Scriptures: Psalm 32; 1 John 1:5-9; Romans 8:1-4

But God … forgives us

Before I move into the main point of my sermon today, which is going to be from 1 John, I did want to note two things from Psalm 32. One is there was a word that was not read aloud by the liturgist – and that's fine – that was after some of the stanzas. That was is selah. Selah means to stop and reflect.

So if you read that psalm again on your own – which I recommend – then you are supposed to think back on what you just read, to see how it relates to you, to see how it impacts you, to see what God might be telling you. That's a good way to handle all Scripture, but particularly the psalms, since they're poetic, sometimes you have to think about them a little bit.

The second thing in there, that goes along with the Romans passage, is that he mentions the freedom from a guilt that occurred when he confessed. I always like to point out – call it a quirk, but I like to give this caveat – freedom from guilt does not mean there are no consequences.

There are still consequences to sin, but the ultimate consequence, the condemnation that comes from God through judgment, does not occur. Instead we receive forgiveness from Him. You still might need to make amends. In fact, you're asked to do so. In the responsive reading we had from Matthew, it says if you know your brother has something against you, and you're at the alter, go back and make it right with him first.

But the guilt that we frequently beat ourselves up with does not need to be held onto, if we have truly repented and confessed our sins. The passage in Romans 8, which is one of my favorite ones to quote, says in verse 1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Again, that doesn't say there is no judgment, because we will all be judged. But there is no condemnation if we are in Christ Jesus. That phrase “in Christ Jesus” has a meaning that deals both with living within Christ Jesus and having Christ Jesus within us. So you not only have professed your faith but you are walking in that faith.

I think that that's important for us to understand, because there are many out there who seem to think that – and they express it this way, frankly, even in church, some pastors preach this – that if you believe in Jesus, all your sins are forgiven and so you can do anything you want. Just go to him and say you're sorry again. It's like a get-out-of-jail-free card from Monopoly. That's not the way it works if you are to be a disciple of Christ

But by the same token, in order not to become legalistic, where we have checkboxes of what do and not do – and it's usually mostly “don't do” things rather than “do” things, although there are things that we're supposed to do as well – instead of using that for self righteousness, we do need to remember that we do sin.

We sin whether we know it or not. Those of you that have had me in Bible study know that – and this is just my own theological perspective – I differentiate between a mistake, a transgression, and a sin.

For me, a mistake is something that all of us do because we're not perfect.

Again, it doesn't mean there aren't consequences. If you give the wrong answer on a test, it gets marked wrong. You don't score as well. Sometimes you make a mistake and stick your foot in your mouth – I'm familiar with that one – and then you need to apologize. But it wasn't something that “broke a law,” as it were.

A transgression, or trespass, occurs whether or not you know the law. You might not have seen the sign that somebody has up saying don't walk on the lawn, and you walk on the lawn anyways. I'm sorry, but just because you didn't see the sign doesn't mean you're excused. You can still be held accountable for that. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” But it wasn't that you were intending to trespass (we hope), but rather that you didn't know.

That's one of the reasons why, for instance, you'll see signs during put up during hunting season. I suppose they stay up year round, but I know there have been a couple of places where you're not allowed to go in and hunt deer, and they specifically put signs up around there, that there's no hunting in this area and on this land.

The third thing is a sin, and a sin is a deliberate wrong. Even if you feel justified, even if you think it's just vengeance or just deserts, it's still sin. If you deliberately go against God's word and God's law, then it is a sin.

In two cases, trespass and sin, we still have our own guilt, and we will be convicted by the Holy Spirit. Conviction is different from guilt. Conviction lead you to God. It's that little voice inside you, some people like to say, that lets you know that this just isn't right, and you need to make it right.

Guilt is something that Satan frequently uses to isolate us. Instead of turning to God, you try to run away from everything and turn away from everything, and believe that there is no forgiveness, there is no redemption, there is no way that someone – or God – could ever be in a right relationship with you again.

