We are on the fifth week of the series called “What Christians Believe.” Throughout this series we’ve been working our way through the Christian beliefs expressed in the Apostle’s Creed, looking at what Christian’s believe, why they believe it, and why it matters.
We’ve covered a lot so far, so let’s recap. To this point, we’ve talked about God being all powerful and the source of everything. We’ve talked about Jesus, as being God in human form, who came to walk among us to reveal to us who God is and to show us God’s will, and to ultimately triumph over sin and death. We’ve talked about the Holy Spirit, God in spirit form, who woos us towards the Father, and when we except Jesus Christ as our Savior, the Holy Spirit then lives inside of us. And as we listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we invite the Holy Spirit to be at work within us, comforting, guiding, shaping, and empowering us.
And last week, we looked at the holy catholic church and the communion of saints. Right off the bat, I clarified the two words that often get miss understood, holy and catholic. Holy doesn’t mean we are a bunch of perfect people. In fact, the church is not for perfect people, mostly because there is no such thing. Instead, the church is for broken and sinful people who are trying to find healing and a better way. Holy means we are a people set a part for God. The church is holy because she belongs to God.
And the word catholic here has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church as that church didn’t start until 1054, when this creed was written in the 400’s. Instead, the word catholic means universal, throughout, everywhere.
The word was meant to be a reminder of the church’s unity because all who call upon the name of Christ and seek to follow Him as Savior and Lord, despite their denominational or nondenominational names, are part of ONE universal church, The Church, God’s Church.
See when Jesus came, He didn’t simply call individual disciples; He formed a community, a family, people chosen to love and continue His work in this world. This assembly was meant to be a foretaste of heaven, a place where people care for one another, encourage one another, and build one another up. And it’s also meant to be a community empowered and led by the Holy Spirit so that it can actually continue to be a presence of Christ in the world.
Then the Apostle’s Creed goes on to speak of the communion of saints. The term “communion of saints” refers to the whole community of faithful followers of Christ, the living and the dead, the past, present and future.
Saints are not perfect people, remember there is no such thing. Saints are people who devote their lives to God, who seek to be God’s people. It’s a call to completely surrender to God and become the people God intends them to be.
Today, we come to the line:
I believe in…the forgiveness of sins.
I don’t believe that any of us really like to be sinners or even admit that we are. But it’s part of who we are, part of what we face on a daily basis, and therefore is something we need to talk about.
I want you to look at this statement: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Notice what the emphasis is on. The emphasis is not that we human beings are sinners. The emphasis is not on the guilt that we sinners hold onto, but instead it’s on grace. The emphasis is on forgiveness. Belief in forgiveness of sins is only good news though, if we first understand that we need it, and to make sense of that, again we’ve got to talk about sin.
WHO NEEDS FORGIVENESS
Remember, the Hebrew word for sin means to “miss the mark.” This was a great illustration, particularly in a day when people hunted with bows and arrows. And just as an archer’s arrow might miss the intended target, we as human beings miss the target too.
The word points to the undoubtable truth, that there is a mark we human beings are meant to hit, a target we are to be aiming for – this is the sanctifying grace that we’ve been talking about the past couple of weeks. That once we acknowledge and accept God’s grace, God is continually working on us to help us hit that target.
But since we miss the mark on a daily basis – saying, thinking, or doing things we should not do, or failing to say, think or do the things we should do – we find ourselves in need of forgiveness.
Have you ever heard of the “seven deadly sins?” The list comes from the 4th century, and these of course are not all of the sins that we could do, but it is believed that every sin that we do is stemmed from one of these. So they can be a real help in examining ourselves to see where we are missing the mark.
Gluttony – means over-indulgence in something…food, alcohol, items, activities – Whatever it is, it’s when it gets unhealthy.
Sloth – means avoidance of doing what we’re meant to do, which tends to lead us to do the very things we are not supposed to do; often bringing suffering to others and in others words not caring.
Now be truthfully honest, who hasn’t struggled with these sins?
