May 6, 2014 Broadcast


A Message by R.C. Sproul

Forgiveness is a basic human necessity. We all need to be forgiven by others, and we all need to extend forgiveness ourselves. But knowing how and when to forgive can be difficult. Should we forgive someone even if they have not apologized for their wrong? How many times should we forgive an offense? Considering these questions, Dr. R.C. Sproul offers biblical wisdom concerning the why's and the how's of forgiveness.

From the series: Dealing with Difficult Problems

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    A Life of Faith and Forgiveness

  2. article

    Forgiveness at the Feet of Jesus

  3. devotional

    The Forgiveness of Sins

A Life of Faith and Forgiveness

Burk Parsons

If you travel to Wittenberg, Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, you may find yourself scratching your head wondering how Martin Luther managed to nail his 95 theses to the solid-bronze door of the 500-year-old castle church. It wouldn't take you long, however, to realize that the bronze door is a relatively new addition. During the Seven Year's War (1756–1763), the original, wooden door was lost in the great fire that consumed much of the church building in 1760. As a result, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia had the door replaced with the present bronze door, upon which are inscribed Luther's 95 theses. And while many Christians are familiar with the history surrounding Luther's 95 theses, most are unaware of their contents. Largely, they address the abuses of the papacy, especially the grandiose abuses of the papacy's cohorts, pertaining to the supposed power and efficacy of indulgences. Luther's first thesis is penetrating. It reads, "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent,' He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."

The amazing thing about Luther's statement is it teaches that repentance is not simply a one-time action, but is that which is to characterize the entirety of a believer's life. Repentance takes place not only when a sinner is converted to Christ but every day of a believer's life in Christ. For that is what the Lord's Prayer teaches us in the fifth petition: "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." We are taught by our Lord to ask forgiveness for all past sins that the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance and even the multitude of sins that we fail to remember.

The Word of God teaches us that God requires faith and repentance to be justified. Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin—we cannot express true faith without genuine repentance. We cannot trust Christ without turning away from our trust in ourselves. On this point, John Calvin writes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, "Now it ought to be a fact beyond controversy that repentance not only constantly follows faith but is also born of faith" (3.3.1). Our expression of repentance and faith is not simply relegated to that point in our lives when we "got saved," nor is it simply that which we proclaim to others; rather, the message of faith and repentance is something we proclaim to ourselves each and every day, reminding ourselves of the gospel and our justified status before God in Christ. We who have been justified on account of God's grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone have been forgiven fully and finally, and this forgiveness leads to a life of asking forgiveness, forgiving others, and trusting Christ alone every day of our lives as we live coram Deo, before the face of our forgiving Father in heaven.

Forgiveness at the Feet of Jesus

Richard Ganz

I remember opening the door of my office at the medical center and being greeted by a young, beautiful, desperate woman, who had been referred to me for psychotherapy. She was single. She had been living a carefree, and sexually immoral life. She was now pregnant. She was looking to me for help. I didn’t have a clue. I was a clinical psychologist, not a priest. What was I supposed to do? I offered nothing to help her turn away from what was soon to be an even greater disaster in her life than her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. I’ve looked back at this many, many times since I became a Christian. What I see about myself does not bring me much joy. I was no different than the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who were the experts, but instead were inept, inadequate, and ineffectual. When they were faced with real people, with real problems, they were useless.

My remembrance of this woman often brought me to the account in the Scriptures of the life of another desperate woman. She too could have been referred to one of the experts. She too would have left that meeting with twice the guilt and despair she had when she entered. Instead, she knew exactly where to go, and in this story we witness the meeting of a broken woman and the psychotherapist of broken hearts.

The woman I am referring to is the woman in Luke 7:36–50. She is a powerful, captivating, encouraging, daring, loving woman. We are drawn to her. Sermons are written about her. But apart from the one statement directed to her by Jesus, she is just simply one of the mass of broken, lost, destroyed individuals that fill this world. There was one word that broke the power that darkness held over her life. The word is “forgiven,” a simple word that left the other hearers of it wondering, who is this man that forgives sins?

