September 16, 2012

Certain of Forgiveness - Sep 16, 2012

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The book of Acts tells us that followers of Jesus were first called "Christians" in the city of Antioch (Acts 11:26). It's possible that the title, "Christian" wasn't chosen by the followers of Jesus at all. They already had a name. The were called followers of "The Way". Some believe "Christian" was a term that their enemies began to use. Those followers of Christ, those "Christians".

Whether it was originally intended as a derogatory name or not, doesn't really matter. What matters is that "Christian" was the PERFECT NAME.

In some cultures people are named or re-named because of some important event that happens in their life. What event in our lives could be more important than the day we came to trust that Jesus is truly our Savior from sin? That He has taken us off the path to hell, and placed us in the waiting room for heaven. What could ever overshadow that?

I'm proud to be called "Christian". Not because of what it means to Americans, or because of any of the numerous associations that people have with this name. I'm proud to be "called" Christian because that name connects me to Christ. He is my everything.

Now, I feel like a hypocrite saying that. I don't always live up to this great name. I dirty the name of Christ by telling people I'm a Christian, and then wrecking the things that I touch. I tarnish the reputation of my Savior by saying things that aren't right. By thinking things that are unfair.

I'm a sinner. But even that doesn't change the fact that of all that I am: pastor, father, husband, brother, friend - the most important part of who I am is this - I belong to Christ.

Today we're going to start another sermon series. The last series was all about Satan's lies, and how to counteract them with God's Word. This new series is going to be all about Christ. Why Christ is the core of who we are. Why Christ is the reason we do the good things that we do. Why Christ is to everything to us.

Today we read Ephesians 1, verse 7. There we'll find that "Christ is the reason we are certain of forgiveness".

Ephesians 1:7 (NKJV)

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace

In this verse there are five different reasons why we can be sure that our sins, past, present and future, are completely forgiven.

Look at the first phrase again, "In Him we have redemption". In the Greek here, the verb is in the present tense. That's the tense that expresses action in an on-going way. Think of a straight line. To paraphrase, "In Christ we possess redemption NOW".

If you're not a Christian you might wonder, "What is this redemption? Redemption from what?" Paul makes his words crystal clear. He says, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins". Just clip out the "through His blood phrase" for a second. Redemption = forgiveness of sins.

In Christ, the forgiveness of sins isn't something that we look forward to, it's something that is our possession RIGHT NOW. If you believe that Jesus is the Savior - you stand forgiven. Paul doesn't say, "In Christ we will be forgiven some day". Paul doesn't say, "In Christ we now have the power to live good lives and earn forgiveness". Paul doesn't say, "In Christ we have part of our forgiveness".

In Him we HAVE redemption - the forgiveness of sins.

Next, I'd direct your attention to that word, "redemption". At the time of Paul the Greek word for "redemption" was used when talking about the "buying back of a slave or captive, making him free by payment of a ransom" (A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature).

Redemption means to "buy back". Jesus Christ is the buyer, we sinners are the bought ones. He's the buyer, we're the redeemed.

Paul even throws in a little phrase to tell us what the redemption price was. He says, "through His blood".

Now, let's pause for a second on that phrase, "through His blood". This is the third thing that shows us that our forgiveness is certain. The price paid to save us from hell was the blood of Jesus. Of course, Paul doesn't mean a few drops of Jesus' blood. With the phrase, "through His blood" Paul is referring to the suffering and death of Christ. The pouring out of His blood unto death. We use this the phrase in English too. We say, "Many soldiers shed their blood on the battlefield to bring us this freedom". We don't mean their little nicks and cuts. We mean when they gave up their life for the cause. When they poured out their blood and died.

Now, let's remember who Christ Jesus is. He's the eternal Son of God made human. What could possibly be more valuable than the voluntary suffering and death of God?

Because the price Jesus paid was immensely precious, we can be sure that there is no payment left on our bill. There cannot be any payment left for us to make. Like Jesus said from the cross, "It is finished".

