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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Costly Doctrine of Forgiveness
Text:LD 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness
 
Added:2022-05-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: 1 Corinthians 6

Lesson: LD 21 (QA 56)

 

THE COSTLY DOCTRINE OF FORGIVENESS

  1. It is Unthinkably Hard

  2. It is Unimaginably Beautiful

 

  1. Psalm 41: 1, 2, 4

  2. Psalm 130: 1, 2, 4

  3. Hymn 15: 1-3

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Hymn 66: 1-3

 

Words to Listen For: dealing, magazine, 81, license, 0%

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What is the difference between the two-word response to an apology and the three-word response?

  2. What is the “middle part” of forgiveness and why is it so important?

  3. What is a better way to think of the phrase: Forgive and Forget?

  4. What is the price that you pay?  What is the price that God pays?

  5. What are the three stages of a life of forgiveness?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved church of Jesus Christ,

We have a problem with forgiving.  In this church, we have a problem.

And before any of you, here, in the school, or online think that I am targeting you, I am not.  At least, I am not targeting you more than anyone else.  But we in ________ have a problem with forgiveness.

And how do I know this?  Is it because I have spent time in your homes, listening to your struggles?  Is it because I sit in the consistory room and hear reports?  Is it because I sit at my desk and receive emails?

Not really.  This isn’t the reason.  I could very well preach this sermon in any other church, substituting their name for yours, and it would be just as true.

Because the reality is...each and every human being has a problem with forgiveness.  Christians and non-Christians alike struggle with forgiveness.  Christians and non-Christians find it to be something foreign.

And in some ways, it IS foreign to us.  Because we were created to love justice.  We were created to seek justice, and forgiveness seems like the opposite of justice.  Forgiveness makes it seem like everything is okay, when it’s really not.  Forgiveness is like putting a bandaid on a bulletwound.  Just covering it up, putting a smile on your face even though your heart is breaking.  Forgiveness seems FAKE.

The concept of forgiveness is too easy - just a few words make it right?  The concept is too easy, and the practice is too hard.

But we must understand the doctrine of forgiveness.  We must learn to love and embrace:

THE COSTLY DOCTRINE OF FORGIVENESS

  1. It is Unthinkably Hard

  2. It is Unimaginably Beautiful

 

Forgiveness is Unthinkably Hard

Now, in saying this, I am dividing you, my hearers, into 2 categories.  There are those who doubt this, and think: “Really?  Forgiveness is hard?  I don’t know about that!”  And then there are those who nod sadly and think about times that they have forgiven after a great emotional struggle, or think about with shame, those who they are actively working to forgive and haven’t gotten there yet.

And usually the first group is made up of the quite young, and the second group is made up of those who are older.  Because the older you get, the more you realize is involved with forgiveness.

When I was quite young, I actually had quite a hard time with forgiveness...though I didn’t know it.  I thought I was good at it.

You see, whenever someone would apologize to me, I would very quickly say two words.  “It’s okay!”  I would say that, and move on with my day.

But what I didn’t realize at that time was that saying “it’s okay!” isn’t really dealing in the language of forgiveness.  Saying “that’s okay!” is not another way of saying “I forgive you.”

When you trade in those three words: I FORGIVE YOU

For two words: IT’S OKAY

You are missing out on quite a lot.

Because what is forgiveness...really?  We profess to believe in forgiveness...we sing it every Sunday, but do we know what it is?

Our catechism puts it this way:

    I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins

 

Let’s focus in here

I believe that God

          Our forgiveness comes from God.  We are FORGIVEN BY GOD

          HIMSELF.  No human being can forgive us for our sins.  Not a priest

          in a confessional booth, not your elder on a home visit.  Our sins can

          only truly be forgiven by God.

 

We heard this in our reading this afternoon...some of the most comforting words in all of Holy Scripture

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you.

BUT

You were washed

You were sanctified,

You were justified

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God

 

It’s like a before and after picture in a magazine.

What does the before picture look like?

Filthy and stinking with sin.  And not just those sins that we like to focus on, the ones that we don’t struggle with so it’s easy to demonize.  Sins like homosexuality.  But that’s not the only one in the list.  And it never is.  It is always found with other sins that we ourselves commit.

