I believe in the forgiveness of sins

C S Lewis wrote about the guilty feelings he used to have about his sins as like getting toothache.  He would delay dealing with his sin just as he would delay attending to a bad tooth out of fear of the dentist.

People are naturally reluctant to face up to their sins and do something about them.  Guilt, that deep down feeling of having done wrong, is the consequence.  People say Christianity is guilt-ridden because it encourages people to do something about sin. Christianity is in fact guilt-ridding not guilt-ridden.

The Founder of Christianity died and rose to bring us the forgiveness of sins which is the antidote to guilt. At Easter Jesus breathed on his disciples and said  Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven (John 20v23a).  If Christ has not been raised, Paul said, you are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15v17).  The possibility of forgiving and getting forgiven depends on the crucified Christ who is raised.            

Through the church Christ offers us the forgiveness he attained by his death and resurrection through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The church does this supremely in baptism and then through prayer, scripture promises and sacramental ministry.

That sinners sin is no surprise.  That they can receive forgiveness for their sins is something remarkable. This is what puts Christianity on the map for many people.

In sacramental confession the priest acts for Christ in welcoming sinners who wish to confess aloud.  This rite echoes Christ’s story of the prodigal son who returned to his father’s embrace. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is to be ready to accept it when you need it.  God forgives sins when people say sorry to him and to those they have wronged. The problem is in our being assured that he, the invisible God, has written off our transgressions.

The whole point of sacraments is to give outward and visible signs of inward and invisible gifts from God. The inward gift of forgiveness is brought with visible assurance for many by their coming to the priest, as God’s representative, to receive an individual word of forgiveness. For other Christians it is more a matter of taking God at his word in scripture. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins (1 John 1v9).

Confession of sin is good for the soul because there is forgiveness in Jesus. It renews the life of prayer which goes nowhere without honesty before God. Jesus had stern words for religious people who paraded their righteousness but were insincere whilst commending the humble man who beat his breast and said God be merciful to me a sinner.                

What about righting the wrongs people do?  Can forgiveness really wipe the slate clean?  There is a condition for being granted forgiveness. Penitence, being truly sorry for your sins.  You cannot be truly sorry without resolving to put right the damage you’ve done as far as it can be put right.  There is one other condition for receiving forgiveness: the readiness to forgive others.

World War II concentration camp survivor Corrie Ten Boon tells the story of how years after the war she was greeted by a man whom she recognised as one of the guards in the camp. As he extended his arm to shake hands with her Corrie relates a hasty prayer for help because her whole being refused to greet a man associated with her sister’s cruel death. I cannot forgive him, Lord, but you forgive him through me she prayed. In a moment she found her hand stretching out to shake that of her persecutor. Much healing occurred for that man in consequence.

Christian belief in forgiveness has been instrumental in bringing healing in the aftermath of civil conflict. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa headed up by Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped people who had been terribly hurt or bereaved to engage with those who had been responsible. This courageous process has helped bring a perspective on the evil of apartheid and the bitter struggle for civil rights in that land.
Is God fair to forgive? People can react very unfavourably to talk of Christian forgiveness, especially in the case of very hurtful sin.  Only an appreciation of God’s own involvement in bearing the price of evil on the cross of Jesus can illuminate this natural and just sentiment. The God and Father of Jesus has holiness that is affronted by wrong. That holiness which is above us is coupled to a love that is beyond us. In allowing Jesus to die for us God provided in love the just penalty for our sins.

A judge had a poor widow with many children brought before him accused of stealing food. The sentence was a fine or imprisonment. The woman could not pay the fine when she was found guilty. She was sent by the judge to prison. After the court had heard his sentence the judge went around the back to the woman and out of compassion gave her the fine from his own wallet. In the same way God through the gift of his Son provides the just penalty for our sins so that all can receive his merciful forgiveness.

To believe in the forgiveness of sins is to believe in a God who is more ready to give us what we need than he is to give us what we deserve. He treats us as really much better than we are and challenges us to do the same by being ourselves generous to those who are in our debt or in need of our own forgiveness.

To hear a 2min audio summary of this teaching click  https://soundcloud.com/john-twisleton/forgiveness-of-sins     


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