Season of Lent: Forgiveness
March 4, 2018 Forgiving ourselves as God forgives us
2 Samuel 12:1-7a, 13-15a
12:1 The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to David. Nathan went to him and said, “There were two men who lived in the same town; one was rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had many cattle and sheep, 3 while the poor man had only one lamb, which he had bought. He took care of it, and it grew up in his home with his children. He would feed it some of his own food, let it drink from his cup, and hold it in his lap. The lamb was like a daughter to him. 4 One day a visitor arrived at the rich man's home. The rich man didn't want to kill one of his own animals to fix a meal for him; instead, he took the poor man's lamb and prepared a meal for his guest.”
5 David became very angry at the rich man and said, “I swear by the living Lord that the man who did this ought to die! 6 For having done such a cruel thing, he must pay back four times as much as he took.”
7 “You are that man,” Nathan said to David....
13 “I have sinned against the Lord,” David said.
Nathan replied, “The Lord forgives you; you will not die. 14 But because you have shown such contempt for the Lord in doing this, your child will die.” 15 Then Nathan went home.
Two years before this scene, David had spotted Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop, and because he could not control his desire, the great King David, the man after God's own heart, fell far into sin and broke several commandments in progression. There was envy of another man's wife, then adultery, conspiring to have her husband killed and lies to keep it secret. All of this dishonored God, and David knew it.
David must have felt the guilt of his misbehavior, especially when two years after he thought he had gotten away with it, the prophet Nathan brought it back to his attention.
Can you imagine the weight of guilt he finally when his child with Bathsheba was sick and dying? If at not before, at least then David felt the full consequence of his sin.
Perhaps the first lesson from this story is don't wait to admit your wrongdoing. Whether your confession is to God or to the person you hurt, don't linger in denial or guilt. Healing and forgiveness can't come until you confess it.
Everyone has things in their past they wish they had done differently. Listen to these letters written to early Christians.
1 John 1:8-10
8 If we say we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins, because we can trust God to do what is right. He will cleanse us from all the wrongs we have done. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and we do not accept God’s teaching.
2 In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins. 2 At that time you followed the world's evil way; you obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God. 3 Actually all of us were like them and lived according to our natural desires, doing whatever suited the wishes of our own bodies and minds. In our natural condition we, like everyone else, were destined to suffer God's anger.
4 But God's mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, 5 that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God's grace that you have been saved. 6 In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. 7 He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus. 8-9 For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it. 10 God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.
Thanks be to God!
Every day we make choices about what to believe and what to do. Sometimes our natural desires lead us in entirely the wrong direction. David's story is a serious example, and perhaps our day to day sins seem petty and not worth concerning ourselves. But sin is sin, and it drags us down. It may be something that happened long ago that still weights on our mind and spirit. We need to be honest and seek God's forgiveness. It may be something we thought or said or did just yesterday, but it doesn't sit quite right. Again we need to seek God's forgiveness, so we can let it go.
We know all that. But here is the part we too often miss. We also have to forgive ourselves.
David had to finally admit that what he did was wrong. He mourned not only the loss of his son, perhaps he also finally mourned the loss of his honor. But at some point, in David's case when his son died, David had to pick up the pieces of his life, put them in God's hands, and get on with the responsibilities God had given him. So do we.
R.T.Kendall, in his book, Total Forgiveness, says that "once He has forgiven us, God does not want us to be afraid of Him" (p. 63) and that "forgiveness is worthless to us emotionallly if we can't forgive ourselves." (p.64)
Sometimes our judgement against others has more to do with our own guilt than theirs. We don't want to be miserable alone, so we point a finger at others. Sometimes when we are stuck in our own guilt we just avoid others altogether, because we don't want anyone else to see our sin. Think of Adam and Eve trying to hide from God in the garden after eating forbidden fruit. Wallowing in guilt does not solve the problem. Confession opens up the wound for cleansing and healing, and part of the process for is not only letting God forgive us, but learning to forgive ourselves.
A common concern among people of faith is that they are personally unworthy of God's love or forgiveness. But that was the whole point of God sending Jesus to our world. Many Christians can recite some version of John 3:16, but the verse following it is equally important. Listen.
16 “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.
Kendall says, "There is no lasting joy in forgiveness if it doesn't include forgiving myself...It is as wrong as not forgiving others, because God loves us just as much as He loves others." (p. 45).
Guilt and self blame are signs that we still have something to forgive in ourselves. Even if we have asked for God's forgiveness, we may be hanging on to our sin and using it to put ourselves down. It is unhealthy and makes us unhappy. This will also get in the way of forgiving others. Kendall believes, "the degree to which we forgive others will often be the degree to which we forgive ourselves; the degree to which we set ourselves free will often be the degree to which we forgive others." (pp. 151-152) For total forgiveness to occur both must happen.
We may become angry with ourselves, but we have to let it go. Self-hatred insults God who created us and loves us. When we have regret, we must give it to God who can take our past and use it to reshape the present. The guilt we carry can lead to fear, and in fear we are not living to our fullest God given potential.
Whether we fully understand it or not, our faith teaches that Jesus' gift on the cross was complete forgiveness for all our sin. The blood of Christ washes it away and satisfies God's justice. We are not right on our own, we are made right with God through Christ. Holding on to our guilt rejects that precious gift. It is an act of pride.
The grace of God extended through Christ on the cross is an act of God's mercy. We cannot earn it and we don't deserve it. God grants it purely out of God's love. The season of Lent reminds us of that loving gift.
Listen to this final paragraph from Kendall's book:
"Moses had a past. He was a murderer. But years later he would proclaim the eighth commandment: you shall not murder. David had a past, but he also had a future after his shame: "Then I wil teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you," he wrote in Psalm 51. Jonah deliberately ran from God, but he was still used in an astonishing revival. Peter's disgrace - denying Jesus - did not abort God's plans for him. But all these men had to forgive themselves before they could move into the ministry God had planned for them." (p.162)
God forgives you. Forgive yourself so that God can use you according to God's plan for your life. Hear Ephesians 2:10 one more time.
10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
(Many of today's ideas come from Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall.
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