Sins like being greedy or taking in too much alcohol.  In other places, sins like lying, abusing parents, gossip, and envy.

Any one of these transgressions puts a stain on you.  As the hymn puts it: “Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”

And that is the “after” picture.  We WERE corrupted, we WERE wicked, we WERE filthy.  But now we are cleansed, sanctified, justified, white as snow.

Back to our catechism

I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins.

We will briefly skip to the end before returning to the middle.

God will no more remember my sins.

This is sometimes how we think of forgiveness.  We skip over the middle and say that forgiveness is God not remembering my sins.  Casting them into the depths of the ocean.  Removing them from us as far as the east is from the west.  And this is beautiful, a beautiful picture...but it’s also the two-word forgiveness.  And it’s not complete.  If this was all there was, God would look at us, stinking in sin and say “It’s okay.”  It’s okay, this is fine.

But we can’t skip out the middle

I believe that God, BECAUSE OF CHRIST’S SATISFACTION, will no more remember my sins.

Now we are at the heart of forgiveness.

Because forgiveness means “to pay a debt.”

Forgiveness is not the same as a free pardon.  That’s not what it means.  And we get this confused, we get this turned around, because we are so resistant to the idea that we pay for forgiveness.  That we earn it, through money or good works, or by being charming and beautiful to God that He can’t possibly deny it to us.

And it’s good that we fight so hard against this.  It’s good.

But forgiveness itself isn’t free.  Forgiveness involves paying a debt.

Now, of course, forgiveness is free FOR US, and that is the beauty of salvation being grace from beginning to end.

Grace.  God’s riches at Christ’s expense.

But there you go.  There WAS an expense.  There WAS a cost paid.  And so, you see...forgiveness is ANYTHING but easy.  It wasn’t easy for God, and don’t you dare think that it was.

God the Father had to give up His only beloved Son.

God the Son had to forsake the glories of heaven and live on an earth where He was blasphemed, mocked, humiliated, betrayed, tortured, and killed.

It wasn’t easy for God, and it’s not easy for us either.

In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness.  He says: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as 7 times?”

And Peter here, must have been pretty proud of his generosity of suggesting 7 times, because the Rabbinical tradition said that you should not forgive more than 3 times.

“He who begs forgiveness from his neighbour must not do so more than three times...if he commits an offence a third time, forgive him.  It a fourth time...do not forgive.”

But Jesus is not impressed by Peter’s generosity, for this generosity only goes so far.  And so He answers: I do not say to you seven times, but seventy seven times.  Or, as some translations have it, seventy times seven.

The point is not for us to count to 77 or to count to 490.  Because if you are keeping track, you are not forgiving.

If you can say to the other person: “That’s the 409th time I’ve forgiven you...only 81 left!” … then have you even forgiven them once?

Because when we forgive, we do not keep track.  We don’t count.  We don’t REMEMBER.

And that’s why there is the saying: Forgive and forget.  But I think that this saying has done more harm than good.  Even when the catechism, referencing Scripture says that God REMEMBERS OUR SINS NO MORE...this isn’t an intellectual forgetting.  God is all-knowing.  HE cannot forget.

But rather, what this saying means is: ONCE FORGIVEN, ALWAYS FORGIVEN.  If something is forgiven and in the past, it MUST stay there in the past.  Do not keep dragging it up.

I once heard a story about a lawyer who couldn’t bear to throw anything out.  His office was packed with filing cabinets, bursting at the seems with papers from 20 years before.  And one day, his assistant came in, and she asked him if she could clean out the files and shred the ones that weren’t necessary to keep anymore.  And after considering it, the lawyer said: “Yes, you can clean out my files...but before you throw ANYTHING out, make sure you make a copy of it.”

And this is what we do!  We say that we forgive, but we store the sin of the other person in the back of our minds, JUST IN CASE they do it again, and then we can say to them: AHA!  You weren’t truly sorry, and so my forgiveness doesn’t really count!”  You see, we don’t even make it up to Peter’s 7 times, much less Jesus’ huge number!

