We have been talking about confession of sin, and I want to end by talking about the total joy of confession.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9). God is a just God; he is perfectly righteous. And he is faithful to all his promises. This faithful and just God promises to forgive your sin if you but sincerely ask.
Many people struggle with this. “I have stumbled so many times on this path of discipleship. How can God keep on forgiving me?” How can God really love me; I don’t love myself?” The answer is, he’s God. It is in his very character to be faithful, just, and forgiving. He loved you before you were his child; why would he stop now that you are his child?
Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient to save all who come and ask. Jesus’ last words were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He meant it. Everything that needed to be done in order to forgive all the sins of those who would repent has been done. No sin was left out. He doesn’t need anyone’s help. God did it, and he did it right.
This is why it is so important to see that God’s forgiveness is not based on your worth. It is based in his character, which is holy and majestic and glorious. It is enough for you.
So whether you are thinking of sins committed before the gate or those along the path, God can forgive. Not because you deserve it but because he promises.
The power of cleansing
1 John 1:9 concludes, “and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God’s cleansing is not partial. He does not run out of soap or water. No stain is too dark. He can make the foulest clean.
Psalm 103 is one of the great Psalms of forgiveness. Here is a portion of it.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
When you and I forgive, we rarely forget. The hurts and pains lurk in the recesses of our mind, waiting for the right opportunity to be brought out. But not so with God. He is truly compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. He does not hold on to our sin. In fact, we never fully bear the penalty for what we have done. His love for us is immeasurable, and consequently he removes our confessed sin as far from as can be done, from one side of the world to the other. After all, he made these rebellious little toasters. He knows how weak we really are. A song puts it this way. “From one scar to the other.”
Have you ever been in a wonderful relationship that become strained? In the earlier days, you longed to be with the person, to do things together. Whenever something happened, he or she was the first person you just had to call. There was something about the friendship that drew you further into his life, that made you want to share deeply with her.
But then one of you did something hurtful. Perhaps a betrayal, taking sides, not trusting, gossip. The walls came up and the joy diminished. At first it may have been okay because you were mad, indignant that he would even do what he did, or think what she thought. But as time passes, the joy of living in your anger diminishes, and the pain of reconciling seems to be less than the pain of continuing apart. And so you finally do what you were supposed to do the first day. You get together, listen to the other person, share your perceptions, ask for forgiveness. And the joy returns. If you have been apart for a long time, the trust may have to be earned, but the joy starts to return.
There was a time when my wife and I were separated from our best friends. To this day I can’t remember why. Something about church I think. These were friends who used to get on a plane, fly across the country to Boston where we were living, just to watch a football game with us. They had flight privileges because of his job, and we had no friends in Boston. They would take the time to fly 3,000 miles just to play with us on the ice on Pleasant Pond down the street. When I gave my Presentation Chapel address as a new faculty member, they were there. Their daughter lived with us for eight months after her high school graduation. It was quite a friendship.
But then something happened, and we were apart for several years. It was painful, eventually too painful, and we had to take the steps to fix the problem. It involved confession and repentance. But the point is: we were cleansed, so cleansed I can’t remember the problem — and when they read this, I don’t want to know what it was. And the joy of the friendship now is tremendous. There was no partial forgiveness. The confession and forgiveness was complete, and the point of this story is that the four of us were cleansed. Completely and totally. We live in the same town now, and we are together almost every day (or perhaps every other day). During the dark nights of our spiritual times, it is to them that we turn. The cleansing is complete.
And so it is with God. If we confess our sins — and really mean it — not because of who we are but because of who God is, we are forgiven and totally cleansed. As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us. And the joy of the relationship returns.
Nobody can hike Mt. Rainier without stumbling. It just isn’t possible. The terrain is so difficult that sooner or later we will stumble. So also the path on the other side of the gate. It is different from the easy road. It is difficult. And we will stumble.
Confess early, confess often. Tell God he is totally right and you are totally wrong. Don’t try to bargain with him, but call on him as your loving and compassionate father. And enjoy the freedom of being totally forgiven and totally cleansed.
In Psalm 32 the writer tells us what it was like before he confessed his sin.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
But after confession, look what happened.
Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed are those whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.
Blessed are you as you joyfully confess to God what he already knows, knowing that he will always love you as his very own child.