The Forgiveness God Offers
Do you sometimes find it difficult to believe that you have total forgiveness for your sins in Jesus Christ? Intellectually you believe it, but how about deep within your heart?
Imagine yourself in the crowd as this story takes place as recorded in the Book of Luke:
"Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat.... Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, 'My friend, your sins are forgiven!'
'Who does this fellow think he is?' the Pharisees and teachers of the Law exclaimed among themselves. 'This is blasphemy! Who but God can forgive sins?'
Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he replied, 'Why is it blasphemy? I, the Messiah, have the authority on earth to forgive sins.... I’ll prove it to you by healing this man.' Then, turning to the paralyzed man, he commanded, 'Pick up your stretcher and go on home, for you are healed!' (Luke 5:18,20–24, TLB).
What a marvelous illustration of God’s willingness to forgive.
God’s holy Word tells us that Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, has set us free - free from sin, free from the Law, free from the of guilt that sin and the Law bring.
Maybe you are finding it difficult to believe in your heart that your sin has been paid for. Perhaps you are thinking, “I have lustful thoughts toward another person.” Or, “I’ve been taking the Lord’s name in vain. God won’t forgive that, will He?”
The fact is, He has forgiven you if you have placed your trust in Christ. You simply need to claim His forgiveness and believe His promise. And what a promise it is:
"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:11,12).
That’s the forgiveness God offers. And think of it! It became yours the moment you believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior and as an act of your will received Him by faith into your life as your Lord and Master.
The Greatest Relationship You Will Ever Experience
Jesus of Nazareth is unparalleled - He is the most remarkable, the most powerful and the most attractive personality of all time. To know Him personally as your Savior and Lord is the basis of the greatest relationship you can ever have, because only through Jesus can you experience God’s love and forgiveness.
Let me explain why.
Jesus Claimed to be God
One winter during the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), Jesus was walking in Solomon’s Colonnade of the temple in Jerusalem. A crowd gathered around Him demanding, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
“I did tell you,” He answered, “but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me...I and the Father are one” (John 10:22–25,30).
Our Lord’s claim is reinforced by the fact that He fulfilled prophecy. Hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth, various prophets of Israel foretold His miraculous birth, the place of His birth, His divine character, the purpose of His ministry, how He would die and that He would be raised to life. These prophecies represent only a few of the many predictions made about Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. And He fulfilled every one down to the very last detail.
After His cruel crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated that He was God by rising from death and appearing over a period of forty days to hundreds of people, as many as five hundred in a single meeting. Then, as His followers watched in wonder, Jesus returned to heaven, having promised a continuing relationship with those who love Him.
God’s holy, inspired Word also affirms Jesus’ claim. The apostle Paul records,
“He promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:2–4).
Jesus Came to Provide the Life You Need
Jesus didn’t live on earth just to prove He is God. He came to give you eternal life, to offer you forgiveness and set you free from sin and guilt, to give you a full and meaningful life here on earth. And it’s because Jesus is God that He can provide forgiveness from sin and enable you to live abundantly.
In a conversation with a religious leader of His day, Jesus said,
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16,17).
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1,2).
A rich and satisfying life is the heritage of every Christian. Jesus intended the Christian life to be an exciting, abundant adventure. He promised,
“I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
When you walk in a close relationship with our Lord, and in the control of God’s Holy Spirit, every day is filled with wonder, meaning, and purpose - your life overflows with desirable qualities:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).
But most Christians don’t experience the abundant life. The life of joy and victory modeled and promised by our Lord is strangely foreign to them. Instead, they consider the Christian life a burden, a chore, a terrible cross to bear. They endure their Christianity on earth, hoping at last for relief in heaven.
Jesus never intended for you to live a defeated, dreadful existence. He called you to a life of joy and victory. Whatever the circumstance you are in - comfort or conflict, abundance or need, health or sickness, freedom or persecution - our Lord promises peace (John 14:27; 16:33). He said He would never leave you, and that He will do anything you ask in His name (Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20; John 14:14).
God has promised you, as a Christian, a legacy of support, abundance and joy. Why, then, are so few Christians really enjoying their inheritance? Let me ask you: Are you living a joyous, fruitful life?
In his introduction to Letters to Young Churches, J. B. Phillips writes:
"The great difference between present-day Christianity and that of which we read in these letters [the New Testament epistles] is that to us it is primarily a performance, to them it was a real experience. We are apt to reduce the Christian religion to a code, or at best a rule of heart and life. To these men it is quite plainly the invasion of their lives by a new quality of life altogether. They do not hesitate to describe this as Christ “living in” them...Perhaps if we believed what they believed, we could achieve what they achieved."
The first-century church rocked their world. Filled with the Spirit and compelled by the love of God, the early church took the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness to the entire known world. Never before had any small body of ordinary men and women made such an impact on the world.
