A lot of us have a hard time forgiving. A good summary of this first, basic point is found in II Corinthians 5 where Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” Isn’t that a pretty expression? And we act as ambassadors, on behalf of Christ; God entreating through us and we being reconciled to God. Do you get it? That’s the definition of forgiveness. Objective-Subjective. God is reconciled to us, you be reconciled to God.
What are the bases for this forgiveness? There are at least two and the first of them is God’s love. What a rock-bottom basis that is. That’s where it all started. The most familiar verse in the Bible is John 3:16, “God so loved the world…” The question is often asked, “Why did God make the world?” Well, for the reason that it is His very nature. A father can’t be a father without production or reproduction. So if God is going to be a father he has to make the world. Then why did He save the world after it spit in His face and rebuffed Him? Again, because of His very nature, God is Love. That is the definition of God, it is His essence. And when we say that “God so loved the world” we have to remember that that is the triune God. We so often think of the Father as vengeful and mean, just and righteous, cantankerous, has to have his “pound of flesh” in Sherlockian fashion, and then Jesus is the loving second person of the trinity who pleads and implores, mediates and intercedes, and then the Father grudgingly and tolerantly forgives. The triune God loved so much that Jesus was born. Dick Walters used to put it picturesquely in his typical fashion by saying, “The Father thought it, the Son bought it and the Holy Spirit wrought it.” As far as we are concerned, by grace we sought it.
The second basis for this forgiveness and salvation is that God gave his Son, that is the means, the expression of His love, the tool that He used. The Bible is so full of that point that it is not necessary to site scripture. “Behold the lamb of God,” said John. But it bears reminder here that we are not forgiven simply because of God’s love, the way an indulgent mother or tolerant grandfather or an easy-going judge would say, “I forgive you.” There is more than one basis. It’s not just easy-going love, that God felt sorry and in sentimental fashion he suspended the sentence, or commuted or probated it. We have all these fancy terms for modern “justice”. The reason or basis for our forgiveness is that Christ became identified with us, in a mysterious, miraculous way. He became one with us. The Old Testament is full of pictures to that effect like that of the scapegoat which on the day of atonement the priest would put his hands on a given goat and pronounce it as a representative of the people and would list the sins of the nation and condemnation and then the goat would be led so far away that it could not find its way back to camp and another goat on that same day would be killed to indicate that death is the result of sin. And that is the basis for God’s patience with us and the unbeliever. Peter says that the unbeliever is always saying, “You Christians are always talking about the second coming. There is no evidence of a second coming.” And Peter ruefully replies, “It is because of your unbelief that God is postponing, deferring His return.” “God is not willing that any should parish but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth.” That is why the unbeliever may have 50, 60 or 80 or more years of life. God will often prolong their life so that they have a chance to be saved.
So it is nothing of ourselves, let’s be sure of that. The basis of salvation is not in ourselves. Some are nicer or more church-going than others, or more penitent, but it is all of God, from beginning to end. But that brings us to the fact that there is a condition. That’s not the same as a cause, that is two different things. We sometimes confuse the two; we say there was a drizzle yesterday so there were a lot of fender-benders and the police were busy running around because of the accidents. The rain caused the accidents. No, the rain was the occasion for the accidents. The accidents may have been due to careless driving, that is what is on the citation or ticket. Going too fast for the conditions was the cause. Looking at it another way, the lights that illuminate a room is due to electricity generated who-knows-where. But all the electricity in the world would be of no value if it were not for bulbs, wires, transformers and so on. One last illustration: If I cover up my plants in the winter to protect them from frost but neglect to remove it in the springtime, all the rain that falls won’t result in any growth if it doesn’t reach that plant. One is the cause and the other is the condition or requirement. So, to get back to the subject at hand, God forgives everybody, objectively, pardons them. Christ suffered enough so that every last man, woman, child, fetus and embryo could be saved, everyone. So why aren’t they? Because they don’t meet the conditions. We put it in different ways; we say one is not penitent, they are not sorry for their sins, they don’t ask forgiveness. But how often are those people that do still not forgiven? “Lord, like the publican I stand” is sung in our churches meaninglessly. Why aren’t such people forgiven? Let’s put it this way, how does one prove that he/she is sincere? By being forgiving. There, that is the condition. We all know the story in the Bible of the two debtors. One man was forgiven an ocean of debt and then turned right around and grabbed a debtor by the throat and said, “Pay me that dollar you owe me.” Now the man who had the large debt didn’t ultimately get forgiven although he was penitent and sorry (that’s in the story) and why wasn’t he? Because he wasn’t forgiving. Jesus had hardly opened his eyes after teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer when he said, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.” He didn’t say, “Don’t pray for your daily bread if you are going to waste it.” He could have, should have. He didn’t say, “Don’t pray ‘do not lead us into temptation’ if you are just going to go out to the bar or wherever it is.” But he did take pains to say, “Don’t ask for forgiveness if you are not going to be forgiving.” If you are not forgiving, you prove, you demonstrate that you have not been forgiven, because a forgiven person is a new person. He just radiates this forgiveness. A new spirit is within him, that is what Hebrews tells us. It’s the lamb of God. God loved him so much that He loves everybody else. God doesn’t say, “Now, you didn’t forgive, so I am not going to forgive you.” No! It’s “because you don’t show forgiveness, you show you haven’t been forgiven.” That’s the way it is. That’s the condition.
Finally, let’s talk about the insufficiency of forgiveness. It’s complete, but there has to be something more for salvation. You know our reluctance to say that Christ died for all. It’s because we limit our own salvation to that. We ask a person when they make their confession of faith, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” And the response is often, “Jesus died for my sins.” Period. “I’m forgiven.” No wonder we have problems if we believe in limited atonement when we start saying that about the unbeliever, if we say that Christ died for his sins and He is the savior of all men. What’s the difference then? We don’t think of ourselves as having anything more than just forgiveness, that is the trouble. Well, we all know that a non-Christian is dead in sin. So what good would it do to wash a corpse? All the washing in the world doesn’t do a bit of good. Similarly, the washing away of your sins doesn’t make you alive! You are still dead, you’ll keep on committing sins, it doesn’t make you a new person. Forgiveness only puts a person back into the position that Adam was before the fall. Why would God allow man to fall if He was just going to forgive him to put him back like he was before the fall? There is much more than Adam was. Adam had continuous life, but he didn’t have Eternal life. He was in paradise but he wasn’t in heaven. In other words, if forgiveness could keep a person out of hell the most godless man could come up to gates of hell and say to whoever keeps the gate “Let me out. My sins have been forgiven, Jesus died on the cross. The Bible says that the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.” But on the Day of Judgement Matthew 25 tells us plainly that the redeemed are not told by Jesus, “Call me Blessed. Walk into heaven because your sins are forgiven.” You don’t find that there at all. But rather, “[sic] You did this and you did that or the other thing, you lived like Christ, Christ lived in you.” And so the mere forgiveness of sins is not enough. It is a new man in Christ Jesus. Salvation does not give us continued existence, which the unbeliever enjoys, but it is the life of God – immortal, eternal, divine.