Another way to look at “missing the mark” is to think of the things we are meant to be defined by. Like the one’s Paul list in the Fruits of the Spirit. He paints a picture of marks that God intends for us to define our lives with.
“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
With the help of the Holy Spirit, we hope to achieve these things. But looking over the list, it’s easy for most of us to see that somewhere, we do “miss the mark.”
To be clear, I want to say it again, we sin by things we think, say, and do, but we also sin by failing to think, say, or do the things we should be doing. Either way, sin keeps us from being who God wants us to be and from doing the things God intends for us to do.
We see the impact of sin every day on the evening news. In the last 10 years, hundreds of millions of people died needlessly due to war, greed, racial violence, terrorism, unclean water, lack of food and health care, and so much more. And the underlining cause of all these things can be summarized by one word: SIN.
Sin can enslave us. It can rob us of joy. It’s a lie that over-promises and under-delivers. And it’s easy to look at the seven deadly sins and think they only apply to the other people, not me. But all that kind of attitude does is blind us from seeing and acknowledging that we each have our own struggles with sin.
Paul says, “We all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” Romans 3:23
We’ve all treated others poorly, been self-absorbed, and fail to do justice and practice loving-kindness. We’re all difficult to live with at times. We’ve all missed the mark.
There’s another sense in which the word sin is used in the New Testament. Paul speaks of sin as a force, a drive, or a power that is at work within us, or seeks to compel us to do the things we shouldn’t and not the things we should.
We’d all like to think that sin has no power over us, but that would be so far from the truth. We all need to be aware of sin, and that the struggle is real. Because knowing that is the very thing we need in order to turn away from sin and resist its power. And as long as I don’t take the time to see my own inner tendencies of sin, I’ll not only find it easier then to do them, but I’ll also make excuses for them, blame them on other people, justify them.
But if I’m aware of my own sins and impulses that are at work in me, I’m better able to fight against them and actually overcome them. And let’s not forget, that among the many effects of sin in our lives, is a separation from not only from each other, but from God too. So bottom line, we all need forgiveness.
WILL GOD FORGIVE MY SINS?
However, some people don’t think they can be forgiven for the things they’ve done. They’re uncertain if God will or even can forgive them. Some people are holding on to shame and guilt from years and years ago, and others take on a new load of guilt every day.
Now feeling some guilt is not necessarily a bad thing. We’re meant to feel remorse when we’ve done something wrong. That feeling moves us to repentance, to reconciliation, and to avoiding the same behavior in the future.
But at times, the awareness of our sin is like being shackled by a heavy burden. Some people struggle with excessive guilt, and it’s often because of how they see God or have been taught to see God in an inadequate way.
They may feel guilty when they are enjoying life, as though God doesn’t wish them to have any joy. They may feel they can never do enough to measure up to God’s exceptions. But let me tell you, if that is how you are feeling, the Scriptures tell us that God is rich in mercy and overflowing with a persistent love.
On the second week of this series, we talked about how Christians believe in who Jesus is. How He came to reveal God’s character and will, and all the way from His birth to His resurrection, Jesus offered grace for all sinners.
And remember when the angel appeared in Joseph’s dream, announcing that Mary would bear a son, Joseph was instructed to “name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their…sins.” Matthew 1:21
Throughout the entire Gospels, Jesus told parables about God’s willingness to forgive sins.
Jesus was known by his critics even as a “friend of sinners.” Large crowds of people who felt alienated from God came to hear Him. He was constantly offering forgiveness to people who clearly needed to know that they mattered and that their lives could actually be made new.
On the night before His crucifixion, at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine and said, “Take and eat. This is my body…Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of…..sins.” Matthew 26:26-28
And as Jesus hung on that cross, He looked at His persecutors and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Then Jesus turned to the thief on the cross beside Him who recognized his sin, repented and asked Jesus to remember him in in God’s Kingdom and said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples,
46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Jesus revealed a God who is more willing to forgive than we are even to ask. That’s why Jesus put it in the prayer He taught us… “And forgive us our trespasses.” Which by the way, the Greek work for forgive is a word that means “to release.” We are asking Christ to literally release us from the burden of guilt. In other words, we can choose to carry the burden of our sin and guilt, or we can choose to accept God’s forgiveness and to allow Him to release us from the burden.
