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Knowing the Forgiveness of God

Category Articles
Date August 25, 2002


You cannot enjoy the relationship with God until that sin has been dealt with. That is by far the most serious consequence of the fall. No one at all is excused from the problem

by Derek Cleave

[On the Wednesday evening of the Aberystwyth Conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales 2002 Derek Cleave, the Bristol evangelist with Christian Ministries, put all his heart into preaching lucidly on knowing the forgiveness of God].

You and I are much more than mere animals. We have been created in the image of God. Amongst all living things men and women are unique. We have been created with a spiritual dimension. We are unique in creation and we are able to experience and enjoy the most loving relationship with the living God. What has ruined that fellowship is sin. Its middle letter is ‘I’. Essentially that is what sin is, the ‘I’ of self-centredness and independence from God that is separating us from him. Sins are the symptoms and sin is that disease itself. You cannot enjoy the relationship with God until that sin has been dealt with. That is by far the most serious consequence of the fall. No one at all is excused from the problem

But sin is also the cause of breakdown in our relationships. When that sin remains unconfessed and unforgiven it remains here in our bodies creating all sorts of problems. You see it in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth.’ There is no natural medicine for the sin-sick souls. No peace or lasting happiness while sin dominates man. Forgiveness of sin is our greatest need.

In Matthew 9 there is the record of the man being let down from the roof to the feet of the Lord. The first thing Jesus does is to tell him his sins are forgiven. We might have thought that his greatest need was his paralysis, but Jesus said it was his guilt.

In Matthew 6 Jesus takes the activities the Pharisees were most proud of, fasting, praying and giving alms. Jesus is presenting to his disciples the rules of the kingdom. How should they give, fast and pray? He opens up the latter theme in what we call the Lord’s Prayer, and in the midst of that prayer is this great need of ours, expressed, "and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Here is the greatest of prayers in a few sentences
– a model prayer. But no petition is more relevant than this one, which speaks of the need of our souls.

I sometimes address informal meetings by first telling people what their greatest need is, that they might have their sins forgiven. It is our primary need because sin has such enormous repercussions. Let us examine this together, considering first of all:


The word ‘forgiveness’ implies gratitude to God. When we sin we owe God a consequence because his law has been violated. Also by implication there is a spirit of rebellion in every sinful activity. Men can show this even in breaking traffic laws: they are defying the law of the land, but much more in breaking God’s commandments.

In the parable of the unmerciful servant the story is told of a man who owed his master millions. He could not pay it. He actually asks for time. He seems a serious man. But the debt is impossible to pay. Complete obedience to God’s laws and the opposition of our own sinful natures make it impossible to obey God from our hearts. There is no one who is righteous. That seems to say it all. But if there is one man who thinks that he at least is exempt from that indictment the Scripture says, "No, not one." Our Monopoly money will not buy one thing from Tesco’s. People who think they possess some merit with God have no understanding of the nature of God. We have nothing to offer him.

Our debts are many. How much do we owe? It is immeasurably great. Our sins are multiplying all the time. The prophet asks if the Ethiopian can change the colour of his skin? No. Nor can we discharge our own debts. We cannot escape to another place. We can try to evade God but, alas, we must give account to the inescapable

A mother chased a defiant son and he ran across the street from the house. She leaned on the gate and said to her fleet-footed lad, "You have to come home one day." If our sins are not forgiven then we are lost. There is no escape for us. I owe a debt of obedience to my Maker, and unresolved disobedience will result in the ultimate punishment of eternal death.


Forgiveness is the only solution. The servant’s debt was wiped clean, unbelievably huge though it was. The master had pity on him and let him go. The parable is speaking of the God who forgives, however great the sin, and all our worst sins. David saw it in the OT. Bless God who forgives all our transgressions, he said. The creditor alone can cancel the debt. No one else has the authority. Some look for a mediator who will forgive. That is nonsense. Imagine someone who has stolen some of your property, and he comes to you later on and he tells you that it is all OK because some third party has forgiven him. How much more when God is the offended party? Even the narrow-minded religious leaders grumbling that Jesus had forgiven the paralysed man got it right when they said, "Only God can do that" We have sinned against God and we confess to him. It is then entirely undeserved. All the benefits are undeserved, but nothing is as wonderful as the forgiveness of sins. God has stopped the execution of justice on you and me by personally having executed justice in his beloved one. "Wounded for me. Gone my transgressions and now I am free, all because Jesus was wounded for me."