Jesus is part of a dinner party at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, when out of nowhere, without any invitation, in walks a woman into that party. The Greek text indicates that this woman’s entry was quite shocking. It literally puts it: “Behold,” a woman, a woman who chooses this moment, at a party in a religious leader’s home, a party in which she was not invited. She chooses this moment to step forward, and come to the feet of Jesus. This is a woman who has been crying. Her heart is broken, and she brings her tears and her broken heart to Jesus. She continues crying and her tears fall upon the feet of Jesus. She now loosens her long hair, which is completely unacceptable in these circles, and uses her hair as a towel to wash and then dry his feet. And she doesn’t stop with this, but continues, now by kissing his dust-covered, tear stained feet. Finally, she takes a vial of expensive perfume, and pours it all upon His feet. What she was doing is personal and intimate. The “righteous” men in attendance were shocked. How dare this impudent mongrel behave this way!

We do not know who she was. Her name is never mentioned. We are told she is a sinner. That is it. It is a term which indicates sexual sin. She lived a life filled with sexual immorality, and we do know why she was there. She wanted to come to Jesus. Perhaps somewhere along the way she had heard Jesus teach, and was drawn to him. Leaders, experts, authorities, surround her, but it is only Jesus to whom she will entrust herself.

We see in this story how the forgiveness of Jesus can change the life even of a woman lost in the depths of sin. But look at what we have done with her holy faith. We have made becoming a Christian a kind of rite of passage. You know what I mean. Say the right thing, do the right thing, and you get to live forever. In Luke 7:36–50 we see something else. It’s a person who was probably on the way to suicide because her life was such a terrible and seemingly irreversible mess, until she runs into Jesus. She doesn’t do the right thing “religiously.” She just lets down the wall and lets Jesus in. As Keith Green put it in the song describing his conversion, “His love broke through,” and Jesus does all the rest, by loving her and saving her, and bringing peace into a previously torn and broken life. What is the ultimate result of this? Her sins are forgiven. The Pharisees saw a sinner, but Jesus saw a broken and contrite heart. This woman who is viewed with contempt is, in the sight of the only One who counts, in the sight of God, this woman is whiter than snow. This woman is the virgin bride of Christ. This woman is a portrait of what forgiveness makes us: grateful, tearful, thankful, worshipful.

When Simon looked at that woman, it is likely that he simply saw evil and immorality. But when Jesus looked at her, He saw a heart aching for God. I am embarrassed at her worship, because it is, well, a worship that holds nothing back. She’s not coming with an open hymnal. She’s coming with an open heart, a heart broken open, showing a woman with reckless faith, a faith that makes us stop almost in shock. But nothing about this woman shocks Jesus. Nothing about her love, her tears, her kisses, embarrasses Him in the least. In fact, when all is said and done, this wretch of a woman left forgiven, with every debt cancelled, every sin removed. She could walk in the dignity of the sons and daughters of God.

Yet — here’s the icing on the cake — she wasn’t forgiven because of her tears. She wasn’t forgiven because of her warm embrace. She was forgiven because Jesus saw her reckless and passionate and living faith. He says to her, “Your faith has saved you.” Reckless faith became for her saving faith. Tear stained faith became for her saving faith.

This is an account about two people. They were both in the same place at the same time. They were both with Jesus. They both came in sin, but one thought he was righteous and left unforgiven, while the other came broken, and left restored. Look how close Simon was. The Word of God was spoken to his soul. The message of forgiveness was made in his hearing. He saw it all. He heard it all, the same as each one of us reading this article and even more. There is not a single one of us who comes without sin. The deciding factor for that woman was this: she ran to Jesus, instead of running from Jesus. Maybe some of you reading this article see yourself like this woman, so that the depth of your sin makes you think that no one could ever love you, that no one could ever forgive you, that no one could ever save you. I hope you see just how wrong that is. This same Jesus welcomes all who flee to Him for shelter. He welcomes you with an embrace. He welcomes you with love. He welcomes you with forgiveness, a forgiveness that will break through even a lifetime of sin and shame and lost-ness and loneliness. He leaves you worshiping and praising God at the feet of Jesus.

