The challenge of becoming Christian can be described in these three interrelated +mandates:
-get the Story straight
-get the Story in
-get the Story out
In today’s world “getting the Story straight” has been significantly devalued (Diana Butler Bass’s narrative in Christianity After Religion is one exemplification of this trend). Yet, in truth, it remains as important as ever. How we construe the biblical Story funds the way we internalize and seek to share our faith with those around us.
The part of that Story I want to focus on today is a part the Apostle Paul also struggled to help his people get straight (not to mention Jesus!): the love of God, specifically the reality and impact of the love of God in our lives.
1. The love of God has triumphed over sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Karl Barth puts it memorably:
“The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse and death, are beaten. Ultimately they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though the game were not decided, the battle not fought; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we must cease to fear them anymore. If you have heard the Easter message, you can no longer run around with a tragic face and lead the humourless existence of a man who has no hope. One thing still holds, and only this one things is really serious, that Jesus is the Victor. A seriousness that would look back past this, like Lot’s wife, is not Christian seriousness. It may be burning behind - and truly it is burning - but we have to look, not at it, but at the other fact, that we are invited and summoned to take seriously the victory of God’s glory in this man Jesus and to be joyful in Him. Then we may live in thankfulness and not in fear.” (Dogmatics in Outline, p. 123.)
2. The destruction of sin, the forgiveness of sin, is complete, total, forgotten by God.
Psalm 103:12; Micah 7:19; Jeremiah 31:34 (quoted in Hebrews 10:17); 2 Corinthians 5:17 are among many witnesses to this.
3. Sin is no longer an issue between God and humanity – Jesus Christ is the only issue between God and us now.
2 Corinthians 5:19: In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.
Did you catch that - “not counting people’s sins against them”! As I said, sin is no longer an issue between God and us. If we are burdened by our sin and feel guilty and unworthy, it is NOT God’s Spirit who is accusing and questioning your acceptance with God. It is the one we call “the Accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them day and night” (Rev.12:10), Satan, the devil.
4. The only thing that stands between you and the person both you and God want you to be is simply this: we forgotten we are forgiven!
3 By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory. 4 Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces.
5 This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love. 8 If all these are yours and they are growing in you, they’ll keep you from becoming inactive and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 Whoever lacks these things is shortsighted and blind, forgetting that they were cleansed from their past sins. (2 Peter 1:3-9)
5. The power of forgiveness in breaking the hold of sin on us is so profound that the New Testament can even envision the possibility that sin is no longer inevitable for us! In other words, we don’t have to sin anymore.
“My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.” (1 John 2:1)
Did you hear that? “If” we sin, not “when” we sin!
Jesus admonished the woman caught in adultery to “go, and sin no more” after he forgave her (John 8:11).
Forgiveness is far more than a declaration of acquittal. It is, in fact, entry into new life itself. Our status has changed but we have been changed as well.
“So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The literal translation is perhaps the most powerful – “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!” Forgiveness heals the relationship with God we have broken and reestablishes it. Hence, “new creation.” That’s you and me, friends!
That’s why sin is no longer an inevitability for us.
6. Thus we live in a world where sin in so longer the focal and primary reality. The new creation we are now a part of is our new reality. It is the world of God’s future coming into our present upending and reordering everything in our lives. Setting them right side up, as it were, for the first time. We seek to discern the signs and outposts of this new creation rather than focus on the sin and evil that has already been defeated (a la Barth in #1 above. We approach others, both within and without the Christian community as those for whom sin is no longer an issue but rather need first and only to meet the One who has removed their sin and wrapped them in his love – Jesus.
7. This is not pollyana-ish denial, however. Jesus sends us into the world to do battle with these beaten but not fully vanquished foes – only these foes are not other human beings but the spiritual powers that lie behind them and agitate and entice them to do their bidding. We see other humans as victims of these powers, even as they engage in victimizing others. Their hope lies in meeting the One who alone can pronounce them forgiven and reconcile them to himself and to their victims.
8. Finally, let’s look at Revelation 12:11.
They gained the victory over him on account of the blood of the Lamb
and the word of their witness.
Love for their own lives didn’t make them afraid to die.
Forgiveness (“the blood of the Lamb”) is the basis for faithfully resisting and overcoming the evil one and his work in the world. Our witness to this forgiveness and the freedom it gives us to live fearlessly for God are the form this resistance and victory take for us.
I hope you see now why it’s so crucial to “get the Story straight” on forgiveness. Fear is what derails us more than anything else in this world. And it’s the devil who brandishes this fear against us (Hebrews 2:14-15). Whether it be the fear that God will reject us because of our sin, fear over our certainty of our future, fear over becoming the faithful witness Jesus calls us to become, or whatever, only the certainty that we are forgiven “once for all” (as the writer of Hebrews likes to remind us) and with such thoroughness and depth that God does even remember our sins can fortify and free us for life in and as God’s new creation!