Those Christians were a group of ordinary people, like you and me, who knew the love and forgiveness of God. Controlled and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, they reached out in love to people living under the tyranny of an evil empire.
If you have experienced God’s love and forgiveness in your life, you too can influence your world.
The world today is filled with anxiety, fear and crisis. So much of the world is in a state of chaos. Nothing characterizes the mood of our day more than the word “upheaval.” In every facet of society and in every country of the world, there is upheaval - politically, socially, economically, even religiously.
In America, for example, we are witnessing epidemics of crime, drug addiction and alcoholism, ography, AIDS and venereal disease, abortion, broken homes and divorce - just to mention a few of the serious problems facing our nation.
Countless human solutions have been proposed, and yet the crisis becomes increasingly worse. People are searching as never before for peace in their troubled relationships, for answers to the gnawing emptiness in their lives, for something more.
Through the process of elimination, many are now beginning to turn back to God. Never before has there been such an ideal climate for presenting the claims of Christ. The Spirit of God has created an unprecedented hunger in hearts. People are turning to Christ in increasing numbers and are experiencing God’s marvelous love and forgiveness.
Even so, a relatively small number of Christians are involved in this great harvest. In the midst of these tremendous opportunities, most Christians have not entered into the joy of reaping the harvest God has prepared. The vast majority of believers live in spiritual impotence, defeat and sterility. The average lay person and even many pastors seldom, if ever, introduce another person to Christ.
Unfortunately, many Christians do not display a quality of life that encourages others to desire a relationship with our Lord. Some believers do not even display a quality of life that encourages others to have a relationship with them.
You Can Change From Living a Fruitless Life
In speaking to millions of Christians around the world, I have found that most defeated, frustrated, fruitless believers want to change, but they do not know what to do. I have a message of hope and help for them and for you: You can change from living a defeated, fruitless life. You can experience the full and abundant life God has promised to all of His children through Jesus Christ.
One day as I was driving in an unfamiliar city, I made a wrong turn and found myself driving against traffic on a one-way street. People on the sidewalk called to me that I was going the wrong direction. But I had already realized that in the split-second after I turned. My problem was not to decide whether I was going in the right direction - it was how to get turned around! Soon, through the help of a friendly policeman, I succeeded in changing my direction and went on my way relieved and happy, driving with the traffic. It is the same in the Christian life. If you make a wrong turn and find yourself defeated and frustrated, you do not just need to be told you are traveling in the wrong direction, you need someone to help you get turned around. In this article I want to show you how you can get turned around and follow God’s direction.
The Bible, God’s holy, inspired Word, provides this guidance. Paul wrote:
"The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God’s way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone" (2 Timothy 3:16,17, TLB).
The Bible not only instructs you, but it can show where you have turned in the wrong direction, give you assistance in making your course correction, and then train you to continue in the right way.
To find the solution for misguided, unfruitful Christians, it is important to know what the Bible says about the source of the problem. It reveals that there are three kinds of people in the world:
the natural person,
the spiritual man,
and the worldly believer.
Let me share briefly the characteristics of these three types of people:
1. The Natural Person
Before you became a Christian, you were what the Scripture calls a “natural” person:
The circle represents your life, and the throne represents your control center or will. You were living under Satan’s dominance, and your fleshly nature - directed by Satan - was “on the throne,” controlling your life. Christ was outside of your life, knocking at the door, wanting to liberate you from Satan’s dominance through His love and forgiveness.
The Bible describes the natural person this way:
"You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts" (Ephesians 2:1–3).
The natural person considers the things of the Spirit of God as foolishness. Paul writes:
The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14, NKJ).
Relying entirely on your own resources, you were spiritually dead to God and separated from Him because of sin.
Then you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ.
2. The Spiritual Man
At your invitation, Christ entered your life and took the throne to guide you and strengthen you to live for Him. At that moment, His Holy Spirit came to live within you, gave you new birth, sealed you for heaven, and baptized you into the body of believers. With Christ (Spirit) on the throne, you are “filled” (directed and empowered) by the Holy Spirit.
The spiritual man understands the things of God. The apostle Paul records:
"God has actually given us his Spirit (not the world’s spirit) to tell us about the wonderful free gifts of grace and blessing that God has given us.... Only those who have the Holy Spirit within them can understand what the Holy Spirit means.... The spiritual man has insight into everything.... Strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:12,14–16, TLB).
The act of staying “filled” with the Spirit is the act of deliberately keeping Christ on the throne of your life. He will not demand control against your will. If, despite His guidance and warning, you wish to yield to the influence of your flesh and wrest control away from Him for a period of overt or covert sin, He will sorrowfully step down. When you are in this state of unconfessed sin, God’s Word describes you as one who is “worldly” or “carnal.”5
3. The Worldly Believer
There is a vast difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. The Scripture clearly teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
“Anyone who says he is a Christian should live as Christ did” (1 John 2:6, TLB).
