Is forgiveness really that important?

in Luke 24:47, Jesus tells his disciples “forgiveness of sins must be preached among all the nations.” Jesus wants the whole world woken up to God’s forgiveness through his disciples relentlessly preaching the message of forgiveness publicly.

Jesus goes one step further, though, because in John 20:22-23 Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples and tells them, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus wants his disciples forgiving people personally too, so that people learn about God’s forgiveness through our forgiveness, and they get to experience what being forgiven is like, too. If I don’t forgive a person on the other hand, he won’t learn about God’s forgiveness, and he won’t get to experience being forgiven is like. So my forgiving someone personally – and letting the whole world know about forgiveness publicly – are hugely important to Jesus in showing people that their sins truly are forgiven. And that’s why he breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples, to enable us to preach forgiveness publicly and to practice it privately.

And why is that important? Because if people don’t believe their sins are forgiven they’re stuck with all the mental and emotional damage their unforgiven shame, regrets and guilt are doing to them – until they believe.

The one gigantic wall holding people back from knowing God loves them – and being able to love him in return – is their guilt, because (as one author asked), “What do you do about the things you did yesterday that you are sorry for? What do you do about that sharp word, that loveless deed, that selfish attitude, that malicious lie you told? These things stack up in our lives and build a residue of guilt that haunts us from the subconscious. How do you relieve this guilt? Here is the good news: There is forgiveness of sins. Every morning, every day, a dozen times a day you can claim again this wonderful sense of the forgiveness of sin, because ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,’ 1 John 1:9.”

Our great cry as Christians to the world is, “Your sins are forgiven,” and not to hold back on preaching it publicly and practicing it privately, because we know what being unforgiven feels like. Without forgiveness the mess in our heads continues to haunt us, causing us all sorts of stress and anguish, and even serious mental illness, NONE of which is necessary because “every one who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name,” Acts 10:43.


Can Christians forgive sins too?

In John 20:23, Jesus says to his disciples, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” It sounds like Jesus is giving his disciples the authority to forgive sins. Do Christians today, then, have the authority to forgive and not forgive other people’s sins as well?

Well, of course I can tell people their sins are forgiven because, thanks to Christ, their sins are forgiven. I have the full right and authority to say to a person that no matter what he or she has said, thought or done, it has already been forgiven, because “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting mens’s sins against them,” 2 Corinthians 5:19. Every sin, no matter how severe or awful, has already been dismissed and neutralized by the full authority of God, because, verse 21, “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus took all our sin into and onto himself.

So when my granddaughter broke one of our dishes and she was devastated I grabbed her by the shoulders, looked her in the eye, and with all the authority of God, Scripture, the world being reconciled to God in Christ’s sacrifice, and Christ taking all our sin into himself, I pronounced her “forgiven.” And was she forgiven? Well, of course she was, because there isn’t a sin, mistake, deliberate nasty act, or insensitive stupidity in her life that wasn’t forgiven by Christ’s death. Breaking our dish was already forgiven 2,000 years ago.

So I’d done my part correctly, by pronouncing her forgiven. The focus then turned to her, as to whether she believed me, or not. If she believed me, that yes, her mistake was totally forgiven, she could run off feeling totally free of all guilt and worry. If, on the other hand, she doubted me, then I would have to say, “Well, if that’s what you prefer to believe – that you’re not forgiven – then fine, you’re not forgiven and you can jolly well live with the consequences, my dear. Let your guilt and worry continue. You’re a silly fool, because Christ died to free you of all guilt and worry, but that’s your choice not to believe me, so I pronounce you ‘not forgiven,’ and may you live with what it feels like not being forgiven until you believe you are forgiven.”

It’s like the person who “does not believe standing condemned already” in John 3:18. That’s his choice, so with all the authority of Christ I can say, “You can jolly well live with your choice not to believe, and may you stand condemned until you believe.”

Did Jesus have to die?

No, Jesus did not have to die. He didn’t have to do anything, especially something as human as death, because Jesus was the Word, and “what God was, the Word was,” John 1:1. Does God have to do anything? No, he’s God, he’s utterly free to choose. So then is the Word. He’s just as free to choose, which means Jesus didn’t die a human death because he had to, it was purely something he chose to do.

