People today love to focus on failure. The media loves to highlight all the mistakes of our leaders and social media loves to find fault with even the best intentions that people have. While we are fixated on the sins of others – God is focused on grace and what is great about the Apostles’ Creed is that it helps us have that same focus. We have been studying the Apostles’ Creed this summer and today as we talk about sin and forgiveness it is important for us look at what is included in the creed and what is not.
The creed affirms that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. While this statement does imply that sin is real and that we are sinners, the focus is not on the sin but the solution. The focus is not on the guilt of our sin but the grace of God. The creed could have said, I believe in original sin or I believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God or I believe we live in a fallen and sinful world and that our lives are filled with sin but it doesn’t, the focus isn’t on sin but forgiveness. I believe in the forgiveness of sins. We believe in the solution God has given to the the problem of sin we all face and that solution is God’s grace and love that brings forgiveness.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our world had the same focus? Instead of trying to tear people down by looking for, digging up, pointing out and finding pleasure in the sin of others, think how uplifting and hopeful our world would be if we talked about forgiveness and grace. Think how politics and business and schools and churches and families would be different if we focused on forgiveness and not failures. I’m not talking about glossing over mistakes and pretending that evil and injustice don’t take place, we need to be clear about the reality and consequences of sin and we need to seriously deal with how to right the wrongs we see in ourselves and in our world, but how might things be different if we focused on forgiveness.
A couple of weeks ago I was in our daycare office and there was a little boy in there who was probably about three years old. He was having a bad day and for him to be in the office in their little time out chair meant that he had already been through all the options in the classroom. After a few minutes his Dad came to the door and I realized that they called him to come and take him home for the day. While this doesn’t happen often, there are times when for the safety of the other children, and to help the child, it is best for the child to go home. When the Dad walked into the office the little boy got out of his timeout chair and just went to hug his dad. His Dad lifted him in his arms and said, you’re having a bad day huh. The Dad was loving, the Daycare staff was as helpful and encouraging and let me assure you that everyone is working together to help this little boy succeed in life. It is what our staff do and I am encouraged and thankful for the gracious, kind and thoughtful way they work with families.
What touched me about what I experienced that day was that everyone was focused on forgiveness. There was no conversation about how the little boy was so bad that he had to go home. Our staff didn’t point out all his failures. The dad was not angry. There was no yelling, no blaming others and no focus on the problems but a complete focus on the solution. The focus was on forgiveness and not failure. Grace and love and not sin. The little boy did have to go home, but he was back in the daycare and all smiles on Friday.
Think what a different place our world would be if we could focus on forgiveness and not failure, grace and not the guilt and shame of sin. The creed has this focus because God has this focus when he looks at us. God doesn’t focus on our failure, he offers forgiveness. God doesn’t load on the guilt but offers us grace. God doesn’t punish us for missing the mark but through Jesus brings us back into his arms. I am so thankful that we affirm a faith that believes in the forgiveness of sins and doesn’t just point out our problems.
Yes, there is sin in our lives and we are all sinners. We heard a few weeks ago that sin means missing the mark, we have failed to live the way God wants us to live and the way we want to live. We have failed to love God and others and honestly we have failed to love and care for ourselves in ways that honor god. Sin is real and it is a problem in our lives and if you think you are without sin, then look at this list.
This is a list of sin that a fourth century monk created and his thought was that every sin in our lives is connected to one of these. The list became known as the 7 deadly sins and my guess is that all of us can identify with one or more of these situations. If you look at this list and say, nope, none affect me at all, then I would have you take a good look at the last one on the list and make sure that pride is not the issue.
While we might call these the 7 deadly sins, these sins don’t utterly defeat and destroy us and they don’t lead to death because we believe in the forgiveness of sins. Yes we may miss the mark in one or more of these areas and we may suffer the consequences of our failures, but we are not without hope and we are not left dead in our sin because we believe in forgiveness.
So what exactly is forgiveness? Forgiveness means that God does not hold our sin against us. The word Jesus uses when he talks about forgiveness is a word that means release. God is releasing us from the burden of our sin. While we might be guilty, God declares us not guilty. While we miss the mark, God draws us back in line. God’s forgiveness releases us from the shame of sin so that we can truly be free.
