Forgive Us Our Debts
April 1, 2006 - "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV). When we face life's problems, we can find guidance and comfort through God's Word. This series explores issues of vital interest to those who follow Christ.
by Ross Rhoads
Would I be wrong to say that almost everyone reading this article is in financial debt? You probably are, unless you are one of the exceedingly wealthy listed in the Fortune 500.
But spiritually, every human being is in debt to God. That debt is sin, and sin is against God. All human beings sin—by their very nature and by deliberate choice. We see the results of sin all around us. In its advanced state, sin is evidenced by a willful choice not to retain any consideration of God. At this point, one continues to sin with no shame, with no desire to change or to seek God's forgiveness. People can give themselves so defiantly to their own way that God gives them up to uncleanness and vile affections, giving them over to a reprobate mind. Even when they know the judgment of God, they not only continue in these very sins, but they approve of others who practice them (Romans 1:24, 26, 28, 32).
This sin—this absence of faith, devotion, obedience and desire to conform to God—places mankind in obligation to God. As with a financial debt, the spiritual debt of sin must either be paid in full or forgiven.
Many people assume they deserve some recognition for their achievements and personal accomplishments. They think there may be a favorable balance, the good outweighing the bad in their "account" with God. They seek to establish their own righteousness. But the Bible says "there is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10, NIV). It goes on to say that God's essence is pure righteousness, "So that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God" (Romans 3:19, NIV). Sin is such a negative balance with God that we can never pay it. Our only hope is that God will forgive it.
But on what basis can God forgive sin? The theological answer is "on the basis of imputed righteousness." What this means is that by divine decree and by free grace, God charges our sin to Christ's account, and He credits Christ's righteousness to our account: "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV).
God accepts His Son's death and resurrection as the full satisfaction for mankind's outrageous rebellion and the sinful violation of His law (1 John 2:2). To anyone who repents, believes and receives Christ as the sacrifice for sin, salvation is mediated by God with all the benefits and rewards of righteousness.
Totally unlike human forgiveness, God deletes all record of our sin (Romans 3:24), forgets it (Jeremiah 31:34) and imputes salvation to all who receive it by faith (Romans 4:22-24). Thus, the Bible speaks of the "gift of righteousness" (Romans 5:17, NKJV).
In the Bible, forgiveness not only means canceling a debt but also cleansing. Christ alone cleanses from sin (Hebrews 1:3). This cleansing continues forever, from the moment of faith, for the believer. However, the corruption that is in the world, and human weakness in temptation, disrupt our fellowship with God. Honest admission and confession of failures restores our fellowship with God, and the blood of Jesus keeps cleansing us from sin. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, NKJV).
Forgiveness relieves guilt and eliminates alienation from God. It instills hope, security, confidence and peace. The love of God fills the believer with joy by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:4-5). The past, present and future are free from any accusation: For "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1, NIV). God justifies those who believe. His grace exonerates them, bringing them into eternal acceptance and blessing. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins" (Romans 3:23-25, KJV). This is possibly the most profound statement of what makes forgiveness possible, and it is the distinct uniqueness of the Christian faith.
How Does This Apply to Me?
Often we neglect the seriousness of sin. We try to explain away our failures or shrug them off with the thought that God in His mercy will surely forgive us. How can we justify such a lackadaisical approach to the things that God hates? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I confessed my sin immediately? King David wrote, "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away. ... Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. ... and you forgave the guilt of my sin" (Psalm 32:3, 5, NIV). Don't wait to come to God. Make things right—right now.
- Have I confessed my sin completely? The Psalmist wrote, "Search me, O God, and know my heart. ... See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV). Take time right now to humbly ask God to reveal to you any unconfessed sin.
- Have I truly repented? It is one thing to admit we've sinned; it is another thing to repent, which means to turn away from sin. Don't allow yourself any opportunity to return to your sin. Cut off access to things and situations that may lead you to sin (Matthew 18:8-10). Ask fellow believers to hold you accountable in your walk with Christ (Galatians 6:1). And rely on the Holy Spirit to give you strength to remain faithful when you are tempted (1 Corinthians 10:13).
- Have I forgiven those who have wronged me? We take comfort in the promise of 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, He will forgive and cleanse us. But we forget Jesus' stern teaching: "If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:15, NIV). Jesus' parable of the unmerciful servant, in Matthew 18, also shows that God expects us to treat others as He treats us&mdashwith mercy and kindness.