Psa 32:1-2 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!  How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
This last Wednesday evening... we started a new series of studies called “The Disciples Path... The Journey”. It's a new intentional discipleship program that's put out by Lifeway. It begins with the very basics of Christian doctrine and then builds upon those foundations... brick upon brick... with the end goal of growing disciples into maturity of their faith and understanding.
So... our class began with a session that asked, “Who Is Jesus?”... and it covered the biblical truth that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man. He isn't 50/50 God and man... or 60/40... or 80/20... or any other combination. He was and is... 100% God and 100% man, both, and at the same time.
And why is this important? Well... by-passing a lot of the theological jargon and reasoning... it boils down to God's plan for the forgiveness of sinful man. You see... after the Fall... sin passed from Adam to all of his seed. So, every person ever born from the very beginning... was born dead in their trespasses and sins... because of the sin of Adam.
But God... from the foundation of time had established His plan for the salvation of man and the forgiveness of sins. That plan was that in the fullness of time... the Son, would come as a man... live a sinless life... and then He'd lay down that sinless, perfect life as the payment (or an atonement) for the sins of those who believed.
But... prior to that happening... from the time of Adam to the Incarnation of the Son of God... He told us and showed us that this was coming through the prophets... and the law... and the sacrificial system. In other words... for millennia... God has shown mankind through types and symbols, what His intentions were.
But the problem with types and symbols is that because they aren't the “real deal”... they're inadequate. The sinfulness of man is so complete... that the law and the blood of animals... is totally insufficient to save us.
Heb 10:1,4 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
The Son had to become 100% man in order to save sinful man. Man sinned... so all men became sinners. Sinful man could never save himself. God then, became a man born of the Holy Spirit, not man... so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He would be... as John the Baptist said... that spotless... Joh 1:29b ...Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
And as that perfect sacrifice... all those who believe on Him... are forgiven of their sins. Col 1:14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
This is the gospel message. That through faith in Jesus, we can have the forgiveness of all of our sins. It doesn't matter how great or how small they are... they can and will be removed from you forever...
The Bible tells us that it's... Psa 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
Now think about that for a moment. “As far as the east is from the west...” There's four directions right? (North, South, East, West) But he doesn't write that our sins are removed as far as the north is from the south... but as far as the east is from the west!
Anything that keeps heading north... will eventually head south... and whatever heads south will eventually head north. However... whatever keeps going east, will always go east. And whatever goes west... will always go west.
In other words... they will never meet... They will never return to you. That's how far away your sins are removed from you when you believe in Jesus and give your life to Him! To borrow a phrase from Buzz Lightyear... “To infinity and beyond!”
That's how much God forgives our sins. He's done His part. He's done the heavy lifting here... but we also have a part to play. You see... God has forgiven us when we trust in His Son... He's done that and it's ours. Nothing can take it away from us.
But there are some things that can keep us from fully realizing that forgiveness in this life. There are some things which can hinder our Christian growth and prevent our coming into maturity of faith...
Things such as, not...
I. Forgiving Ourselves
Now... the truth is that the Bible simply doesn't say anything about forgiving ourselves. It clearly teaches us that we're to forgive others... and that God forgives us... but forgiving ourselves... just isn't there.
This, however... doesn't mean that there's no value in the idea. And please understand that when I speak of “forgiving ourselves”... in no way am I trying to “belittle” our sins or to “make light” of our crimes against God and man. Because folks... our sins are so great that we all deserve death.
But through our faith in Christ... God has forgiven our sins. I can understand how we might struggle with our own forgiveness for a time... because in a very real sense... anyone who has no struggle with this... hasn't really seen how horrible their sins truly are.
But... forgiving ourselves... or moving beyond our past... though never easy... is necessary for us to grow in Christ and live fruitful and godly lives. But the sad fact is that there are many people who simply can't... or won't move on.
Maybe they don't want to move past their former sins... which in itself is sinful rebellion... because they've been forgiven. If you don't want to move past your former sins... then you really don't want to be forgiven, do you?
Or maybe they think that their sin is too heinous for God to truly forgive. But this is like saying that their particular wickedness is just too big for God to handle.
The Bible though, teaches us that if we truly repent of our sins and confess them to the Father... He will forgive us. 1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
“Forgive us our sins”... “cleanse us from all unrighteousness...” Not just some of them... all of them! (Washing dishes illustration) But if we don't accept Him at His word in this... then can we say that we've truly believed in Him?
Anne Graham Lotz tells a true story that so graphically illustrates God's forgiveness that I have to share it with you.
There was a woman that she used to visit in prison from time to time, who had been convicted of multiple murders and was going to be executed within a few hours of their last visit.
And this woman was struggling with the assurance of her salvation which she had claimed by faith six years earlier. And on the very night that she would be stepping into eternity... she was desperate for reassurance of her own forgiveness by God.
So, Anne asked her if she had ever seen the ocean. The woman nodded, “yes”. Then she asked her if she had ever walked along the shore and seen the little holes that the ghost crabs left behind when they darted in and out of the sand. Again she nodded, “yes”.
Then she asked her if she had ever seen the larger holes left by children and adults, playing in the sand. With a puzzled look, she again nodded, “yes”. Then Anne asked her if she had ever seen the much larger holes and ditches created by the machines dredging a channel or burying pipelines on the beach. She again acknowledged, “yes”.