Forgiveness is SO HARD.  And it is SO COSTLY.

Because while Christ paid for our sins before God...when we forgive our neighbour...WE are the ones paying the cost.  Forgiveness costs US.  Forgiveness costs us our sense of justice.  Wrong has been done, and it must be paid for.  Forgiveness just lets them off the hook!

But.

It isn’t your job to execute justice.  It’s not.  Because, for the wronged party, justice all too quickly becomes revenge.  You want to take your pound of flesh.  You want them to know just how much they hurt you, and then, and only then, when they have felt all your pain, you MIGHT decide to forgive them.

But it’s not up to you.  It is up to God.  It is mine to avenge, I will repay says the Lord.

And we do not need to worry, for God’s justice is harsh.

The sin that the other person did to you it will be paid in one of two ways.

EITHER...they will be truly sorry, they will be truly repentant, and that sin will have been paid for on the cross...that sin will have made Jesus Christ cry out in agony over how evil and wicked it was…

OR

That person may never repent here on earth.  They may never turn to God, and when judgement day comes, they will not have been washed clean, and they will have to pay for that sin, and all the rest, they will have to pay for that sin for eternity.

THE PRICE WILL BE PAID.

YOU must pay the price of forgiveness

And GOD will take care of the price of justice.

And beloved congregation, I say these things as someone who finds it hard to forgive.  There are those I have forgiven after days or months of struggling with bitterness, and there are those things which I STILL, TO THIS DAY, struggle to forgive.  I’m not there yet.  I have not perfectly forgiven my neighbour.  There are some things where it is still just too hard.  But I’m working on it, day after day.  I am praying for the strength to truly and finally forgive.

And in the meantime...there isn’t perfect reconciliation.  Things are not as they once were.  Things are not as they one day will be.  But that’s the cost of sin.  There is ALWAYS forgiveness available in God, but there can often be consequences on this earth.  Because of our human limitations.  Because of our weaknesses.  But for all of this, for our limitations, our weaknesses, our slowness of heart...there is the forgiveness of God.  And it is unimaginably beautiful.  Our second point.

The forgiveness of sins is unimaginably beautiful.  The forgiveness of sinS.  Plural.  This is an important choice of wording that we would do well to remember.

We see this as plural in the creed, in Hymn 1, and in Hymn 2 where it is “transgressions” but again, the word is plural.

This is important because where SIN is a concept, SINS are practical. Individual sins, all added up.

The forgiveness of sins is much more comforting than just the forgiveness of sin.  The plural makes it practical.

Not just in general, not just for others, but each and every one of MY SINS.

On Sunday, when I dread going to church and instead want to sleep in

On Monday when I yelled at my kids

On Tuesday when I fought with my wife.

On Wednesday when I had to deal with rising bitterness against my neighbour…

ALL of these sins are FORGIVEN in Christ!

We have been set free from SIN and our SINS have been forgiven!  We are free!

I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my SINS, nor my sinful nature against which I have to struggle all my life.

You see, God’s forgiveness recognizes that it has to be ongoing.  Because the cross of Christ does not just forgive the sins you committed yesterday.  But for the Christian, for the one who recognizes their need, for the one who puts their faith in Jesus Christ as their only hope, this forgiveness also washes us clean from our present sins, and the future sins we will commit!

And this is NOT a free license to continue sinning...well, it’s forgiven anyways…

Remember what we heard in the first point…about the cost of your sins.

The cost of your sins was the tears of your Saviour in the garden, when He was overcome with sorrow to the point of death.

The cost of your sins was the weight of the wrath of God that pressed out of Him sweat like drops of blood

The cost of your sins was the nails through His hands and the spear through His side.

So no.  Just because your future sins are paid for doesn’t mean that we should go ahead and commit them.  We must fight against our sins with everything that we have.

But the unimaginably beautiful thing is that God knows that even though we fight against them, they’re going to come anyways.  And so His forgiveness addresses our sinful nature.  His mercies are new every morning.  His steadfast love never ceases.

Just as our sin continually streams forth from us, so does God’s grace continually stream forth from Him.  Is that not sad and beautiful at the same time?