And when we trust in Jesus’ words about God’s mercy, and believe that God has released us from our sins, we also must release the burden ourselves. Because let’s be real, some of us are really good at asking God for forgiveness, and yet choose to continue to hold on tight to our guilt. But we have to know and believe that it is okay to let go. Let me prove it to you.
8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
9 He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
When we say in this Creed, “I believe in…the forgiveness of sins,” we are affirming the truth of Scripture that God is willing to forgive us and wants to release us from our burdens. God’s desire is that we repent and turn away from the sins we’ve committed, as well as the burdens of sin and guilt that weigh us down.
You don’t have to be defined by the worst things you’ve ever done. And you don’t have to be tomorrow who you were yesterday. God wants to forgive you. God is the God of second chances. Hence why Jesus suffered and died to redeem you. God offers a new life to the old one, grace and redemption for the guilt and shame. And we can and likely must, claim this every day.
MUST I FORGIVE OTHERS?
When we say that we believe in the forgiveness of sins, we’re not only confessing that we are sinners and that God is willing to forgive us, but we are also expressing what is taught throughout Scripture, that WE are called to forgive the sins of others. The Lord’s Prayer goes, “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass AGAINST US.”
When we pray this, we are saying that we will forgive others in the same way and to the same degree, that God forgives us. In the Gospel of Matthew, after teaching the prayer, Jesus goes on to make this point crystal clear.
“If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.”
When we don’t forgive others, whether they are asking for it or not, we’re refusing to release them from the heavy chains of guilt and shame they may be carrying. And our un-willingness to forgive – and by this I mean our un-willingness to give up revenge – means that we instead take up heavy chains of our own, chains of bitterness and resentment.
I’ve known people who were un-willing to let go of that bitterness and resentment they felt towards someone. They would meditate on it, mulling over it again and again. That resentment then led to nothing but hate and anger.
You’ve likely heard some version of this statement: “Holding on to resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick.”
Because look, forgiving is not saying that the wrong someone has done to you is okay. Forgiveness is choosing to not hold on to what they’ve done, and to not hold it over their head because it’s not worth it. It’s not worth all the energy, the bitterness, the anger and the hate that will eat you up.
And let’s not forget, forgiveness does not necessarily release the one who sinned from all consequences. There may be consequences to their actions that go beyond your forgiveness. And I think that’s OK, because sometimes consequences are what someone needs to change. Sometimes consequences themselves are redemptive.
Something else to remember is that forgiving is not the same as forgetting. Years ago, a friend shared something I asked her to keep to herself. I forgave her, but after that I was much more cautious in what I shared with her. Why, because I remembered her lack of loyalty.
Again, forgiving others is not saying that what happened didn’t matter. It’s saying, “I choose to release you, and therefore, I choose to release me.”
Even though this line is short in the Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” there is so much meaning behind that statement. Believing in forgiveness is knowing we need it, knowing we can have it from God, knowing it is okay to release our guilt and shame, and knowing we should give it to others in the same way God gives it to us.
Forgiveness really is at the center of our faith. If Jesus didn’t die on the cross to forgive our sins, if we didn’t have the opportunity to have forgiveness from God and then give it, I really don’t think we’d be here today. I know we certainly wouldn’t be the people we are today.
So will you say it with me? “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”
If you have not asked Jesus to be your Savior or if you need to repent of your sins, I invite you to say a prayer with me. When you say this prayer, you will be born again into God’s forever family. So if this is something you’d like, then pray this prayer with me. I’ll pray it line by line for you, and you can repeat it after me.
I admit I am a sinner,
I am in need of a Savior.
Please forgive me for my sins.
I invite you to be mine.
Please come into my life,
And live through me,
And I will live for you,
For the rest of my life,
In Jesus’ name, Amen.