So, here it is, straight from the Pearly Gates Underwriting Division:
Dear Mrs. Smith,Thank goodness, there is not a Pearly Gates Underwriting Division in heaven!
I'm writing in response to this morning's request for forgiveness. I'm sorry to inform you that you have reached your quota of sins. Our records show that, since employing our services, you have erred seven times in the area of greed, and your prayer life is substandard when compared to others of like age and circumstance.
Further review reveals that your understanding of doctrine is in the lower 20 percentile and you have excessive tendencies to gossip. Because of your sins you are a high-risk candidate for heaven. You understand that grace has its limits. Jesus sends his regrets and kindest regards and hopes that you will find some other form of coverage.
But there are folks who believe God is reluctant to forgive. There are people who refuse to come to church anymore because they believe they’ve messed up too badly. Probably all of us in this room know someone like that. A grandparent, neighbor, or a son or daughter. Our tendency to doubt God’s faithfulness to forgive is a reminder that we are, by our nature, slaves. This is how it goes for slaves. We constantly live in fear that we do not know enough, do not do enough right things, and never measure up.
But I want to remind you of something very important: You do measure up. Because it is not about what you know or about how good you are. It is all about Jesus! The Bible reminds us that Jesus has taken care of our sin problem. Listen to how John describes it:
My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. The one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. But the love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him. The one who claims to remain in him ought to live in the same way as he lived. (I John 2:1–6 CEB)Did you hear that important statement in verse 2? Jesus is God’s way of dealing with our sins! This is something we know with our head, but it is sometimes difficult to believe with our heart. I have been puzzled by the answer to many life-long followers of Jesus to a very simply question. I have often asked folks, “Are you saved?” Do you know the most common answer I receive to that question, among Jesus’ followers? “I hope so!”
The correct answer to that question is an emphatic, “YES!” Because it is not about you. God does not keep a long list of your actions in heaven. “Well, his good deeds list has one more entry that his bad deeds list, he’s in!” “If she had just done one more good deed, that would have outweighed the sins!” That is not how God works. When you accepted Jesus as your LORD, you became part of God’s family. When you were baptized into His death, you were raised a clean, forgiven, Spirit-filled person.
We’ve been studying Hebrews on Wednesday evenings this year. That book was written to a group of struggling people. Many had left Jewish families to follow Jesus. It had been decades since Jesus said, “I will return soon.” They were discouraged. Some had left the church, and many were wondering if Jesus really was who He said He was. The main point of that book was to remind those Christians that God is faithful. The writer told them: “God is faithful to His promises.” “God will save you!” And those who are mature in their faith believe that. Hebrews describes spiritual maturity in an interesting way. Those who are unsure about their salvation are immature. Hebrews calls them “babies in Christ.” I think we have a lot of babies in Christ in the church today. People who are unsure of their salvation. People who are live in fear that one little thing will throw them out of God’s graces! That is not how God wants you to live! God wants you to have full confidence! Listen to what John says later in his letter:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life. (I John 5:13 CEB)This promise of forgiveness was so important, it made it on that ever-important list of the early Christians. They wrote: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” When you think about it, that is a pretty bold confession.
- It means: “I believe Jesus took care of the sin problem.”
- It means: “I believe my salvation is not tied up in my good deeds or my sin.”
- It means: “I believe I am saved.”
To say, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” is also to say something else. I want to call your attention now to the last verse of our text this morning:
The one who claims to remain in Him ought to live in the same way as He lived. (I John 2:6 CEB)I believe God forgives me. And because I believe, I have committed to follow His example. Now, this is where the rubber meets the road. Forgiveness is difficult, isn’t it? Those of you who are married know this as well as anyone. You may have heard the story about the married couple. They had a quarrel and ended up giving each other the silent treatment. A week into their mute argument, the man realized he needed his wife's help. In order to catch a flight to Chicago for a business meeting, he had to get up at 5:00 a.m. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he wrote on a piece of paper, "Please wake me at 5:00 a.m." The next morning the man woke up only to discover his wife was already out of bed. It was 9:00 a.m. His flight had long since departed. He was furious! He was about to go lash out at his wife, and break his silence, when he found a piece of paper on his nightstand. It said: “It's 5:00 a.m. Wake up.”
Ever been there? Sometimes we’d rather just keep quiet than forgive. And sometimes we’d rather just stay mad! Because forgiveness is difficult, isn’t it? Forgiveness, actually, is a spiritual discipline. When we forgive, we not only become more like God, we also grow in our relationship with God, and the opposite is also true. When we refuse to forgive, our hearts get harder and harder. We grow more and more unlike God and we grow further and further away from God until we learn to forgive.
Some of you have probably seen the movie or read the book Unbroken. It is the true story of a soldier in WWII. He spent many months in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. He was tortured, he was beaten, he thought he would die—and many times hoped he would. But he didn’t. The war ended, and his camp was liberated. He came home and lived a long life. But for much of his life, he struggled with the issue of forgiveness. He couldn’t bring himself to forgive his Japanese captors. And you may say, “So what?” The war was over! He never had to see them again. Why would he need to forgive them? Because he learned that the longer he went without forgiving, the harder his heart became. The book and movie tell this part of his story, but I recently came across a documentary about Louis Zamperini. Watch this clip:
Forgiveness is always possible. (Unbroken)
Forgiveness (of God) has already changed your life. But when you forgive, that is also a life-changing experience.
My favorite part of that clip is the last little bit. The children and grandchildren are interviewed. Their words are important reminders: Forgiveness has generational impact. If you refuse to forgive, your children and grandchildren will grow up with a bitter, angry, resentful father/mother. But if you forgive, you will model for them the forgiveness of God. “But they don’t deserve to be forgiven.” Who does? Did you deserve to be forgiven by God?
I hope one day my children will be able to say of me "My dad was really good at forgiveness. He didn’t stay angry, he didn’t hold grudges, he wasn’t bitter." Remember, we are a picture of God to the rest of the world, including our children. So, what kind of picture do our lives display? My prayer is that the world will see the power of God’s forgiveness through the way we forgive each other.