sense. At best, He is asking our Father to forgive a single horrendous act (or collection of acts). Notice He doesn’t say to the crowd, “See you all in Paradise.” Only one person got a promise of that from Him on Golgotha.
  • Third, and this may be a bit disconcerting, not every manuscript includes Luke 23:34. So, those words may never have been uttered by our Lord. Why would anyone add them? Perhaps to make Jesus’ dying words seem as magnanimous as Stephens in Acts 7:60. Of course, Jesus may have actually said them—most folks do appear to consider them authentic. But, the fact He may not have means we should be cautious about using them to prove any doctrine.

In either case it is impossible, in my opinion, for anyone who handles the Bible faithfully to teach everyone will be forgiven, because divine forgiveness means eternal life, and…

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14).

A Devastating Revelation

So far I’ve touched on two things about forgiveness:

  • Everybody needs it
  • Not everyone gets it

Or:

  • Sin is universal
  • Forgiveness is not universal

If you sit before me as a member of the body of Christ, as much as those statements bear repeating…neither should be earth-shattering news to you. But, something else in the chorus of TobyMac’s song stuck with me…and perhaps you haven’t considered its implications before. The first half of the chorus ends with:

But nothing’s sweeter than the day we find
Forgiveness, forgiveness

And anyone who has realized the depth of his or her own sin wouldn’t argue with those words. But how about how the second half of the chorus ends?

But nothing’s sweeter than the day,
Sweeter than the day we call
Out for forgiveness

Well, which is it? What is sweetest, the day we find forgiveness or the day we call out for it?!

And…going one step further…and this just may be the strange way my mind works…to call out for forgiveness one has to recognize they are a sinner…and how many here would say their “sweetest” day is when someone reminded them of just what a jerk they have been? Just how bad a human they are? How their whole life has been based on sin up until now?

How many here have watched the best movie ever, “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

What happened when young George Bailey passive-aggressively refused to deliver the prescription the pharmacist has miss-filled for his customer? Was the pharmacist happy?

Not initially…the drunk man was very angry and actually hit George in his bad ear. But, once he realized what the boy had saved him from doing…was he happy?

Yes…very…and very sorry for the wrong he had done to George.

The reason the day we realize how sinful we are is the sweetest…

The reason the day we call out for forgiveness is the sweetest…

Is because…as we learned from 1 John 1:9…and Scripture in general…is it is exactly the same day that we receive forgiveness…and we realize how much we should thank not only the doctor who cured us, but also the doctor who diagnosed us.

Otherwise we never would have taken the treatment! That’s why it’s not odd when Paul says:

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin (Romans 7:7a).

Sadly, not everyone is as thankful when they receive the diagnosis…and instead of calling out for, and receiving, forgiveness…they choose to ignore what the Spirit is telling them…or (even worse) completely reject it…

No matter…

Before I close, I’d like to bring up what is my second most-favorite part of TobyMac’s song. My favorite part is at the end when a church choir sings, “We all need forgiveness…forgiveness.” ("Forgiveness" (End of Song).)Not only is the simple message awesome, but I have a fondness for gospel choirs worked into contemporary Christian music. (Thus why the title of this sermon is, “We All Need Forgiveness…Forgiveness.”)

However, a close second is a little past the middle of the song when the words are…and trust me these are much more enjoyable when sung by a talented singer instead of read by a less talented preacher :-)…where the words are…

No matter how lost you are
You’re not that far
You’re not too far
No matter how hurt you are
You’re not that far
You’re not too far
No matter how wrong you are
You’re not that far
You’re not too far
No matter who you are
You’re not that far
You’re not too far
From forgiveness
Ask for forgiveness
"Forgiveness" (Middle of Song)

Those verses remind me how, when Jesus’ disciples, shocked at how hard it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25).

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

  • No matter how lost you are
  • No matter how hurt you are
  • No matter how wrong you are
  • No matter who you are

You’re not that far

You’re not too far

From forgiveness

Now normally the sermon wraps up and then the invitation happens, but in this case…and not ignoring that we Christians also need to heed all these words and often ask for forgiveness…

Normally the sermon wraps up and then the invitation happens, but as part of this talk I want to ask anyone here today who hasn’t given their life to Christ yet, “What are you waiting for?”

Are you not yet convinced that you are a sinner in need of a Savior?

Then I pray…and I ask that Warren in the closing prayer…pray that God convict you today of your diagnosis…that you have an eternally terminal disease that, without the healing blood of Jesus, will bar you from eternal life.

Instead, perhaps you are convinced that you are a sinner, but you just can’t believe God could forgive you. What you have done is too terrible. Or maybe you think you first have to clean your life up.

I wish TobyMac could be here right now because he would genuinely and lovingly…and hip-ly :-)…sing to you that…

No matter how lost you are

No matter how hurt you are

No matter how wrong you are

No matter who you are

You’re not that far

You’re not too far

From forgiveness

Ask for forgiveness

Please come forward, ask for forgiveness, and be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…and instead of us Christians signing those words to you as non-Christian…you and your brothers and sisters in Christ will know together the truth in Paul’s words:

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

You’re not that far…you are not too far…from forgiveness…ask for forgiveness…

Footnotes

1You can watch a lyric video of the song on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfkhqpl81NA

2Forgiveness. (1992). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 2: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. 1992 (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (831). New York: Doubleday.

3Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. 1995 (R. F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison & Thomas Nelson Publishers, Ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

4I. 2003 (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, T. C. Butler & B. Latta, Ed.) (596). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Complete (and Official) Song


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