Forgiveness is God’s love not holding our sin against us. Forgiveness is God setting us free so that we can be drawn back into the presence of God. Forgiveness is being picked up into God’s arm and feeling the power of God’s embrace when we are having a bad day and our sin has somehow put is in the time out chair.
Forgiveness is not something we earn, it is a gift that comes from God and in many ways the cross is a symbol of that forgiveness. For some the cross is a symbol of forgiveness because it was on the cross that Jesus paid the price for our sin. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death and Jesus died that death so that we might live and be reconciled to God. For others the cross is a symbol of forgiveness because Jesus was willing to die for his message of love and grace to prevail. No matter how we might see it, the cross is what tells us that we are forgiven which is why we call Jesus our savior. Jesus saves us from our sins – we are forgiven.
That God wants us to focus on forgiveness and not the failure of sin is made clear to us when we look at the life of Jesus. If we read through the gospels we will see that Jesus did not spend his time pointing out sin but loving sinners. Jesus forgave people for their sin and became known as a friend of sinners. Jesus didn’t go around pointing out the sin in everyone’s life and calling people to confess it, feel guilty and full of shame and then promise to never do it again, Jesus forgave people and allowed the freedom that came with God’s grace to help people live a new life.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector who had cheated people out of all kinds of money but instead of calling him out and publically shaming him, Jesus went to his house to eat. Jesus didn’t hold Zacchaeus’ sin against him, he went to his home and forgave him and that forgiveness changed Zacchaeus so that he went out and gave his money away and paid back all those he had cheated. Prostitutes weren’t shamed, they were sent off to live new lives. Thieves condemned to die were told they would be with Jesus in parades because they trusted in him for forgiveness. Jesus’ ministry was one of offering forgiveness and not pointing out sin and that message and life of forgiveness changed the world.
Jesus’ life and ministry wasn’t all there was to his message of forgiveness, he also taught us that we need to forgive others. Jesus taught about forgiveness so often that Peter asked him to clarify things for him. How many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to 7 times? Jesus reply was not 7 times – which was seen as a lot but 70 x 70 times. This was Jesus’ way of saying that we need to be ready and willing to forgive every time someone sins against us. Our lives are to be characterized by forgiveness so that we don’t even count the number of times we forgive because offering grace and mercy is just part of who we are and how we live.
Now let’s be clear, I’m not sure this is something we can do on our own but it is possible if the fruit of the Holy Spirit is active within us because the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and these are all the things that lead to forgiveness. Love is what leads to forgiveness because the Bible says that love keeps no record of wrongs. Love doesn’t hold grudges or hold people’s actions and words against them. If love is ruling in our hearts and lives then we will release people from their sin every chance we get.
When we say that we believe in the forgiveness of sins we are not just saying that we believe our sins are forgiven and that the sins of others are forgiven but that we are willing to forgive as well. Of all the teaching of Jesus, of all the ways that Jesus called us to live in this world, the Apostles understood that the most important one was forgiveness and that the focus should be on forgiveness and not sin. We believe in the forgiveness of sins. We believe that we have been set free from the burden of sin and the guilt and shame of sin and we believe that our lives need to be marked by a love that forgives others. Let us affirm this and let us live this today and every day.
I Believe – Forgiveness
1. The word Jesus uses for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer is the word aphiemi which means “release”.
• What does it mean to be released from your sin?
• In what ways does sin bind us up or enslave us?
2. Read Psalm 103:8-12. What do we learn about God and forgiveness from this passage?
3. By affirming the forgiveness of sins in the creed we are also saying that we will forgive others.
• Who do you need to forgive today?
• What will it look like for you to forgive this person?
4. Read Matthew 6:14-15. How does not forgiving others effect our own lives? Why can’t God forgive (release) us if we won’t forgive others?
5. Take time this week to thank God for the forgiveness He has given you and ask for the Holy Spirit to help you love others in ways that will lead to you to forgiving 70 x 70 times.
6. Use this prayer of confession to ask for forgiveness:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done and what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not love our neighbors as ourselves.
Forgive us, we pray,
and release us so that we might more fully live and love.
For we ask this in Jesus’ name. AMEN