The New Testament says that it required nothing less than the death of one whose life was of priceless value. A nest of wasps gathered in my mother-in-law’s garden shed and I bought a spray and killed them all. I am allowed to kill hundreds of wasps, but I may not take a single human life. What can be the value of the life of the Son of God, laid down for you and me? God made him who had no sin to be sin for us. He who was never a sinner laid down his life that I might be forgiven. The moment I trusted in Christ his righteousness becomes mine and my sins became his responsibility. God looks at his obedience and pardons me. Who is a God like this God who freely pardons such sin? "Such vile offences to forgive . . ." writes the hymnist. So comprehensively does God pardon; he promises not to remember our sins any more. He blots them out and says, I will forgive their wickedness and remember them no more. Everything is deleted.

Forgiveness comes to us only as we repent of our own sins. In the right spirit of repentance we will always be full of remorse for our sins – even though there is no punishment attached to our sinning. We now affirm sin as dishonouring to God, and we resolve to be turning from them to Christ for mercy. Isaiah urged the wicked to forsake his sin and to turn to the Lord. Sin cannot be forgiven until we have repented of it.

This petition in the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that this is the family prayer. We begin by addressing God as our Father. This petition, therefore, is the kind of forgiveness that restores intimacy with our heavenly Father. In the context that these words appear it is a prayer offered that our relationship with God can be restored. Confession of sin results in reconciliation. Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet. He is told that the person bathing in the morning only requires a washing of his feet during the day. We come for the definitive first time and ask for washing and cleansing, and thenceforward we simply need continual daily forgiveness. If tonight we were coming to Christ for the first time or for the hundredth time God does not weary of hearing our confession. Devils are beyond hope but sinful men and women only have to ask.


The phrase "as we also have forgiven our debtors. . ." is part of the petition. Jesus amplifies that part of the petition. If you do not forgive men their sins your heavenly Father will not forgive you. The parable of the unmerciful servant underlines this warning. The much forgiven servant finds a man with tiny debt and insists on being paid it then and there, and so is judged by his master for the lack of mercy. We are not saved for the reason of our possessing a forgiving spirit – we ourselves still need to be forgiven. But our forgiving others removes every barrier to our receiving God’s forgiveness.


1. If we can forgive it is evidence of God’s grace in our lives. In Matthew 5 Jesus has urged us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us that we may be sons of our Father in heaven. To love them and pray for them is equivalent of forgiving them. We are to live kind and compassionate lives just as God in Christ forgave us.

2. An unforgiving spirit will exclude us from heaven. We forgive as a sign that God has forgiven us. Otherwise there is a question mark over our own forgiveness. The unforgiving servant was in prison until his debt was paid, that is, for ever. So we are to forgive other’s debts from the heart.

3. Forgiveness shows the spirit of Christ and his example is in us. When he was being crucified he asked for their forgiveness. An unforgiving spirit brings a confrontation with the unforgiving God. This parable arose by Peter asking how many times was he to forgive his brother. Peter suggests seven times because the Pharisees said three time. Jesus replied times without number. That is how many times God forgives us.

The Lord’s Prayer is not shopping list. It is all there to exalt God, so we advance his kingdom and do his will as we show forgiveness to others who are in our debt. We need to put this right this very night perhaps, and maybe even a telephone call is needed before we go to bed.

On a tombstone outside of New York one thing is recorded. There is no way of knowing anything about the man whose body lies there. ‘FORGIVEN’ is the one word carved on that stone. Do you know that assurance tonight? Have you ever known it? Could it be written over your life tonight? If you have a soul you can experience the forgiveness of a soul’s sins tonight, if you but acknowledge your sin, confess it, and leave it with God’s mercy putting your trust in the Saviour of sinners. He is the only one who can meet the heart’s greatest need.

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