The Devil hates seeing people at the feet of Jesus. It makes him gnash his teeth in rage, because when you are at Jesus’ feet, you are repenting of your sin. And the Devil just loves to see a church full of upstanding, uptight, upright people like Simon who would never consider weeping and repenting at the feet of Jesus. The Devil loves people who are proud that they are not like her. But this pride is strong enough to keep you from falling at the feet of Jesus and embracing the Savior of your soul. You know, when it came to knowing what was true, Simon was right on the mark. Jesus could say, “You have answered correctly.” But when it came to sin and salvation, Simon was light years away, because no matter how upright Simon was, it could never make him right with God — never!

Put yourself at the feet of Jesus. That’s where you’ll hear words of life and forgiveness. Those will be the best words you can ever hear, and His feet are the proof. That night they were dusty. That night as her tears fell upon them, the dust was streaked, and her hair must have been matted as she tried to dry His feet with it. But now his feet are pierced. Now His feet show us the wounds by which our sins are forgiven: “He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5). O blessed Savior. O blessed feet that felt the blows of the hammer that nailed Him to the cross. All kinds of people landed at Jesus’ feet for all kinds of reasons — to pray, to worship Him, to thank Him. There was a healed leper. There was a demon possessed man, and, of course, there was this woman. You know something, none of us will ever fall before Him just as she did, or even any of the others. But we belong there, nonetheless. If you wonder how it is possible to do so today, since the feet of Jesus are in heaven, it is simple. It is by coming to Him as that woman did so long ago, in faith and repentance, holding nothing back. It is seeing yourself for just what you are, a sinner deserving hell and needing the salvation that can only come at the feet of Jesus. It is seeing Him for what He is, a Savior who saves and forgives to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25).

It’s so true. There is no better place for you to be than at the feet of Jesus in faith and in repentance, for then you too will hear, “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50).

The Forgiveness of Sins

Question and answer 56 of the Heidelberg Catechism continue the catechism’s exposition of the Apostles’ Creed by focusing on the creedal statement that Christians believe in “the forgiveness of sins.” Interestingly, belief in divine forgiveness is confessed in the section of the creed that deals with the Holy Spirit. The writers of the Apostles’ Creed could have placed it under the creed’s section on the Father or the Son. After all, though we may petition any of the persons of the Trinity for forgiveness, Scripture directs us to make our requests for pardon primarily to the Father (Matt. 6:9–13). Moreover, we are forgiven based on the work of the Son (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13–14). Still, the Holy Spirit must regenerate us before we will acknowledge our need of forgiveness and seek God’s pardon in Christ (John 3:5). So, in our subjective experience, the Spirit makes the first move necessary for us to receive divine forgiveness. Thus, it is good and proper for the Apostles’ Creed to discuss forgiveness when setting forth the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

To help us understand divine forgiveness, the Heidelberg Catechism turns to today’s passage, wherein the prophet Micah marvels at the greatness of God’s pardon. Micah 7:18 emphasizes the uniqueness of the Lord’s forgiveness, revealing that no other deity can offer the same kind of pardon that the one true God — the covenant Lord of Israel — offers to His people. In light of the entire Bible, God’s forgiveness is incomparable because He forgives us in Christ Jesus without compromising His holy justice (Rom. 3:21–26). Only the God of Scripture is both just and Justifier. The other gods of this world, who are no gods at all but demons masquerading as gods (Deut. 32:17; 1 Cor. 8:4–6; 10:20), compromise their self-proclaimed righteousness when they “forgive” because they do not demand true atonement for sin.

Micah 7:19 shows us that God casts our sins into the depths of the sea when He forgives us. He puts them so far out of His sight that He never sees them again. Of course, the Lord does not actually forget our sins. If we remember the sins committed against us, how can the omniscient Lord not recall our transgressions of His law? Micah only means that God no longer holds our sins against us when He forgives us. He never again counts them against our standing before Him.

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