We cannot help but sin...it is our nature

God cannot help but love...it is His nature.

Our sins meet His grace...and they are eradicated.  Done.  Gone forever.  God has forgiven us.  

Remember that passage from 1 Corinthians?

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?

And then follows the list of sins.  The list of OUR sins.

AND SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU.  But, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

We have been washed completely clean.  This is how God has forgiven us.

But that’s not where forgiveness ends.

Stage one was when you were a sinner.  Filthy, stinking with sin.

Stage two was when you were saved.  Washed as white as snow.

But there IS a stage 3.

Because, in stage 2, when you were forgiven, when you cried out “God save me!” … He did.  You were forgiven of all your sins.  You are in the family of God.  But that doesn’t mean you are done with forgiveness!  From there on out, you enter stage 3.  You have been forgiven, now you must also ask for forgiveness from others.  You have received mercy, now you must show mercy to others.

And this is not “weaponizing” forgiveness…

Let us NEVER do this.

“Well, I said that I’m sorry...now you HAVE to forgive me”

Sorry is not a “get out of jail free card.”  As long as you say sorry afterwards, you can do whatever you want.  No.  0%.  That’s not how that works.

Because simply saying “sorry” is not repentance.  Repentance requires more.

When we repent, we must do so, first of all, before God.

We must get down on our knees.  Not necessarily physically, though, if you can, you should.  It shows your heart position before God.  Just a quick aside, one of Jesus’ disciples James, called James the Less, also had another name.  He was also called James the Just.  And this was because He spent so much time on His knees in prayer, praying for forgiveness of himself and forgiveness for the people, that his knees became numb and calloused, like the knees of a camel.

Anyways.  When we repent, we get down on our knees before God.  If not physically, then spiritually.  WE get down on our knees and we recognize 2 things.  We recognize ourself and we recognize God.

We recognize ourself as a sinner.  I am a sinner, O Lord.  I do not DESERVE your grace and your mercy.  I have not acted like your child.  I’ve sinned again.

We recognize ourselves, and we recognize God for who He is.  A God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  When we pray for forgiveness, we can be sure and certain that God will answer it.

We must repent before God first of all.

And then we must repent before the person that we sinned against.  We sinned first of all against God, but we also sinned against another person.

We do not bow before a human being, we do not kneel on the ground, but we still must have the same recognition.  I sinned again, and I sinned against you.  I do not DESERVE your forgiveness, but I ask for it anyways.  Please forgive me.

And they may forgive you, or they may not.  And if they don’t, it is between them and God.  You did your duty.  You have been set free from your guilt.

Do not apologize, do not repent, IN ORDER TO GET SOMETHING.  But instead, your motivation MUST BE, that you repent BECAUSE YOU HAVE RECEIVED SOMETHING.

And it is the job of the Christian, not only to ask for forgiveness, but to forgive others when they ask too.  This is the constant challenge for every Christian that takes justice and mercy seriously.  We want justice, but we are told to show mercy.  We heard about this in the first point, so we will not talk about it for too long here.

But when we do not forgive, we have become slaves to bitterness.  We are filled with pain and resentment.

Forgiving others is terribly hard.  It may take months or even years, and even then, the relationship may be damaged beyond repair.  And that’s sad, but that is the reality sometimes in this sinful world.

Forgiving others is terribly hard.  It can feel impossible at times.  Forgiving others is just about the most difficult thing for you to do.  It is the thing that takes just about the most out of you.

But the one thing that does MORE damage to you than forgiving...the one thing that costs you even more than forgiveness is when you do NOT forgive.

There is bitterness and resentment, and hurt and guilt that rises in you.  Not forgiving someone is the only thing that is harder than forgiving.  It seems easier.  For a time you can feel that you are winning.  They want forgiveness, you are holding back on them and making them feel a tiny fraction of the pain they caused you.

I get it.

I do it too.

But you and I must struggle together to get to that point of forgiveness.

It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow when we arrive at that point.  But we must be working and striving and struggling to make it there.

And then.

Oh and then we will experience the unimaginable beauty of forgiveness.

It requires a great cost

But it provides an even greater comfort.

AMEN.

 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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