Will God forgive me? Again?
I asked this a lot when I was a young Christian.
I was very uncertain about the answer.
[Illustration courtesy of Martin Bolchover Art & Illustration]
Sadly, I gave myself plenty of opportunities to ask the question; I am a frequent offender against God’s law, aka, a sinner.
Like the Apostle Paul, I know what it is to feel enslaved to the wrong I hate, and powerless to do the good I love (Romans 7:15). But neither Paul, nor I can trespass God’s law (slave to sin or not) without experiencing conscience-consequences: Shame. Guilt. Despair. Self-loathing.
Will God Forgive me? Again?
He must be sick of me by now. He must be ready to turn His back on me, if He hasn’t already. I must be one step away from damnation. It’s what I deserve.
It’s what I feared.
Have you ever felt like that?
❯ My Real Problem
Do you know what my real problem was? It wasn’t just that I was (really, am) sinful. It’s actually good to have a sense of the depth and severity of your sin. In fact, we probably under-estimate our sin by orders of magnitude.
But my real problem was that I didn’t understand the gospel. I didn’t understand what God had promised to do about my sin and how He actually did it.
Let’s talk about that…
❯ God’s Attitude Toward My Sin
If you think God will forgive you just because He’s a nice guy, that’s what He does, that’s His job, then that wishful thinking will eventually fail you.
Well, that’s how I used to think about God’s forgiveness. And my anxiety was fueled by my familiarity with–and lack of understanding of–this important verse:
The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…–Exodus 34:6-7
Here, God is speaking directly to Moses revealing His character and how He deals with sinners like me.
But notice that last part–Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…? That’s troubling, isn’t it? How can God be forgiving and gracious, and yet not leave the guilty unpunished? It sounds like it’s saying God forgives sin, but still punishes sinners. Isn’t that a contradiction? It left me questioning…
Will God forgive me? Again?
❯ What It Means
But this seeming contradiction is just that; it isn’t real. Here God is telling Moses, me, and you that He will be merciful, but He will not be unjust. He will forgive, but He will not be a patsy. He will show mercy to sinners like me, but not without exacting a penalty for my sins.
So how does He do that? How does he forgive me, and still satisfy His justice regarding my sin?
The rest of the Bible answers this: He allows an innocent substitute to receive divine justice in my place, so I can receive divine mercy instead.
Lambs. Bulls. Goats. Rams. Doves. Repeatedly. Annually.
And then finally, and once for all,
As He hung on the cross, God the Son willingly assumed the penalty for my sin, and God the Father counted that penalty as sufficient. Paid in full. Once and for all.
“It is finished.”
❯ Will God Forgive Me? Again?
God’s forgiveness is not a one-sin-at-a-time matter. It’s not a one-off.
It is a finished matter. Hold to Jesus Christ and hope in him alone. He is the crucified Savior who has saved you from the penalty you deserve, even for the sins you will commit tomorrow.
Let that sink in.
God’s forgiveness isn’t about your ability to be good. It isn’t earned by your ability to sin less and less over time. It doesn’t depend on your ability to be sincerely sorry.
It’s about the substitute: God’s Son, crucified and risen, who purchased your forgiveness. And all the great canyons of our sin cannot exhaust the river of God’s forgiveness in Christ.
It’s the gospel.
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