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Forgiveness and Cleansing

1 John 1:8-10

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.


      Comedian Danny Thomas once said, “My mother, God bless her, taught me when I was little to never carry yesterday on my back. It didn’t matter what had happened—yesterday was dead. I remember her saying, ‘There is nothing you can do about it now; if you get in the habit of carrying yesterday around on your back, you will be bent double by the time you’re 21.’” 

      This is precisely the problem of many people. They live their lives carrying yesterday on their back. They carry yesterday’s failures, yesterday’s resentments, yesterday’s worries, yesterday’s mistakes and yesterday’s sins, and consequently their lives are bent double. They are bent so low that they can’t walk upright. They can’t look the world or themselves squarely in the eye. They are bent low from the weight of all of the yesterdays that they have lived.

        [1]Examples of people carrying yesterday on their backs can be found almost everywhere. One example is Albert Speer. He was taken into the intimate circle of Adolf Hitler’s friends and consequently had a part in the war crimes and atrocities of World War II. In his book Inside the Third Reich, written while serving a 20-year prison sentence, he wrote that he would never be rid of his sin and that he was convinced that “no apologies are possible.” Poor wretched man. He lived with yesterday on his back, and he was nearly bent double from it.

      Another example came to my study years ago. A young schoolteacher became involved with one of his students. Nothing immoral happened, but they were indiscreet. When school officials learned of this, the teacher came to me for counseling. He told me that he watched a television program one night. It was about a schoolteacher who was having an affair with one of his students. He said, “I sat there wondering if other people who were watching the program were thinking about us.” The truth of the matter was that no one else knew about them at that time. But his guilty conscience made him think they did. He was living with the guilt on his back and it was bending him double.

      The nation’s Conscience Fund is another example. This fund was begun in 1811, when President James Monroe received a five-dollar bill from an anonymous citizen. The citizen had cheated the government and it weighed so heavily on his conscience that he sent the money to pay his debt. Since then more than 50,000 Americans have felt the need to repay the government for their thoughtless acts or dishonest schemes. Sometimes letters accompany the money, explaining what it is for. At other times there is nothing but the cash. Over the years more than two million dollars has been added to the Conscience Fund. The least amount that was received in a year was in 1852 when only $6.00 was given. The record year was 1950, when $370,000 was received. The largest single amount was received in 1916, when an anonymous Philadelphia man enriched the fund by $30,000. The very existence of a national Conscience Fund indicates that there are a lot of people who are living with yesterday on their backs.

      The need and the value of getting yesterday off of our backs cannot be overestimated. Guilt takes a tremendous toll upon people physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Bit by bit the medical profession is realizing the tremendous physical and emotional consequences of guilt. Guilt was not invented by the Bible. It is a universal phenomenon written into human nature by God. When we transgress our own highest ideals and God’s word, it affects our whole being.

      Dr. Paul Tournier, in his book The Meaning of Persons says, “It is not necessary for me to insist on the medical value of confession. A bad conscience can, over a period of years, so strangle a person’s life that his physical and psychological powers of resistance are thereby impaired. It can be the root cause of certain psychosomatic afflictions. It is like a stopper, which can be pulled out by confession, so that life begins and wants to flow again.”

      But we did not need to wait until Dr. Tournier came along to know the physical effects of sin and the therapy of confession. King David wrote about it centuries ago. “What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven! What joys when sins are covered over! What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record. There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was. But my dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration. All day and all night your hand was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, ‘I will confess them to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone” (Psalm 32:1-5, The Living Bible).

      One of the wonderful things that God has done for us was to provide a way to get yesterday off our backs. John writes, “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).

      This is a marvelous promise of forgiveness and cleansing. There is a difference in the two. The word forgiveness means that the relationship is restored. When we wrong someone, whether it is a friend, a neighbor, a business associate, or God, there is immediately erected between the two of us an invisible barrier. We do not feel comfortable in their presence. We would rather not face them. The same is true in our relationship with God. That is why God said, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2). When Adam sinned against God, he and Eve hid from God. They were guilty and they knew it. They were ashamed and did not want to face God. Their sin and guilt had erected an invisible wall between them and God. It always works that way. But when we are forgiven, the wall is removed and the relationship is restored.

      But the promise is for more than forgiveness. It is also a promise for cleansing. That means that not only is the barrier removed, the sin and guilt are taken away. Isaiah writes, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as wool; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).[2]

      However, this promise of God is conditional. There is an “if” attached to it. There are three conditional steps to forgiveness and cleansing. One, tell God; two, trust God; three, thank God. Take these three steps and forgiveness and cleansing will be yours.

      1. We must tell God. First, we must tell God. “The process of forgiveness,” says H. R. Mackintosh, “is first owning, then disowning our sins.” We must first acknowledge our sin. Then we must forsake it. The process begins with confession. The word confess means “to say the same thing as” or “to agree with.” Confession is agreeing with God and his analysis of our sin. It is saying the same thing about ourselves that God has already said. What has God said about us? He has said that we are sinners. When I confess, I am agreeing with him.

