Allen Jackson - The Amazing, Remarkable, Unbelievable Wonder of Forgiveness - Part 1
It is amazing, remarkable, wonderful, unbelievable to me that the Creator of heaven and earth, would make provision that I could be forgiven. I was born to a race of rebels and then I managed to add my own secret sauce to try to raise the bar on that a little bit. And I was lost, and apart from God, and disinterested, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to reconcile myself to the Creator of all things. And God in his infinite mercy, and wisdom, and grace and kindness, made it possible that I could be forgiven.
I'm telling you, it's the story of my life. And if that doesn't bring hope to you, that he's done the same thing for you, and joy to you, and a sense of purpose to you, you haven't thought about it enough. Folks, it's the most amazing thing. If you've lately kind of been annoyed or agitated and you've been wanted to say to someone, or something, or some institution, "I didn't get what I deserve, I don't want what I deserve". I'm telling you, none of us do. We've wandered so far into the weeds on this, church, and I don't mean the ungodly or whomever, I'm talking about the church. God has done something for us. So amazing, so dramatic, so remarkable, it can't be duplicated. There's no way to replicate it. And we stand at a distance and go, "I don't know if I wanna cooperate with that". What he's done for us is so good.
Look at Psalm 103 verse 2. "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits". Forget not all his benefits. We could spend the entire weekend taking scripture, after scripture, after scripture, after scripture, identifying benefits that God has brought to your life and to mine. And we forget him in a moment. "Well, he didn't do this, and I wanted him to do that, and I prayed that prayer. No, I don't like my circumstance". I've done that too. God can withstand your rage about his poor job performance, but at the end of the day, the instruction is not to forget his benefits. And then in verse 3, "Who forgives all your sins and he heals all your diseases".
God's forgiven all your sins, the ones you don't want anybody to know about, the ones you've done your best to bury in your past, to try to live above, to act as if you can't remember them. We weren't confused or distracted, we made ungodly choices, and walked in ungodly paths, and we did ungodly things, and the cost of that is judgment. And God and his infinite mercy made provision that we could be forgiven, and also to heal all our diseases. "He redeemed our life from the pit and he crowns us with love and compassion. He satisfies us with good things so that our youth is renewed like the eagle's".
It's amazing to me, it's an interesting pairing. You know, there's this debate that it's raised in the church as long as I've been aware of the church. You know, whether God heals or doesn't heal or if that was the first century thing and he stopped at the last of the apostles. Do you know that's a knuckleheaded idea, right? Did you ever buy a manual for something, and the manual was written for like six different models, and you got the economy version? Or did you ever buy a car you had places for buttons that you didn't get, right? Or like it's right there, but it doesn't do anything. I don't like that, it's like it's just taunting me. You know, you buy some piece of electronic gear and you know, it said, "Well, if you got this version". Well I didn't get that version, I got this version. And I'm like, "Don't tell me".
Well, do you know how cruel it would be to write this book and tell us about the miracles and the supernaturals and then not do that? That makes no sense to me. He forgives all our sins, and he heals all our diseases. Well, I prayed once and I didn't get better. Oh, I bet you repented once and you didn't stop. Now we're getting personal. We want God to behave better than we do. Look at Matthew chapter 9, it's an event in Jesus's ministry. He's encountered a young person with a physical problem, and when he sees him, he doesn't address the physical problem, he addresses his spiritual problem. You know, if the Lord talked to us, he wouldn't talk to us about political parties, first and foremost, he'd talk to us about the condition of our culture and our assignments to be salt and light.
In this case, he said to the young man, your sins are forgiven. And it makes the audience that are there angry. It says, "Jesus knew their thoughts and he said, 'Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say your sins are forgiven, or to say get up and walk?'" The implication is it's much easier to address a physical problem than it is to provide forgiveness of sins. "'But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. He said to the paralytic, 'Get up and take your mat and go home.' The man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God who had given such authority to men".
It's not the point of this lesson, but it's worth a momentary aside. If you will give your heart to understanding forgiveness, what it means to be forgiven and what it means to forgive others, it will bring greater health to your body. On many occasions I prayed with people, and the point that opened their lives up to an attack from the enemy was unforgiveness, or a lack of an awareness of the forgiveness that was available to them, and they were carrying needlessly shame, and guilt, and condemnation. So understanding forgiveness is more than some theoretical, theological concept. It's a doorway to health and vitality spiritually, and physically, and emotionally.
So we're gonna pick it up. In fact, this particular session is a bit more of a practicum we're gonna pray multiple prayers. If I wanted to discuss theological concepts, I would've stayed in the university. The hours were better. But at some point along the way, I understood with clarity that God had invited me into the midst of the messy business that is people, and it's the greatest honor of my life. When we talk about forgiveness, I think we need a moment to kind of orient ourselves in the midst of what we see in the current landscape. Cheap grace, sin without consequence, and casual forgiveness seem to me to be the most common road signs along our current spiritual highway. We treat this whole thing pretty casually. I believe those are dangerous because they are not accurate descriptions of the road before us. They're really not helpful.