Anne then leaned toward her and asked her, “Velma... when the tide comes in... what happens to those holes?”
Folks... when the tide comes in... all the holes are covered equally by the water. God's forgiveness is like the tide that washes over all the “holes” of your sins and covers them equally... It doesn't matter how great your sins are... or how small... they're all washed away and eliminated by the tidal waves of God's forgiveness.
Now... when we trust in Christ, God forgives us. When we come to the full realization of that forgiveness... then we need to move past ourselves toward...
II. Forgiving Others (Those who have hurt or offended us)
Mar 11:25-26 "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.  [ "But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions." ]
The first thing I want to point out here is that there's a difference between the forgiveness that God extends to us... and the forgiveness that we are to give to those who've offended us. For us to receive God's forgiveness... it's required of us to repent. But God tells us that we are to forgive freely.
You see... God is responsible for the moral governance of His creatures... while we aren't. He set the rules... and He judges according to His holiness and perfect righteousness. On the other hand... any judgment we would pass would be tainted by our own sinfulness.
Another point is that God's forgiveness is with an eye toward the eternal salvation of people... while the forgiveness we are to give, is with ourselves in mind... Mar 11:25b ...that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
The person that we extend forgiveness to may not even be aware that they've done anything that offended us. But because we are offended... they've been allowed... basically... to live “rent free” in our heads... and we've allowed them to take control of our thoughts... when only Christ should have that place.
I mean... think of a time when someone did something that hurt your feelings... or gave you some sort of offense. Do you remember how that situation played over and over in your mind? Do you remember how difficult it was to get to sleep that night... because you just couldn't quit thinking about it?
It's kinda like that song that keeps playing in your mind... over, and over, and over, and over again. You just can't get rid of it. That recently happened with Terri and I with the new Hawaii Five-O theme song. It drove us nuts trying to get it to stop.
In a very real sense... the forgiveness that we are to extend to someone else... is more for our own good than it is for theirs. Because an unforgiving and resentful heart is a barrier between us and the Lord.
Mat 6:14-15 "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
When we think of forgiving others in relation to our own forgiveness... it really makes the whole process a lot easier for us to do. You see... I know how black my sins were. When I remember what I've been forgiven of... it makes it easier for me to forgive others.
Thinking about how... Psa 40:2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock... also helps me in...
III. Forgiving Enemies (Those who hate us...or those we hate)
Pro 25:21-22 If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:  For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.
You know... it's one thing to be able to forgive someone you know, who's offended you in some way. Because many times this will be a friend, or relative... or someone you do business with... an acquaintance maybe...
But it's an entirely different thing to forgive an enemy. That designation alone... enemy... implies an anger or other emotions that go way beyond simple annoyance or hurt feelings... and it delves into the area of hatred.
I mean... look at vs 22 again... That whole verse seems to tell us that an incentive for being kind and forgiving to our enemies... is so that we can bring some sort of harm on them! We'll be heaping “coals of fire” on them!
It's kind of like praying for our enemies... that God would bless them... with a brick... up side their head! But this would be contrary to Christian charity... wouldn't it?
But using the principle of interpreting Scripture with Scripture... I found that if we look elsewhere for that phrase... “coals of fire”... we find something similar to it in Lev 16:12... where it describes the high priest on the Day of Atonement... taking his censer... filling it with “coals of fire...” and then putting incense on the coals so they'd burn and become a sweet-smelling savor to the Lord.
So... instead of desiring to do our enemies harm... maybe we should look at this as our hope that the first emotion that our enemy might have when we do good to them... be a burning shame... and that, that shame will do its work and cause their heart to burn toward God in repentance... which will rise up as a sweet smelling savor to God. Maybe that's how we should look at this.
This, then is how we can... Rom 12:21 ...overcome evil with good. By doing good to our enemies... in hopes that it will bring them to repentance... and ultimately... their own salvation.
The Bible also tells us that we should show a loving concern for our enemy's property by caring for it when they aren't around... or when they need assistance with it. In Exodus, we read... Exo 23:4-5 “If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him.  If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.
If you see someone breaking into, or causing harm to your enemies house... you should call the police and then give testimony to it. If someone you dislike is being mistreated.. then get involved in some way that will stop it.
If your enemy has gone through an ice storm and needs help with heat, showers, water, food or tree removal... Well... I'll let you fill in those blanks.
In a very real sense... the measure of your Christianity will be seen in how you treat the people you don't like. Mat 5:46-47 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
And right before He said that... He said... Mat 5:44-45a But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven...
Love your enemies... not simply tolerate them. Love them... and pray for them. You know... it's difficult to maintain hatred toward someone you're actively and sincerely praying for. And if you truly believe that God answers your prayers... then why wouldn't you pray for them?
They are... after all... in the image of God, just like you. God causes the sun to shine on them... and the rain to fall on them... just like you. Forgiving others... and especially your enemies... and being kind to them and praying for them just may be all it takes to bring them to Christ.
And isn't that what we're all about? If it isn't... then we've got another problem... Paraphrasing something Charles Spurgeon once said, “If you have no desire to see the lost saved... then you aren't saved yourself.”
Jesus died for all of those who would believe. Not just those people that you like. And if God has shown His grace and mercy toward you... to forgive you, and to save you... then it's only right and natural that you should show the same grace and mercy toward others... including those whom you hate.
And when you can do that... through His grace... you'll... Mat 5:45 ...be sons of your Father who is in heaven...