The story is told of a man many years ago who used to disturb his Presbyterian preacher by shouting out "Hallelujah!" in the middle of every sermon. After a while, the preacher got rather tired of this so he came up with what he thought was an ingenious idea. He gave the hallelujah man an encyclopedia to read during the worship service. This kept the man quiet for many a Sunday until, during one sermon he once again let out a mighty "Hallelujah!" After the service, the minister asked for an explanation and the man, looking a bit sheepish, said, "Pastor, I could not help it. I was reading in the encyclopedia about the Pacific Ocean and its tremendous depth. I was thinking about this and remembered that the Bible says God has taken our sins and cast them into the depths of the sea. I just had to say "Hallelujah!"
Today we come to examine the hallelujah line of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." Over the next few days, I invite you to examine several important questions with me. The first is simply: what is forgiveness?
One possible answer to that question is that forgiveness is a promise. The author of Hebrews 8:12 quotes Jeremiah 31:34 where the Lord says, "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." When God forgives us he goes on record saying that he will no longer hold our sins against us.
There is a popular saying that "when God forgives, God forgets". But is that really true? How can God forget anything? God is omniscient; he knows everything. God's memory never falters. In the verse just quoted God does not say he will forget our sins, he says: "I will remember their sins no more."
Now, you may be thinking: Aren't "forgetting" and "not remembering" the same thing?" Actually, they are different. Forgetting is passive. It is something frail human beings often do. But forgetting is not something an omniscient God can do. "Not remembering" is different; it is active; it is a promise whereby God says: "I will not bring up your sin, or hold it against you ever again."
The story is told of a poor orphan boy who was adopted. At the time of his adoption he was wearing an old, worn out pair of shoes with holes in them. Once he was adopted, his new parents bought him new shoes and new clothes, but the adoptive parents decided to save the boy's old shoes and so they tucked them away in a closet. During the ensuing years, whenever the boy complained or showed signs of ingratitude toward his adoptive parents, they brought out that old pair of shoes and thereby reminded the boy of all they had done for him. Naturally, each time this happened, the boy would get a shameful look on his face.
Thank God he is not like those adoptive parents. When God forgives us and adopts us as his children, he never brings up our past again. Here's an old saying I do agree with, heartily: "When God buries the ax, he doesn't leave the handle sticking above ground." When God forgives us he goes on record and promises never to hold our sin against us!
But how can God forgive sin? Does he just wink and say in effect, "Boys will be boys"? I do not think so. Scripture teaches us that God is holy as well as merciful. He cannot tolerate sin. So what is the foundation for forgiveness? On what basis can God forgive us? This is the question we will examine tomorrow....