But often, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3, the worldly Christian acts like the nonbeliever, and it is very difficult to tell the difference between them.
The worldly Christian is one who has received Christ but who also has allowed his sinful nature to reclaim the throne through sin. God still has possession of this person, and Christ is still in his life, but the individual has fallen into sin in one or more areas of his life. Not yielded to God, the worldly believer is in a period of stunted spiritual growth because he is not confessing and repenting of his sins, and Satan has succeeded in influencing and controlling him through the flesh.
Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth:
"Dear brothers, I have been talking to you as though you were still just babies in the Christian life, who are not following the Lord, but your own desires; I cannot talk to you as I would to healthy Christians, who are filled with the Spirit. I have had to feed you with milk and not with solid food, because you couldn’t digest anything stronger. And even now you still have to be fed on milk. For you are still only baby Christians, controlled by your own desires, not God’s...In fact, you are acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord at all" (1 Corinthians 3:1–3, TLB).
The worldly or carnal Christian certainly experiences the conviction of the Holy Spirit and will not continue in his sins indefinitely; otherwise, he is possibly not a Christian at all. But defeated and fruitless, he depends on self-effort and energy to live the Christian life instead of drawing on the supernatural, inexhaustible resources of the Holy Spirit. Grasping self-interest in one hand and groping for God’s blessing with the other, this person fails again and again to live the Christian life in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit.
The state of carnality, or unconfessed sin, is a miserable existence. Yet, sadly, this is where millions of Christians rest today—back on the throne of their lives—and they often don’t realize that they are in this fleshly category. One man told me he had heard his pastor talk about worldly Christians all of his life, but he always thought his pastor meant somebody else. It surprised and shocked him to discover that he was a worldly Christian.
Paul knew what it meant to be worldly. In Romans 7 he records:
"The law is good, then, and the trouble is not there but with me, because I am sold into slavery with Sin as my owner.
I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to - what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can’t help myself, because I’m no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.
I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp" (Romans 7:14–20, TLB).
Does this passage of Scripture describe your present relationship with God?
In Detroit, Michigan, an elderly couple was taken to the hospital, suffering from malnutrition and starvation. When police began to search through their rubbish-cluttered home, they discovered $40,000 in cash hidden away among their belongings. They had long since forgotten that they possessed such wealth.
In a similar manner, the worldly Christian lives in spiritual poverty, much like a practicing atheist: Professing to believe in God, he acts as though God doesn’t exist or is unwilling to help. He fails to understand the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Christ not only paid the price for his sins, but actually broke the power of sin in his life.
Paul understood the anguish and frustration of attempting to live the Christian life in the energy of self-effort. He records:
"It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God’s willing servant but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin.
So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in. Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature?" (Romans 7:21–24, TLB).
Have you ever asked, “Who will free me from my ugly self, my failures and defeats?” There is good news! Look at Paul’s answer:
"Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free" (Romans 7:25, TLB).
A pastor of a large church came to talk to me after I had presented a message on how to experience God’s love and forgiveness. He was filled with hatred and resentment toward the lay leaders of his previous church because he felt they had done him great harm and had even tried to destroy his ministry.
The pastor had now realized that in his attempts to get even he had turned into a mean, critical, worldly Christian. He had come to the point of either getting right with God or getting out of the pastorate. As he put it, “This cancerous worldliness is destroying my life and ministry.”
As we knelt together to claim the love and forgiveness of God, his tears of repentance were followed by tears of joy. Several days later he went to visit the church leaders whom he had hated before, and when he told them that he loved them and asked them to forgive him, the leaders responded with joy and Christian love. This dear pastor returned to his second church with a heart burning with love and zeal for our Lord.
A businessman from another church came to see me one day, greatly distressed because his church was splitting.
“Half of our members are going to move out and start another church,” he said.
This distressed me, too, because I cannot think of anything more tragic than for a body of Christians to be divided.
As we talked, the man discovered and admitted that he was a worldly Christian. I explained to him how God had made provision for him to be a spiritual person. He did not need to continue to live as a worldly, carnal Christian. Finally, we knelt together and prayed. He asked forgiveness for his sins and invited God to fill and control his life by the Holy Spirit. As we rejoiced together over what God had done, he said, “You know, there won’t be any problems in my church now. You see, I’m the one who has been causing all the trouble.”
Unfortunately, the acid of worldliness doesn’t just burn into churches. It also dissolves marriages, homes, families and jobs. You may have felt its affect in your life as relationships with loved ones have deteriorated and friends have become mere acquaintances.
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