Grace is not cheap. Grace emerges on our behalf from great sacrifice. And if you benefit from grace, someone else has made a tremendous sacrifice for you to have that privilege. And if you treat that great privilege and that great sacrifice, shabbily or arrogantly, the Bible warns us to not render the grace of God ineffective. Sin has a consequence always. It's not always immediate, but sin has a consequence. Never doubt that eternal reality. Forgiveness should never be sought in a casual manner. To receive forgiveness is a life changing event, and gifts which alter the course of your life should not be sought or received with indifference. If you are not forgiven, it's worth meditating on. We take it so for granted. If you are not forgiven, the full weight of your guilt must be born alone. None of us wanna live there, none of us.
So how do we receive forgiveness? I gave you this little short list before, and I wanna revisit it for just a minute. We have to be willing to acknowledge our sin. That's the beginning point. I have sinned, and I don't mean just originally, historically, in antiquity. We live in the midst of a world where we struggle with sin. Doesn't mean it wins every day, but there's no forgiveness, if we don't acknowledge our sin, but that's not enough, then we have to repent. And repentance carries with it two meetings. Repentance is a change of thought. It means I convinced myself that that behavior was okay, that that choice was a good choice, and I leaned into it, and now I'm willing to stand and say, it was not a good choice, it was wrong, and I'm gonna go another direction. Repentance is both a change of thought, and a change of behavior.
So if we're gonna be forgiven, we've got to be willing to say more than, "I'm sorry. Sorry I got caught, I'm sorry you feel that way. I'm sorry you're so judgmental. I'm sorry you're so self-righteous. No, God my thoughts were wrong". We have to acknowledge our sin, we have to repent, and then we have to accept God's forgiveness. This is important. Forgiveness is a gift. You can't earn it. You don't deserve it. It's not merit based. There's some things you do to qualify. We're gonna look at some verses of scripture, but then you have to accept it. I've met people throughout my life repeatedly that are bearing the weight for something they've learned to embrace that sense of guilt and shame, the way some people carry anger and resentment. It helps to identify their person and their personality. It's a comfort to them, and the implication is that Jesus's redemptive work on the cross isn't sufficient for me.
Therefore I need to carry this through. I gotta bear this burden. And it's a repudiation of Jesus's redemptive work. You don't wanna hold that place. You have to accept the forgiveness. And then the fourth component is you have to live a new life. True forgiveness will lead you to a new life. New choices, new habits, new friends, new directions. It's not just a rinse and repeat cycle. True forgiveness, an awareness of the sacrifice that was made, and the tremendous gift that's been extended to you, and the privilege of receiving it, and the recognition that makes that possible, because without God's grace and intervention in our part, we would never come to the place to even acknowledge that we were sinners. You know that's true. Many of us lived in the dark for a long time, convincing ourself we were good enough.
So real forgiveness will lead you to a new life. My life would be dramatically different place today if someone hadn't helped me to both be forgiven and to forgive others. My life was on a completely different path, not ungodliness, not immoral, just a totally different trajectory, and somebody cared enough about me to make a significant investment of time and energy, and first challenging me on my arrogance and my pride, my self-sufficiency, my self-determination and asking me if I really thought I was serving the Lord. And then the tools I was using to get my way, the anger, and the resentment, and the bitterness, 'cause it was fuel for me, enabled me to work harder and stay up later, to push through things. "I won't quit, you won't have the privilege of watching me quit. Watch".
And they loved me too much, so just shrug it and walk away. And they showed me that I needed to be forgiven, and they showed me I had to forgive. And at first I said, "I don't wanna forgive them, I hate 'em. I wanna dance in front of 'em and show 'em they didn't win". You can't carry hatred. You'll never convince God to justify your hatred. The church has a message that's so important right now in our nation. I've been asking setting, after setting, some of them very public. You know, how do we bring healing? That's not the first question, the first question is, How do we bring alignment with the values and the principles of the Word of God? See, if we'll do that, it will bring healing to us. But you can't negotiate with evil or capitulate the truth and think it will bring healing.
1 John 1 verse 9. It's a familiar passage. It says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives". If we confess our sins. You don't wanna carry any unconfessed sin in your portfolio, which means you don't wanna just live past it. You don't wanna just say, "Oh it's in the past, long time ago". Have you addressed it? Have you talked to the Lord about it? I don't mean casually, are you just, we got this kind of sloppy thing, "Oh, it's just under the blood". Ask the Holy Spirit, give him permission. "If there's anything in me, search my heart. If there's any chapter in my life where I haven't invited you in, and asked you to bring cleanliness to me, help me to see it".
I'll tell you how that feels. If you're reminded of a scene, or reminded of a relationship, or reminded of a time, I'm not asking you to feel guilty, or shamed, or burdened, just write it down, Just make a note, put it in code if you need to, whatever. And then as the Lord brings it to you, maybe at the end of the day or you stop and say, "Lord, I wanna come back to these things. My thoughts were wrong and my actions were wrong, I know that and I'm sorry. I'm not gonna justify them. It wasn't that I was young or immature or someone took, no God, I'm wrong". If we confess our sins, you need to circle that first word in that verse. It's only two letters, but it's a pretty significant "if," little preposition. "If you confess your sins, God is faithful and just".