      God accuses us of sin in two places. First, he accuses us of sin in the Bible. He says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He says, “For there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). He says, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). 

      Not only does God condemn sin in the Bible, he condemns sin in our own conscience. Even if we did not have the word of God, he comes into our conscience to convict us of our wrongdoings. When we confess our sins, we are agreeing with God. We are saying, “Lord, what you have said about me in the Bible and what you have said about me in my conscience is exactly right. I am a sinner. I have sinned against you.”

      In the confession of sin, we must not rationalize. We must be specific in calling sin by name. If we refuse to admit that we are sinners, then we live in a word of illusions. If we rationalize our sin, God will not remove it. Therefore we must call sin by its name and deal with it honestly.

      Billy Sunday said that we would get along much better if we would treat sin as a rattlesnake rather than as a cream puff. He also said that you can’t get rid of sin by brushing it away with a feather duster. The only way to deal with sin is to treat it as a serious offense to God.

      We have three choices in dealing with our sins. First, we can deny our sin and carry it on our backs. Second, we can rationalize and excuse it. President Eisenhower in his book At Ease said, “The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.” We can blame our sin on someone else, or we can do what God tells us to do: we can confess our sins. If you decide to confess, you need not worry about shocking or surprising God. You won’t be letting him in on information he does not have access to already. So just be honest and sincere, and forgiveness and cleansing can be yours.

      2. We must trust God. Second, you must trust God. If we confess our sins, what assurance do we have that God will forgive us? John says that our assurance is in the character of God. “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). When the Bible says that God is faithful, it means that God is true to himself. He will keep his word. When it says that God is just, it means that he is fair, trustworthy, and reliable. Ultimately the grounds of our confidence have to rest upon the character of God. He will do everything that he said he would do.

      What has God promised to do with our sins? He has promised four things.

      First, the Lord promises, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). He does not promise to remove our sin as far as the north is from the south, but as far as the east is from the west. The reason is, there is a limit to the north and the south. There is a North Pole and a South Pole. If you travel north you will eventually reach the North Pole. Once you reach it and go beyond it, you’re headed south. If you keep traveling south, you will eventually reach the South Pole. Once you reach it and go beyond it, you are then headed north. There is a limit to the north and the south. But there is no limit to the east and the west. You can begin traveling east and travel forever and forever in the eastward direction and never come to the end of it. You will always be traveling east.

      Second, the Lord promises to forget our sins. “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). When we talk about the marvelous attributes of God, we seldom think of his ability to forget. God is a good forgetter. I am convinced that if you asked God about some sin that he has forgiven, he would scratch his head and say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember that. I have completely forgotten about that.”

      Third, the Lord promises to cast away our sins. In chapter seven and verse 19 of his book, the prophet Micah says of God, “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” The deepest point in the ocean is called the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, deep in the North Pacific Ocean. It is 36,060 feet deep. That’s almost seven miles. It is equivalent to 27 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of one another. The highest point on the earth is Mount Everest. It is 29,028 feet high. That means that the deepest point of the ocean goes deeper into the earth than the highest mountain reaches into the sky. That’s how far the Lord casts our sins from us.

      John Raper wrote, “If tombstones told the truth, everybody would want to be buried at sea.” The truth of the matter is that our sins have already been buried there. So if tombstones could talk, they would not have anything to say about those who have been forgiven.

      Fourth, God promises to erase our sins. The Lord says, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3:19). The word blot means to erase. In ancient days, paper was rare and expensive. It needed to be used again and again. The ink of that day had no acid in it. Therefore it did not bite into the paper. It just lay on the page and dried. To erase it and make the paper usable again, one needed only to take a damp sponge and wipe it across the page. Every trace of the dried ink was removed and the paper was as good as new. The word blotted describes that process of erasing. That’s what God promises to do with our sins.

      We must take God as his word. We must learn to rely upon his character. This is our only hope. We can’t unscramble an egg. We can’t unbreak a glass, and we can’t undo the past. There is no hope for us except the mercy and the forgiveness of God. The same Bible that identifies sin also offers forgiveness. The promise of forgiveness is just as real as the pronouncements about sin.[3]

      David said, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). The word mark is a bookkeeping term. It means “to write out, as if to mark on a ledge.” If God wrote down all of our sins and held us accountable for them, how could we ever face him? But he does not mark them down and hold them against us. He forgives them and forgets them.

      So then, my forgiveness does not depend upon my goodness, but upon God’s goodness. It does not depend upon my faithfulness, but upon his faithfulness. From beginning to end, my forgiveness is dependent upon God, and it is as sure as his character.

      3. We must thank God. Third, we must thank God. Having told God about our sins and trusted his character, we ought then to fill our prayers with thanksgiving. We ought to thank him daily that we have been forgiven and cleansed. Sometimes when people talk to me about their past, I say, “You sound as though you’ve confessed that sin before.” And they often reply, “I’ve confessed it a thousand times.” Then I say, “That’s 999 times too often.” All that we need to do is to sincerely confess our sins one time. If we do, he performs the miracle of forgiveness and cleansing.






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Paul W. Powell - www.PaulPowellLibrary.com

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