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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Why should God forgive your sins?
Text:LD 21 QA 56 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness of Sins

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2014 Book of Praise

Hymn 3:1-3

Psalm 130:2

Psalm 32:1-2

Hymn 1

Psalm 116:1-4

Scripture readings:  Leviticus 4:27-35, John 1:29-42

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 21, QA 56


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ our Lord,

There are many different understandings of what God’s forgiveness means and not all of those understandings are biblical.  For instance, if you ask “Why should God forgive your sins?”, you’re likely to get a variety of answers.  Some might say that this is simply who God is and what God does.  It’s God’s business to forgive sins.  I like to sin, God likes to forgive – everybody comes out happy.  Others might say that God should forgive our sins because he loves us.  Or maybe because I’m so forgivable.  Still others might say that God forgives my sins because I repented.  Or maybe because I did something else that warranted his forgiveness – maybe I made up for the wrong I did.  Put in my penance.  And so on. 

But we need to go back to what the Bible teaches.  What does the Bible say about the forgiveness of sins and, in particular, why God should forgive us our sins?  Here we have some help because the Catechism summarizes the biblical teaching on this point in QA 56.  This afternoon we’ll briefly look at both the Old Testament and the New Testament as we consider why God should forgive our sins.

Before we go any further, we need to work towards a definition of forgiveness.  In Matthew 18, our Lord Jesus told a parable about a servant.  This passage gives us a good idea of what God’s forgiveness looks like.  A king had a servant who owed him an astronomical amount of money.  The servant wasn’t able to pay and so the king ordered that he be sold along with his entire family.  The servant was going to become a slave and that was going to be the payment for the debt.  But the servant fell down before the king and begged for mercy.  He told the king that in due time he would pay it all back.  And you know what?  The king responded with compassion.  Not only did he not sell the servant and his family, he forgave him the debt.  That astronomical amount that was owing was just erased from the books – the servant was completely free of what he owed!  The cancelled debt freed the servant from eternal slavery, shame and poverty.  In Luke 15, the well-known parable of the lost son, we see that divine forgiveness is also about the restoration of a relationship.  The father forgives his son and receives him back into the family.  That’s meant to picture what God does in forgiving us.        

So, if we’re going to define forgiveness, we could say that it involves canceling the debt of what is owed in order to provide for the restoration of a broken relationship.  When we speak about God’s forgiveness, the debt owed is payment for our sins.  God cancels that debt so we have a healthy, friendly relationship with him.  The Catechism captures this in two ways.  First of all, by saying that God will no more remember our sins.    When we read that, perhaps some of us have questions.  After all, doesn’t the Bible say that on the day of judgment, books will be opened and everything we’ve ever said, done and thought will be publicly exposed?  That sounds a lot like God remembering our sins, doesn’t it?

Jeremiah 31:34 is an important passage as we think through this.  In the second half of the verse we read these words:   “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  This is Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew poetry we often find what’s called parallelism.  This is when two lines of poetry are basically saying the same thing, but in different ways, ways that often complement each other.  “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins nor more.”  In these words, “forgiving” and “remembering no more” parallel and complement each other. “Remembering no more” explains what it means to forgive.  It’s important to note that the Holy Spirit didn’t use the word “forget” but “remember.”  That’s significant because the word “remember” in the Old Testament is a word often used in connection with the covenant.  And the covenant is a relationship.  “Remembering no more” does not refer to the kind of forgetting where you can’t remember where you left your keys.  It refers to taking something out of the way so that it doesn’t form an obstacle to a relationship any more.  In Jeremiah 31, God is promising those sins will never be used against us.  They’ll never be an obstacle to a healthy, friendly relationship with him.   

And you’ll remember that when Christ comes to judge the living and the dead, the books aren’t opened so our sins can be used against us.  Rather, those sins are brought up again so we can be vindicated and God can be glorified.  We’re not going to be looking at this as a moment of shame, as something terrible and awful, but as something delightful, a moment where all of God’s people will be praising him for his infinite mercy and compassion.

So, God will no more remember our sins.  That’s the first part of forgiveness in QA 56.  The second part is that we will never come into condemnation.  You see that in the last line.  In other words, when we are forgiven by God, we are forgiven.  Those sins that we committed can never be used against us.  Because he is just and faithful to his Word, God will not drudge up those sins and then condemn us for them.  In John 5:24, Christ says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”  That’s his promise to you!   All you need to do is believe the promise and it’s yours. 