The implication is very clear, if you don't confess your sins, you gotta own them. I don't wanna do that. Proverbs 28, same idea. "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy". Now, we're probably enough alike. You say, "Well, I know some people that cover a lot of sin and they look pretty prosperous to me". The whole story's not told yet. The ultimate story of your journey through time in mine is not gonna be evaluated at your memorial service. It's the preamble. That's just the prelude. The real story of our existence will be told in eternity, but our journey through time aligns you with one kingdom or another. And the grand invitation of this journey through time is to, as fully as possible, is to do as completely as you're capable of, align yourselves with the purposes of God.
If you'll do that, I promise you when your story is told that "the one who conceals his sin doesn't prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy". It's told in sins that go from generation, to generation, to generation. How do we find ourselves in such a degraded position as we do today? Because for generations, the church has not been practicing the truth that we have known. We've covered sin, we've excused sin, we've explained sin, so we stepped away from our Bibles and began to take different interpretations, or to meddle with the translations, we've done lots of things. Acts chapter 3, this is Peter, "Repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord".
You see, forgiveness doesn't just come because you say, "I'm sorry". Forgiveness doesn't just come because you say, "Well, I shouldn't have done that. I know I shouldn't have done that. Yeah, that was not good". Or "I'm not doing that anymore". Well, maybe the opportunity went away, but if you had the opportunity, you'd go right back to it. Repentance is about a change of thought. No, I understand not only I should not have even thought that way. I shouldn't have spent time with people like that, I shouldn't have been encouraged to do that. My thought I was wrong and I'm gonna choose a new behavior. That's the pathway to forgiveness. That's what Peter said, "Repent and turn to God". Psalm 32, "Then I acknowledge my sin to you and didn't cover up my iniquity. And I said, 'I'll confess my transgressions to the Lord and you forgave the guilt of my sin.'"
This is not a new idea. It's an aspect of God's character that's revealed to us throughout scripture. Acts chapter 2 is the day of Pentecost and Peter's preaching to this crowd of people that has gathered. You know, you would think he would kind of soft sell. Maybe this is gonna be kind of a motivational pitch. Just his first sermon since Jesus ascended back to heaven in the streets of Jerusalem and they killed the boss, so this should be a good day to go easy. "Let me tell 'em some happy stories and a few miracles". And Peter stands up, if you kinda close your eyes and look around and you look at James, and John, and the rest, and Peter stands up and said, "You crucified our Messiah".
Well, there's a happy little introductory message. And the people said to him, "What do we have to", it says, they were cut to the heart and said, "What do we have to do"? And he shrugged his shoulders, he said, "Ah, you're pretty good people. Go to synagogue". And he said, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins". Repent, change your thought and change your behavior. You stood in the streets and said, "Crucify him," now I want you to just submit yourself in public to baptism in the name of that man whom you screamed, "Crucify him". Wait, the same power brokers that orchestrated that are still in place. If we publicly identify with him, it could cost us something. Cancel culture's not new folks.
By the time you get to Acts chapter 5, they're bringing Peter and John and they're saying, "If you don't stop this, we're gonna do to you what we did to your boss". And they said, "Well, we never liked your platform that much anyway". No, they said, "You do what you need to do. We won't stop". "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus, you'll receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call. And with many other words, he warned them; and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.'"
So I think one of the fallacies, weaknesses, temptations, is we associate this need for forgiveness with people who aren't Christ followers, with the ungodly, the pagan, the immoral, whomever you think is on the outside of the story, but we don't really imagine that you and I have a need for this, because we were born again and we came to the Lord and said, "God I'm a sinner and I need a Savior and help me". It was like the Etch A Sketch. You turned it upside down and shook it, or you hit delete and everything's gone. But we're still living in this carnal Earth suit that does not always wanna say, "Praise the Lord and hallelujah". Now we get trained up on how to sit in polite company and kinda keep it together, but again, the problems we're facing are not because of the ungodly and the wicked, they're the indifference, the ambivalence, the ungodliness of God's people.
That's the story of this book... what are we reading right now, Ezekiel? I mean, there's some tough passages in that book. God gives the angels an assignment to go through the city of Jerusalem. Did you read it this week? Marking the foreheads of the people who are groaning over the sin of the people. Put a mark on the forehead of every one of those people, he said, "Those that are groaning over the ungodliness, that's amongst my people". And then he sent judgment and he said, "Start in the temple and take the life of man, woman, or child that don't have that mark on them". Wow. It's the story of the book, it's the story of the history of the church, it's the story of our generation. We need forgiveness.
Have you ever been in a place in your life where you needed mercy and there was no one to give it? I have. That's a miserable, miserable place to be. It's a lonely, frightening place. Well, I have good news. God has made provision so that you and I can receive his mercy. No matter where we've been or what we've done, if we will come to the Lord and say, "Help," he will meet us in that place. I wanna close with that prayer today, whatever your need is, God's prepared:
Heavenly Father, I thank you that you love us, that you're a God of mercy and grace. Lord, we come to acknowledge our need of cleansing and we ask for your help, in Jesus's name, amen.