Doug Murray’s latest book The Madness of Crowds has a great section on forgiveness – in which he recognises its importance, but doesn’t really know how to achieve it…This weeks’ A.S.K answers that question.
BIBLE READING: Hebrews 9:11-28
TEXT: In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness….. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:22 and 27-28).
The answer to the question of how you achieve forgiveness is very simple. You don’t. You can’t. It is impossible for anyone to ‘achieve’ forgiveness. When we do something wrong against a friend or someone in our family, I guess we can make up for it – we can atone for it. I once kicked a ball through a window – and I atoned for it by paying for the glass to be replaced. But when we sin against a pure and holy God, it’s not just a small matter…and its nothing we can atone for.
There are some people who are conscious they have done something really wrong and they spend the whole of their life trying to make atonement. They never can. And none of us can make atonement for our sin against God (because although sins are also against others, and even ourselves, ultimately they are against God). But won’t religion work?
No. It never does. You can go to church, read the Bible, do the rosary, say your prayers and none of that can forgive you. In the Old Testament God gave the people a sacrificial system (described in great detail in the book of Leviticus) but, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin. They provide outward cleansing, a ritual cleansing, but they cannot deal with the heart of the matter – which is our heart.
That’s not just true of the Old Testament church, its also true of the New Testament church. When people think that they can just perform a religious ritual and then they will be forgiven – they do not grasp the depth and horror of their own sin. Religion can’t forgive anyone.
What about good deeds? If we have done some bad things can we not balance it out by doing some good deeds so at the end God will say – well done you, I forgive you for the bad things you have done because of the good things you have done!? Thinking like that means that we don’t appreciate the hellishness and power of sin, nor our own inability to do any saving good. There is none good. No, not one.
So if we can’t achieve forgiveness does that just mean we have to grin and bear it? Do we just have to suppress our guilt, or pretend its not there, or just try to hide it? No. As the Psalmist tells us “there is forgiveness with you, that we may with reverence serve you” (Psalm 130:4).
Will God just forgive us because as the French philosopher Rousseau said ‘c’est son metier’ (that’s his job)? Again no. God is a faithful and just God. He cannot just forgive. Sin must be dealt with. When I was a young Christian I woke up one morning and felt just so depressed at my own sin that I did not want to read the Bible and thought I could do nothing. But I forced myself to open it. My reading for the day was Isaiah 6. I have never forgotten these words – they were so directly appropriate for me (incidentally let me encourage you to read the Bible systematically every day – you will be astonished at how many times in your life that the Word of the Lord for that day is just what you needed – its almost as if God intended it that way!). When Isaiah saw the holiness and glory of God he cried out
“woe is me, I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty”. He thought he was finished. But then an angel flew to him with a live coal from the altar “With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7).
What great words! What a great truth! Your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for! I can’t ‘achieve’ forgiveness. Christ has achieved forgiveness. His death on the cross is what forgives us. It’s not the blood of bulls and goats. It’s the blood of Christ. We are not clothed in our good works, but we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. All of us who come to him are forgiven. You don’t achieve forgiveness; you come to the one who can forgive.
The words of the old hymn are helpful…
Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me, And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come! Just as I am, and waiting not To rid my soul of one dark blot; To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
CONSIDER: How do we get rid of guilt? Can guilt ever be a good thing? If Christ forgives us all our sin does that give us an excuse to go on sinning?
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: John Owen – Assurance – Overcoming the Difficulty of Knowing Forgiveness
PRAYER: Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy wounded side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure, Save from wrath and make me pure. Not the labour of my hands Can fulfil Thy law’s demands; Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
A.S.K is continuing to sell very well….
Or better still go into your local bookshop and order it….there are bulk discounts as well from Ten of Those
If you have read the book and would like to review it – can I encourage you to do so on Amazon. Those who hate biblical Christianity are usually quick to do so…!