Now we can deal with the question of why.  First of all, let’s find out why God forgave sins in the Old Testament.  We read from Leviticus 4 about the sin offering.  To help you understand what that was about, let me tell you a story.  This story is especially for the kids among us, but I think all of us will learn something from it.

It’s a Sabbath morning in Israel.  We see a family of Israelites, a father, mother, sister and brother.  They’re getting ready to go to the Tabernacle, which was like going to church in the Old Testament.  As they’re getting ready to go, the father tells the little boy, “Son, go out in the field and get a lamb.”

The little boy knows what that means.  When you go to the Tabernacle on a Sabbath morning with a lamb, you will not be bringing it home.  That lamb is going to die. 

But the little boy listens to his dad.  He goes out to the field and his sister comes with.  They have to walk a ways before they find the flock and then they have to look for a lamb.  The boy and girl looked at the lambs like their pets.  The little boy is very sad.  But he must listen to his father and so he picks out a lamb. 

As they’re going to the Tabernacle, the boy is still sad.  The lamb is in his father’s arms.  The little boy turns to his father and says, “Dad, why does this innocent little lamb have to die?  I don’t want it to die.”

His father looks at him and says, “Well, didn’t you disobey your mother when she told you this week to clean up?  Remember how many times you were fighting with your sister?  Your mother and I didn’t love each other the way we should this week.  And do you remember what happened when I hit my finger with the hammer?  I said words I shouldn’t have.  These are all sins against the Lord God, but they’re only a few.  If we would carefully remember how we lived this past week and everything we did and said, we would know that we have sinned greatly against God.  We’ve broken his commandments.” 

The little boy looks up at his father and says, “I know that.  I know I do some bad things and I know our family does that too.  But why does this little lamb have to die?” 

The father says, “Would you rather have the Lord God punish you and our whole family because of our sins?  God is holy.  When we sin, he becomes angry.  But because the Lord made promises to our fathers and because he loves us, he has given us a way for our sins to be forgiven.  We can put our sins on this little lamb so the lamb can die in our place.  If you don’t want the lamb to die, then don’t do anything wrong anymore.  Stop sinning!” 

“But Dad!  I always sin!  I can’t help it!”

“So, my son,” the father says, “that’s why the little lamb must die.” 

When the family gets to the Tabernacle, everything happens just like in Leviticus 4.  The priest comes and takes the lamb from the father.  The father puts his hand on the head of the lamb.  By doing this, he puts all the sins of his family on the lamb.  Then the little boy watches as his father takes out a sharp knife and cuts the lamb’s throat.  The blood comes pouring out and they put it into a cup or a jar.  The priest then takes the blood and smears some of it on the altar.  The rest he pours out in front of the altar.  And after all the fat has been trimmed off, the lamb is put on the altar and WHOOOSH, the fire eats it up. 

On the way back home, the little boy talks with his father again.  He says, “Dad, can I be sure that the Lord God has forgiven my sins?”

“Did you see the lamb die?” the father asks.  “If the lamb died and was offered on the altar, then your sins are forgiven.  We must believe God’s promise.” 

Now that’s the end of the story.  So, if you were to go back in time and ask an Israelite in the Old Testament, “Why should God forgive your sins?”, they would say, “Because the lamb died!”  A simple and true answer.  Sin required sacrifice.  As it says in Hebrews 9:22, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”  God forgave because the blood of the lamb was shed.  Now Hebrews 10 tells us that those sacrifices in the Old Testament were inadequate.  They had to be offered over and over again and the value of the sacrifice was entirely disproportionate to the sins of the people.  A greater and better sacrifice was necessary. 

That lamb (many lambs, actually) in the Old Testament points us ahead to the Lamb (with a capital “L”) in the New Testament.  In fact, that Old Testament lamb gives us a compelling picture of what happened to the Lamb of God in the New Testament.  We read from John 1.   Did you catch what John the Baptist said about Jesus in verse 29?  He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  He said it again in verse 36, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  With these prophetic words, John was tying Jesus back to the sacrificial lambs of the Old Testament.  We don’t only find that connection with John the Baptist, but also with the Apostle John and the revelation he received from Jesus.  For instance, in Revelation 5:6, we read, “… I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…”  The Lamb is clearly Jesus Christ. In Revelation 7, the saints have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb.  