That's where the good news of the 1 John comes into play. He's very honest. I use this whenever I'm the one leading the Prayer of Confession. In the Call to Confession I say, “If you say you do not sin, then the truth is not in you, and the only person you deceive is yourself.”

Elsewhere, Paul says in Romans 3, “Not one person is righteous. … All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” For me, that is not a depressing thing. For me, that is, in a way, a liberating thing. Because you know what? It levels the playing field. There's no one who's better. There's no one who's worse. We've all done it. My sins might not be the same as your sins.

But nevertheless, there's still a sin before a holy God. So I can't stand over you, and you can't stand over me, in terms of who's more righteous. We shouldn't be arguing about that anyway. There's only one who was good, as Jesus said, in the passage about the rich young ruler, and that is God. The rich young ruler called him “good teacher” and he said, “Who is good except for God?”

The second half of that verse, though, says that if we confess our sins with repentant hearts, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (or wickedness – it depends on your translation). God is faithful to forgive. No matter what our sins, God will forgive and wipe them away.

I want to read something from a sermon by a preacher named Deniray Mueller:

When was the last time you did something stupid? Now just so we are "on the same page," Merriam Webster dictionary defines stupid as, "given to unintelligent decisions or acts." In other words: airheaded, bird-brained, bonehead, brain-dead, brainless, dim-witted, dorky, dumb.

(I would note in passing that ignorant is not the same thing. Ignorant means you don't know.)

For most of us, it would be more often than we like to admit. Of course most of the time we do something stupid, we look around quickly to make sure no one saw us.

But what about the things we do that are stupid spiritually? Do we treat them in the same way as we treat the other dumb things we do? Do we try to hide them or deny them?

What about the unkind words, the angry actions, cursing using God’s name or failing to put him first in our lives? How do we view our interaction with our family, friends, neighbors or co-workers -- do we ever do dumb things in those relationships?

I don't know about you. It's not my position to judge. I'm not omniscient. But I'll freely admit that I do – on a regular basis, unfortunately.

As the saying goes, "When you mess up, fess up!"

Whether it was intentional or inadvertent, confession is where change of the heart begins. It might have been something petty, or it might be something really big. But we know God forgave David and Bathsheba – David in particular, with his adultery.

God forgave Moses for losing his temper and throwing the Ten Commandments on the ground. Think about that. He'd been up there for forty days, and God had carved the commandments with His own finger in the stone, then Moses came down, saw the Israelites doing wrong – they were worshiping a golden calf – and he was so ticked off that he smashed the tablets of law on the ground.

It wasn't even an “oops.” It was an intentional thing. It was Moses's anger. And even if it was anger on behalf of God, it was still not something that God told him to do. And God had to provide a second set of the commandments for them.

Then there was Cain killing Abel. There are a number of what we could call “big” sins in Scripture. But God still forgave them.

We're in Lent, and we'll be celebrating Good Friday soon. When they nailed Jesus to the cross, what did Jesus say as one of his “seven last words”? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They are nailing the Son of God to the cross. That's about as bad as it gets. The ones who nailed him did it, most likely, in ignorance. But the ones who got him put there – they knew exactly what they were doing. Jesus doesn't say, “Forgive these people, but not those.” He says “forgive them all, for they know not what they do.

And when we confess either to God or the person we have hurt, we gain that forgiveness that God gave to those who crucified Jesus.

The thief on the cross – one of them continued to abuse Jesus, but the other one defended Jesus and said, “Hey, we belong here. We stole, we murdered, we did lots of nasty things. But he did not.” Then he said, “Lord, remember me.” Not “save me,” but just “remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “Today you will feast with me in paradise.”

Forgiveness. That doesn't mean we can keep committing the same sins. As I noted, some people seem to take it as a free pass to do that.

We need to try and not do those things we know are wrong. But I do know that we all will probably continue to do other dumb things in our lives and relationships.

Why? Because we're human. And when we confess our sins, God will forgive them. I want to make a point here about confession. This is part of why we do this in the worship service, and I probably covered it during my sermon series on worship, but because of our topic today, I want to mention it again.

