Forgiveness seems like such an elementary principle. If you hurt someone, say “I’m sorry”, they forgive you, and everyone goes about their day, right? Even my 18-month-old understands the most basic form of asking for forgiveness when he gives a hug and a kiss after he hurts his sister. Although he can say “I’m sorry” in an infantile way, he most likely does not feel bad for his actions or understand the pain of the other person. He’s just going through the motions. And though I like to think of myself as more mature than this chalk-eating baby, if I’m being honest, I have acted the same for most of my life. I have gone through the motions of saying “I’m sorry” without truly evaluating my wrongdoing (my sin), seeking forgiveness, and turning away from that sin.
In 2010, as a sophomore in college, I gave my life to Christ in a real way. My eyes were opened for the first time to see there was a God, Jesus Christ, who made everything, including me, and was worthy of all worship and praise. I knew I had never looked to Him, loved him, or cared about Him before, yet I was still forgiven for all of my self-centeredness, wrongdoings, and hurting others. I knew I was given grace, that “while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.” I truly felt new, loved, and free.
Fast forward 11 years to now. Although I know my identity and forgiveness are found in Jesus, I still very much struggle with admitting my sin. I worry that if I give in and admit just how often I do the wrong things, I will also have to admit that I need Jesus way more than I want to need him. I want to be farther along than I am. I’ve followed Christ for 11 years now, I am a pastor’s wife, I help lead others, I have two kids, shouldn’t I be able to fight my temptations more easily by now?! The simple fact is, I act in a selfish way many times a day, and I need forgiveness.
I need forgiveness
To borrow a phrase from Paul David Tripp, I want to be a “grace graduate,” but sanctification and godliness do not come from one-time repentance of sin. It’s not possible to say, “I’m forgiven. I am a Christian now and will sin no more.” Forgiveness is a daily practice. Every day, I need God’s forgiveness when I clearly put myself in front of everything else and hurt others in the process. Every day we need to seek forgiveness from God and others, and every day we need to grant forgiveness.
In the story of two debtors in Luke 7:36-50, Jesus and his disciples are eating at a Pharisee’s house when a sinful woman comes to see Jesus. “She began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” When the Pharisee is in horror that Jesus would let her touch Him, Jesus says “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47).
If I truly admit my wrongdoing, I can see how truly good and big God’s forgiveness is. Unlike the sinful woman who cries and anoints Jesus’s feet, many times I can be the Pharisee who does not see my need for forgiveness. I look for ways to skirt around my need, to prove my goodness to God and others.
My pride is at stake when I have to admit wrongdoing. Without even thinking about it, I innately have heart-driven excuses for my sin and want to hide my sin from God, much like Adam and Eve. This hiding does not occur in just one way; I run away from my need for forgiveness in various ways.
I justify my sin. I say “Well, I only yelled because the kids were loud and throwing things, the dog peed on the floor, I couldn’t get anyone’s attention, and I was at the end of my rope.” Instead, I could admit, yes, I am feeling frustrated, and I need God’s help to have peace, forgive my kids, and know that my identity is not found in a clean house or well-behaved kids. I can agree that my reaction was wrong, despite the reasons. I can ask for forgiveness from my kids and husband when I react out of my selfish desire to have things go my way and be in my control.
I downplay my sin. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to act like sin is no big deal. “I don’t always do this. It was just this once. Other people are so much worse.” For me, I would like to believe that my husband’s anger, with a louder voice (because he’s just a louder person), is worse than mine. I said it “nicer” than you. You were angry first and made me angry, so it’s really your fault and I’m not to blame. Can you relate?!
I misuse Christ’s forgiveness. I know that I am forgiven for sin, so sometimes I do not come to God with my sin. I think, well, I’m forgiven, so why do I need to ask for forgiveness or even change? Continuing in sin without effort to change shows a misunderstanding of God’s abundant grace and contempt for Jesus’ sacrifice.
David’s prayer in Psalm 51 gives us a beautiful example of seeking forgiveness. After he slept with Uriah’s wife and had Uriah killed, it is humbling and important to see that he says to God “against you, and you alone, have I sinned”. (Ps. 51:4). With all the hurt sin brings to us and others, at the root, sinfulness offends God. When we do wrong against others, we not only hurt them with scars that could take a long time to heal, we also hurt God’s heart. I pray that God would help me see and grieve my sin so that I would not grow comfortable with it.
I have received forgiveness.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 Jn. 1:9
When Christ died on the cross, He took our sin and punishment on himself. Although He was sinless, He died the death of a sinner, like me, to forgive all those who have sinned against God. God is holy and just, he could not let our sin go unpunished. The only way to bring us into relationship with God was Jesus’s death and resurrection as the atoning sacrifice on our behalf.
God cleanses us from all unrighteousness, past, present, and future. I am no longer defined by my sins or shortcomings, but “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21) When God looks at me, He sees his child, not my mistakes. We do not have to live in the shame of past mistakes or this morning’s mess ups. We have future grace to know that even when we fall short, God is there to pick us up and grow us through his powerful and loving hands.
The hymn, “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus”, says it so acutely.
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow
There is beauty in acknowledging my sin because it shows my need for Christ and Christ alone. Only by knowing the depth of my sin can I see the beauty of Christ’s forgiveness and my daily need for Him. No matter how many good things you and I do or how good of a person we might be, we need Jesus’s forgiveness. We will never do enough good things to earn God’s love and can not do enough wrong things to lose God’s love. As we gaze at the beauty of this truth, resting in His forgiveness, we can more fully give this forgiveness to others. We can live as ambassadors of Christ, forgiving others as Christ has forgiven us, and loving selflessly.