Okay, let's skip ahead to the next phrase, "the forgiveness of sins".

Now, sometimes we talk about sin we divide it into two categories: original sin and actual sin (sins of action). This distinction comes from the Bible. Like when David says that surely he was sinful "from birth" and that he was sinful even from the moment of conception (Psalm 51:5). Sinful parents give birth to sinful children. That's what we call original sin.

Then these little sinners do sins of thought, word and deed - "actual sins" or sins of action.

In the Catholic Church they teach that Jesus only died for your original sin and that sinners have to erase the record of their sinful actions on their own. Jesus didn't cover those ones.

But, what does the Bible say Jesus paid for on the cross? Original sin? Actual sins? All sins?

In our sermon reading, Paul says that in Christ we have the forgiveness of SINS in the PLURAL. The Greek phrase "the forgiveness of sins" could also be translated, "the pardon of our false steps". In other words, Jesus' death paid for ALL THE MANY THINGS that we have said, thought and done that were evil. Jesus suffered and died to take away all our sins, original AND actual.

And if you have any doubts about the entirety of Christ's forgiveness, just listen to what the Bible says Jesus does for sinners...
"25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Jesus covers it all - original sin, and actual sins.

We've got one final phrase to cover, "according to the riches of His grace". Here's the verse again,
"7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7 NKJV).
"According to" is the key here. If I tell my daughter that I will pay her a nickel for every dandelion that she brings me, and she brings me 200 dandelions, than I'm going to owe her 200 nickels ($10). One nickel according to every dandelion.

Pretty simple terminology right? Well, Paul says we have as much forgiveness as God has grace. So, we ask the question, "How much grace does God have?" Here it helps to remember that grace is, by definition, undeserved love.

We know that God is giving, but just how giving IS God? How can we know? Maybe we could balance the books of the universe to figure this one out. Maybe we could say, "How much have people, angels, animals and things given to God, and how much has God given to what He has created".

Oops. I gave it away when I said, "created". God has given everything and everyone their existence. God is as giving as the universe is large. In fact, God is more giving than this. When God the Son became human and suffered to take our sins away, He was giving Himself. So, not only has God given everything that exists as a gift, but He has also given HIMSELF.

Makes our sins look pretty small doesn't it. Our sins are huge, heavy and ugly - but next to the vastness of God's grace they are nearly invisible. And that grace swallows them up.

But you know, we don't have to reason out how gracious God is. We can look at actual passages in the Bible where He tells us how gracious He is. When will our sins be too much? When will God's grace run out? These passages tell us.

Jesus says...
"...the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out" (John 6:37 NKJV).
The Spirit of God inspired the apostle John to write...
"9 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).
When Peter asked Jesus Himself how many times he should forgive his brother, Jesus replied...
"...I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22b NKJV).
In other words, Jesus says that our forgiving of others should be without limit - just like God's forgiveness to us is without limit. Each and every time we bring our sins to Christ in true repentance saying, "I've sinned. Forgive me and help me never to do this again", each time we are forgiven.

If our forgiveness was somehow supposed to be earned by US, then we could never be sure if we had done enough to satisfy our holy God. But since forgiveness is a gift, given from God, through faith in Christ - we can be sure our sins are no more.

Christ is the reason we are certain of forgiveness.

Let's just do a quick review here.

First of all, Paul says that we HAVE redemption RIGHT NOW. To redeem means to "buy back", which is by nature something we can't do ourselves - GOD IS THE BUYER, we are the purchased. The redemption PRICE IS PRECIOUS - we were bought back with the suffering and death of God the Son. This payment doesn't just cover some of our sins, but all of them - SINS in the PLURAL. Lastly, we have as much forgiveness as God has grace. We are as forgiven as God is giving - and God is the definition of giving, God is love.

Let me read it one last time. Hear it. Savor it. Just be still in the peace it brings...
"7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7 NKJV).
Christ is the reason we are certain of forgiveness.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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