So why would he choose to die? Because of his love for the Father. As the Word, Jesus had always been in the Father’s presence (John 1:1), so he was in on all his Father’s plans, dreams and joys, including the Father’s ultimate plan, dream and joy of bringing us humans and our universe into existence. And the Word knew exactly what his Father’s great dream for us was. It was to share with us the love and life they’d always enjoyed together, in an endless world of joy and surprises. But the thrill of actually bringing this new world of beings into existence was the Father’s gift to the Word (verses 2-3).

It tells us something of the love the Father had for the Word, and then the love the Word had for the Father as well, because when the Father’s great plan for us began to come unravelled after the serpent got his oar in, the Word reacted. He knew how the Father felt about us and how much he loved us, and how dearly the Father wanted to share his blissfully happy life with us. No way, therefore, was the Word going to let that dream dissolve into nothing.

Now we see the Word’s love in return: the Father had given him the job of creating humans, so the Word willingly took upon himself the job of saving them. The Word, being our Creator, could save us too, by taking on a human body and dying, because in his death he could destroy death and in his rising from the dead he could lift us from the dead too, giving us a new life and a new beginning by re-creating us into humans just like himself.

So why did the Word die for us? For the love of his Father. It was for love that God gave the Word the joy of creating our world, and it was for love that the Word gave his life to God to save it. What God was the Word was. It was for love, therefore, that Jesus died, not because he had to.

Easter: the secret to everything is Jesus

Easter takes us back to the secret of our future. It’s Jesus Christ, because it’s through him and him alone that God adopts us as his children, Ephesians 1:5 – “In love God predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.”

But how does God adopt us through Jesus Christ? Romans 6:5 – “If we have been united with Jesus in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” God adopts us by uniting us with Jesus, in both his death and his resurrection. And what does that unity accomplish for us? Verse 11 – “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” And what does “alive to God” mean? It means God now lives his life in us, Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

The life we now live as Christians belongs totally to the living, resurrected Christ, so that he can now live his life – God’s life – in us. That’s why “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6. God raised us up with Christ so that we’re part of his family now, able to live as he lives, just like a couple who bring their adopted baby home for the first time and that child now truly becomes part of their family, living from now on as that family lives.

And when God raised us with Christ, that’s what happened to us, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God,” Colossians 3:3. We are now part of the God family. The life that God lives is the life we now live, or as Paul puts it in verse 4, “Christ, who is your life.” He is our life now. The life he lives is the life we live, because he’s now living his life in us, just like an adopted baby lives the life of the family he’s in, and that family lives its life in him.

And what’s that life like for us? Ephesians 1:3 – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” As the Father’s adopted children, he can now bless us with everything he’s got. That’s our future, forever. And the secret by which God made that future for us possible? It’s the secret pictured by Easter: it’s Jesus Christ.

Easter: how all obstacles have been removed

There are two steps in the process of our adoption as God’s children. The first one was Christ’s death, because, as Paul writes in Colossians 1:21 – “you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.”

Jesus died to remove a huge obstacle that stood in the way of our adoption. What obstacle? We weren’t the least bit interested in being adopted! We didn’t like God. We didn’t want him involved in our lives at all, and we certainly didn’t want to be stuck with him forever. It’s not surprising, then, at Easter, that we ignore Jesus’ death, the very thing that made our adoption possible, and much prefer stuffing ourselves with chocolate.

But God has us covered anyway, verse 22, for “he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish, and free from accusation.” Through Jesus’ death, our disregard for God, displayed so embarrassingly at Easter, has been dealt with. Despite our short-sighted, arrogant attitude toward God, he never turned his back on us, verses 19-20, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” We weren’t the least bit interested in making our peace with God, but God made his peace with us. Through Jesus’ death, he blasted through the first obstacle to our adoption, and knocked it down completely. Nothing was going to hold him back from his marvellous plan for us.