So, also in the New Testament we can answer the question of why God should forgive our sins by answering, “Because the Lamb died!”  The Catechism expresses this when it says that God no longer remembering our sins is “because of Christ’s satisfaction.”  Jesus Christ was the sacrifice which satisfied God’s wrath and paid the penalty which we had incurred against ourselves.  As John puts it in 1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins….”  Propitiation means: Jesus is the one who has turned away the wrath of God and returned his favour to us.  We’re forgiven not because of anything in us, not because of anything we’ve done, but only and entirely because of Christ’s satisfaction.

But there is one more element that the Catechism introduces into the picture.  It’s not merely the case that our sins are forgiven and we’re brought back to square one, so to speak.  God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean that we’re given a clean slate and we get to start over and try again.  Or to use a different picture:  it doesn’t mean that the Judge simply declares us innocent and lets us go to try and live clean.

The good news is that Christ has not only paid for our sins with his sacrifice, he has also lived a perfect life in our place.  That’s why the Catechism speaks about God graciously granting us the righteousness of Christ.  All of Christ’s good works, all of his perfect obedience, all of that is given or imputed to us.  Romans 5:19, “…by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  So, God’s forgiveness is not a matter of God saying, “Here’s a clean slate, why don’t you start over and try again?”  No, it’s God saying, “Here’s a slate full of righteous deeds.  They were done by your Saviour for you.  Now nothing can ever make this slate dirty again.”  It’s God saying, “Not only do I acquit you of all the charges, I also declare that you are and always will be right with me because of what Christ did for you.”  In our court system, we don’t have a category called justification.  You’re innocent or guilty.  But in God’s court, you’re not only declared innocent, you’re also declared right with him, and then brought into a relationship of fellowship with the Judge.  The Judge becomes our Father.  Not merely acquitted, but justified!  Now that’s good news!          

But that leaves us with a question.  Because if our sins are truly forgiven because of Christ, why do we have to keep praying for forgiveness?  Why do we do that as individuals, families and as a congregation each Sunday?  Well, for one thing, Christ commanded us to.  In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ taught us to regularly pray for the forgiveness of our debts.  Nobody can deny that or change that.  But it does change our question:  why would Christ command us to regularly pray for the forgiveness of sins if our sins are truly forgiven because of his sacrifice and obedience? 

To answer that, we have to go back to Christ’s Word.  1 John 1:8-9 are especially relevant.  Verse 8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  Verse 10 says the same thing, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.”  In other words, the reality is that as Christians we continue to sin.  Then we also need to continue to confess our sins and seek forgiveness from God.  That’s why verse 9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That could also be translated, “If we keep on confessing our sins…”  It’s meant to be a repeated action throughout our whole lives, not just a once-off sort of thing.  Unlike the sacrifices of the Old Testament, Christ was offered once-for-all, but believers repeatedly seek forgiveness from our Father based on what he did that one time.

And if you think about it, what could be better for our spiritual health in this world than to keep on fleeing to Christ?  What could be better for us than to constantly humble ourselves and see our need for the Saviour?  The Saviour’s command is designed to prevent us from cheapening God’s grace and forgiveness.  The Saviour taught us to ask for the forgiveness of our sins so that we’d constantly be running to him and depending on his satisfaction and his righteousness, so we would never, not even for a moment, begin to trust in anyone or anything else.  And when we do seek God out and plead for his forgiveness, he freely gives it to us.  Each time, our Father promises that he’ll never use those sins against us.  He promises us that as far as he’s concerned, we are in Christ and we are perfect, righteous and holy.  He promises that we’re right with him and that we’re his sons and heirs. 

There is enough in this one article of the Creed to occupy us for a lifetime of reflection, study, and application.  It’s such an important subject and we do need to understand it rightly because it’s so foundational.  As we grow in our understanding of forgiveness, we grow in knowing our God and live in fellowship with him.  As we come to understand God’s forgiveness more, it causes our love for him to deepen and our praise for him to become all the more enthusiastic.  AMEN.


O God our merciful and gracious Father,

We thank you for the truth of your Word concerning the forgiveness of sins.  We are grateful to you for the satisfaction of Christ our Saviour.  We praise you that because of him, you will no more remember our sins or our sinful nature.  Thank you for graciously giving us the righteousness of Christ our Lord so that we’ll never be condemned by you.  Your goodness and mercy are evident everywhere here and we adore you.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to understand these truths.  Help us with your Spirit and Word to believe the forgiveness of sins, to seek it out from you each day and to rest in the comfort of knowing your promises.  Father, we thank you for being a forgiving God in Christ.

[The story in this sermon was gratefully adapted from Don Matzat’s article “Why Should God Forgive Your Sins?” in Modern Reformation, March/April 2004] 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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