That God says to the penitent, “I forgive you” is one of His many proofs of His love. I’d like to remind us of St. Paul’s counsel in his letter to the Christians at Rome: “God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
So, let’s now take time to examine those three words God speaks to us, three words that – if we believe them – are a potent weapon in our battles.
The word ‘I’ is, of course, the subject of the statement. The word, ‘Forgive’ is the action verb, and the word, ‘you’ is the object of the action. In other words, YOU are the object of forgiveness. WHOSE forgiveness? Who is the ‘I” we’re talking about?
The ‘I’ of course, is the Almighty God, creator of all that is seen and unseen. The ‘I’ is the one who formed you in your mother’s womb and who had already determined your days even before you were born. You can find those truths I’ve just mentioned in Psalm 139. I hope you will take some time today to read that psalm.
The subject of the promise, “I forgive you” is the same One who also said:
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales . . . All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless . . .
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless . . . He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble” (various verses from Isaiah 40).
And then there is this word God speaks through the same prophet, this time in chapter 51: “I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son of man who is made like grass, That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor.”
Time will not permit me to go on and on extolling the absolute authority, sovereignty, and omnipotent power of our God whom we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But I urge you to read the last 26 chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy and ask the Holy Spirit to open your understanding about what our Triune God says again and again about Himself.
Reading those last 26 chapters of Isaiah is an important exercise if we want to grasp the significance AND THE POWER of the One who makes the promise to the penitent: “I forgive you. We MUST recognize the authority of the One making that promise since it is He who makes it – and no one can alter it or rescind it.
As He tells us through St Paul: “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies.” (Romans 8:31-33)
So, to recap this point about the One who makes the promise to forgive: It is none other than the Almighty One, the omnipotent One who forgives us when we ask His forgiveness.
But what does it mean when He says He forgives? I think Christians such as myself often use words without fully understanding their depth and height and length. So, let me take a moment to clarify what the Scriptures mean when it talks about God's forgiveness.
Look again at today’s text. When we ask forgiveness, the Holy Spirit tells us: ‘As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”
The word ‘forgiveness’ encompasses pardon, justification, and concept of being without His condemnation. When God pardons our sins, He actually lets them go as if they had never been committed. When God pardons us, it means He has released us from the penalty of our offenses.
Oh, think of it a moment! When we fully understand what God's forgiveness means, such confidence becomes powerful defensive AND offensive weapons in our arsenal for spiritual warfare. Think with me of some of the more well-known examples from Scripture when God extended His forgiveness toward sinners.
David was guilty of murder and adultery – sins for which there was no provision in the Law of Moses for atonement. The only LEGAL outcome for such crimes was stoning. But when David confessed his sins, the prophet Nathan told David: “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13) In other words, God said to David through the prophet, “I forgive you.”
Then there is the adulteress in John 8, waiting to be stoned for her sin. Many of you remember the story. After the religious leaders left one by one, Jesus said to her: “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:11) In other words, the Lord told her, “I forgive you.”
Or the thief on the cross next to Jesus. What is it Jesus said to him after the thief asked to be remembered in the Lord’s kingdom? “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43). In other words, Jesus told him, “I forgive you.”
And Peter? You know how he denied knowing His Lord three times – even after Jesus had warned everyone that those who denied Him before others, He would deny that person before the Father (Matthew 10:33). But what did Jesus say to him on the beach that day after His resurrection? “Feed My sheep” (John 22) In other words, “Peter, I forgive you.”
Listen! Murderers, adulterers, those who deny knowing Him – the list goes on and on throughout the Bible. Yet God says to each one then – and to each one today who repents – “I forgive you.” “You are pardoned.” “It is as if you never sinned.”
Make no mistake about this: Satan does not want you equipped with the full knowledge of those words ‘forgiveness’ or ‘pardon’ or ‘no condemnation.’ Why? Because when he tricks us into believing that God's forgiveness is not as FULL and complete as the Bible tells us it is, then the he has weakened our defense and neutralizes our offense in our supernatural battles.
It greatly concerns me – as it should all Christians – how many in the pews – and perhaps even here – go through life wondering, even doubting, if God truly has forgiven and pardoned them for the sins they have already confessed and turned from. They go through life wondering if God has truly placed those sins behind His back, if He considers them as having never been committed.
Christian, please be careful that you do not fall into the trap described by C.S. Lewis, who wrote: “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” C.S. Lewis
Who will you believe about your sins and forgiveness? God? Or Satan?
And now let’s look at the last word in that short phrase, “I forgive YOU.”
If the devil cannot get us to believe God's forgiveness is not as robust as God says it is, then Satan tries to depersonalize and dilute the YOU in that statement. He wants you to think (even unconsciously) the ‘you’ really means ‘the many’ – as in God so loved the WORLD. And the YOU gets lost in the crowd.
What Satan wants is for you to dilute the truth in your mind that when God says, “I forgive you,” He is speaking DIRECTLY, face to face and eye to eye, to YOU.
That is why it might be helpful for you to say it to yourself: “God forgives ME.” Now say your name: Richard. Sharon. Marco. Louise. Brenda. Joseph.
Say it slowly, reflectively: “God forgives me. God pardons me. God does not now hold my sins against me.
Listen, Christian. Listen, you who follow Christ to the best of your human frailties: “You are not yet what you want to be. And you are not yet what you are going to be. But thank God – you are not what you used to be! (Modified lyrics from a song by the Gold City Quartet).
And because God has removed (past tense) your sins as high as heaven is above the earth and as far as east is from west, His promise through the apostle Paul now also applies directly to YOU:
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
As I have shared with you many times, the Greek word translated as ‘justified’ means that God pronounces us RIGHTEOUS! And THAT is why St. Paul also writes three chapters later: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
I hope you got that. “Therefore there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why? Because God says to the penitent: “I forgive you.”
One final word and we are done for today: When we confess our sins to God, what words do we need to say for God to forgive us?
Well, what did the publican say standing there next to the Pharisee? “Lord, be merciful to me the sinner.” How long was that prayer? Yet the Lord said he was heard and FORGIVEN. (Luke 18).
What about David’s prayer after his sin with Bathsheba and his subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah? You’ll find his prayer of confession in the 51st Psalm but the keywords are the first verses: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2)
And God told him through Nathan the prophet, “I forgive you.”
Please do not get hung up in the verbiage – don’t fixate on the manner or the style of confession. God looks at the heart, not at the words coming out of our mouth. Indeed, God never looks at the words coming out of our mouth. He always judges what’s in the heart.
What was in your heart the last time you confessed your sins? If it was sincere repentance, then what does God say to you? I hope by now, at the end of this message, you are CONVINCED by God's Holy Spirit as He spoke to us through His Holy and infallible word brought to us by His infallible psalmist David – I hope you are convinced God said to you, “I forgive you.”
Let me close in this way. The next time you look in the mirror – this afternoon or this evening when you are in your apartment, I want you to look in that mirror, face yourself squarely, and talk to yourself. Think about the last sins you have committed and for which you have confessed and repented. THEN, say your name out loud and say to yourself: “God forgives you.”
Then, because your confession was sometime in the past, I want you to again say your name out loud as you look in that mirror, and say, “God forgave you.”
Say it again, “God forgave you.”
And then move on with your life. Tell yourself AND God that you are, from that moment, going to stop ruminating about your past failures. God has forgiven you and has cast each of those confessed sins as high as the heavens are above the earth and the east is from the west.
Move on with your life. Don’t let the enemy of your soul keep you captive any longer to your past.