Verbal confession is important. Frankly, if all we do is confess to God in our head, it's too easy to then shunt it aside. It's too easy to say without actually meaning it. It's too easy to do it by rote without thinking about it. “Oh, I screwed up, sorry, God.”

If you actually go to somebody else, the person whom you wronged, or an accountability partner or someone like that, and you verbalize it, then you have to think about it. You have to dwell on it, even if it's momentarily. And that's why, in confession, the heart change begins.

Because by taking that moment to think about what you've done, to truly think about, to verbalize it to someone else, to put it into words so you can hear and they can hear, then your first step towards true repentance has been made.

This is why we do a unison prayer of confession at the beginning and then give you several moments to go silently before God. There may be things you just don't want to tell everybody else – or can't. And that's fine, though I really encourage you to have an accountability partner somewhere, a prayer partner, someone that you can go to and trust that if you're doing it wrong, they're going to tell you you're doing it wrong.

If they think you need to make things right, they'll tell you that they think you need to make things right. But they're not going to judge you. That's not their job. And they're not going to tell anybody else. Because that's also not their job.

So we want to make sure we confess our sins, large and small, so that God can wipe them away with His big eraser, with His big heart, setting them – and this is theoretically – “as far as the east is from the west and remembering them no more.” That is a metaphor. God is omniscient. He doesn't forget anything. But He treats it as if it never happened.

And you know something? We're called to do the same. If someone has wronged us and they have confessed to us and they have tried to make amends, we're supposed to forgive them.

Peter asked Jesus, “Well, how often should I forgive them? Seven times?” That was, by the way, being very generous. The Jews believed that you didn't need to forgive a Gentile at all, in their law, and a family member or someone close – a fellow Jew – only three times, before you could just bring it down on them.

So Peter said “seven times?” He was saying, “look how generous I am.” But Jesus says 70 times 7. And that doesn't mean you count to 490. That was another way of saying as many times as it happens, that's often you should forgive them.

And it can be hard, and there's a lot of pain. But that's where God's faithfulness in love comes to help us, as the one who is aggrieved or the one who does the grieving. In either case, God's love can heal us. It can heal us from the pain.

Again, I'm not one of those that says forgive and forget, because if we did that, we'd never learn. But it can be healing us from the pain, if we truly let it go and forgive. It can heal us from guilt, if we give it to God in our confession, and let Him forgive us, so that we might forgive ourselves. And for some of us, that's the hardest thing to do of all, to forgive ourselves.

But you know, if God forgives us, we really don't have a leg to stand on, to say we aren't forgiven. If we don't forgive ourselves, we're saying we're better than God. We're stricter than God. We are a better judge than God. And that is kind of prideful. So when you don't forgive yourself for you sin that you committed, you just commit another sin. Selah – think about that one for a moment.

Forgiveness and being forgiven is critical in the life of a believer, a disciple of Jesus Christ. There may be many things that you regret, things that need forgiveness, or maybe things that you need to forgive. When we come up today during the offering meditation, bring your piece of paper, write either one, something that you need forgiveness for – maybe you have been moved by the Spirit and you're going to need to confess it – or put something that you may need to forgive someone else for doing.

Especially since they might not even know they did it. That's what happens a lot in relationships. Somebody does something and they're completely oblivious to the fact that they've just hurt you. So you need to forgive them. If you want good communication, I mean, you can tell them that it happened so that hopefully they won't do it again.

But you don't need to come down like the angel of death, or a banshee, or a hammer, and try and pound them for it. Give it to God. Give it to God today. Be forgiven. Be forgiving. Be free. Because in Christ and through Christ, we are free. There's no condemnation.

There is the Spirit within us to help us to not sin. There's the awareness of what God wants from us, that we can give to Him. We're free. And he who is free can know joy, and even contentment, in their life today, as well as the life to come. May you feel forgiven. May you feel free.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.