But there was one more obstacle to our adoption as God’s children. Easter, however, tells us how that obstacle was removed, as well. And what was this obstacle? We were still horrible people. We were raw recruits straight out of this world with all the horrible attitudes and ignorance of this world still attached to us. Jesus’ death had made us “holy in God’s sight and without blemish,” yes, but that didn’t suddenly make us into thoughtful, kind, Godly-minded people as well. We were still abominably selfish. Some serious cleaning up of our minds needed to be done. But God had us covered there, too. How? Through Christ’s resurrection.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he took humanity with him. He is now in the position, with all the power and authority given him as head of the church, to complete the second part of the process of our adoption – creating a whole new life for us – a completely new creation, in fact. 

Easter: our future is secure

Easter answers the question “What happens to us in the end?” because it takes us back to the time when “the end” was decided.

It was decided before our world began, Ephesians 1:4-5 – “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ.” This was the plan, signed and sealed before anything in our universe came into existence, that God would adopt us into his family to share his life and love with us forever. This is why he created human beings in the first place. We are not an evolutionary accident, and nor is our universe. We came straight out of the heart of God with a clear aim in sight.

But notice the means by which God would eternally adopt us as his children. It would be “through Jesus Christ.” Why Jesus? Because “all things were created by him and for him,” Colossians 1:16. Not only would Jesus be the one to design and operate God’s plan, it was also “for him” – for his pleasure, too. And nothing could’ve pleased Jesus more than bringing God’s plan of adoption to pass.

But how could he bring it to pass when we weren’t the least bit interested? Right from the very start we didn’t want anything to do with God’s plan – and we still don’t, as we see every Easter when we show God we’re far more interested in eggs and rabbits than we are in him. So now what was God going to do? On the one hand, he certainly wasn’t going back on his word to adopt us as his children, but neither could he go back on his word about us dying forever if we ate off the wrong tree. But that’s where Jesus came in and saved the day. He would die our death in our stead.

It was a remarkable solution. The law of death for our disobedience still stood, God couldn’t go back on that, but he would fulfill it rather than us. In so doing, the demands of the law would be met on behalf of all of us. When Jesus died we all died with him, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, so that the law of death was fulfilled for us too. No longer, then, would death retain its eternal power over us. Because of Jesus we could now stand before God, “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation,” Colossians 1:22. Our end has already been accomplished for us, then. 

Easter: looking the future straight in the eye

Easter in our secular culture is very strange. Tons of chocolate will be consumed, children will hunt for hidden eggs, and rabbits suddenly become important, but with no clear reason why. Easter in our sophisticated but utterly confused society is mostly an excuse to take time off work and fill children’s lives with meaningless rituals.

The meaningless of it all comes into sharper focus because of the increasingly dour predictions of our future on this planet. More people in high places are becoming deeply concerned about the fragile state of our global economy and how long the Earth’s resources can keep up with our appetites. Put that together with the massive expense and destruction of natural disasters, war, disease, poverty and all the other awful things wrecking people’s lives, and our obsession with chocolate eggs and rabbits becomes rather silly, don’t you think?

The original Easter, however, wasn’t the frivolous nonsense it is today. Easter in its original meaning looked the future straight in the eye and answered the question once and for all, “What happens to us after we die?”

And wouldn’t any sane-thinking person want to know that? We’ve got enough cemeteries around clearly demonstrating to us that one day this human life of ours comes to an end, so wouldn’t we obviously be wondering whether there’s a life after this one, or this is it? But how many people actually do wonder? Even at funerals do they wonder? I imagine some people at funerals believe in an afterlife for the person who died, but what that afterlife is like probably varies hugely in the minds of those attending, because all religions differ on what happens to us after death. No two religions agree. No wonder it all seems terribly vague as to what kind of life awaits us, if any, or how it comes about. 

But what a crazy situation to be in, because we put ourselves to a huge amount of trouble and stress trying to survive this life and make something of ourselves, and we write millions of words on what we think life is all about and how to live it, but we still have no real proof about what happens after this life comes to end, and neither can we all agree.

Easter, however, tells us exactly what’s going to happen. It even tells us we can experience a taste of our future before we die, so we have no doubt as to what’s coming after we die, because when Jesus rose on Easter Sunday he took us all with him. We’re already raised to a life beyond this one, which Jesus is already living in us.