Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 11

Yesterday's blog touched on "the communion of the saints," the next phrase in the Apostles' Creed, noting that when we worship we join in worship with all who are worshiping God in Spirit and in truth, including those who've gone before us and now worship God more fully in his presence in heaven. They worship him consciously and without ceasing. We worship him sometimes consciously and intermittently. They have been freed from the cares of this life. We are still bound to them.

One of the greatest lines in the Creed is "[I believe in] the forgiveness of sins." That little line speaks to the yearning of the fallen human heart. Paul says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3: 23). Conscience tells us we've done wrong. Every society has a concept of right and wrong and an awareness of not living up to the "ideal" of what it means to be at our best. Every culture has a belief in a deity (or deities) that has been offended. Guilt is a universal concept. Forgiveness is a universal need. The Gospel answers to the deepest need of the human condition like no other religious message, for the Gospel tells us how we may again be right with God and one another.

Forgiveness requires more than a simple "I'm sorry." First, our forgiveness of sins requires the shedding of blood in the form of a sacrifice (Heb 9:22). God himself paid the ultimate sacrifice that we could not pay: "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when he makes his soul an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities" (Isa 53: 10--11, ESV). Jesus came as the Suffering Servant to be that perfect, sinless sacrifice (Mark 10: 45; Eph 1: 7; Col 1: 20). So forgiveness is necessarily linked with the blood atonement made by Jesus when he died on the cross. Faith in his sacrificial death and his resurrection are essential to forgiveness of sins.

Forgiveness is also closely linked in Scripture to repentance. "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his his name to all nations" (Luke 24: 46--47, ESV). Peter also connects forgiveness to repentance: "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3: 19, ESV). Now repentance is not a "good work" that merits forgiveness of sins. Repentance doesn't earn forgiveness. The blood of Christ alone does that. But God doesn't save us in our sins, he saves us from our sins. God calls all who would be forgiven to forsake sin and seek holiness.

Modern psychiatric care seeks to alleviate guilt by doing an end-run around the cross. Today more than ever Christians need to stand for genuine forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of Christ and call their friends, their neighbors, their work associates to repentance and faith in him who alone can truly heal their souls and settle their minds. From the drug addict to the "good" kid who secretly gets into candy he shouldn't, everyone knows he or she is a sinner. Everyone needs forgiveness. Stand for the only forgiveness that really counts. Stand for the Gospel of hope in Jesus Christ.

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