Forgiven and Forgiving
HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, LORD’S DAYS 51
What does the fifth request mean?
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors means,
Because of Christ’s blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.
DEVOTIONAL: NOVEMBER 26—DECEMBER 2
Forgiven and Forgiving
The gospel announces that a genuine Christian is one who has received forgiveness by grace in Christ alone. It also announces that we are to imitate Christ by freely and generously extending forgiveness to others. If you claim the privilege of the first, you must exercise the second. Therefore, we are taught to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Much can be said about forgiveness, but let’s stick with a simple Biblical approach. The Bible, after all, is the foundation of our faith and practice, and the Spirit alone, through its message, is able to enable a heart to be truly forgiven and forgiving.
First, forgiveness begins with CONVICTION. At some point in your life you have likely felt a sense of guilt over bad behavior, fear of judgment, or shame because your actions have placed your character into question. Those feelings may be gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are designed to tell us that something is wrong with our lives and that we need something better. The Psalmist says it this way: “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:4). But, if we confess the sins that convict the heart (Psalm 32:5), then He is “faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-10). It is that simple. In the economy of grace, God convicts so we will seek freedom in Christ.
Next, then, forgiveness is experienced through CONFESSION. We are to confess our sins of gossip and slander, adultery and lust, racism and ethnic superiority, gender inequality and male discrimination, legalism and spiritual pride. These are just few of the sins that dehumanize others, suffocate human hope, and, ultimately, assault the gospel of Christ. Yet, what are we actually doing when we confess sin? We do not confess because we regret getting caught and begin to engage in a process of self-protection. We confess because we are filled with remorse that we have reviled God Himself. King David taught us this true heart of genuine confession: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4). David knew that his sin against Bathsheba was ultimately a sin against God.” Likewise, our own sins are ultimately sins against God, for to violate another image-bearer is an assault on God and his good creation work. That makes the gift of forgiveness we receive through genuine confession all the more impressive. The Catechism asks: “How are you right with God?” It answers: “Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart” (Lord’s Day 21). It is that simple. In the economy of grace, all the requirements for forgiveness are met in the merits of Christ alone!
Finally, forgiveness means we are now CLOTHED in Christ. On the one hand, this means we have been set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Therefore, when we confess our sin, the gospel by the power of the Spirit frees us from sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), guilt (Galatians 3:13, Hebrews 10:22), judgment (Romans 8:1-2), fear (1 John 4:18), and shame (Hebrews 2:11). On the other hand, to be clothed in Christ means we have been set free for a new life (Galatians 2:17-21). Therefore, when we confess sin, the gospel by the power of the Spirit equips us to live with a new heart (Colossians 3:1-17), a new mind (Romans 12:1-2), new thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5), a new attitude (Philippians 2:1-11), and, therefore, a new lifestyle (Ephesians 4-5). Ultimately, to be clothed in Christ is to live a life of daily repentance, the dying away of the “old self” and the coming to life of the “new self.” The Catechism asks two questions: First, “What is the dying-away of the old self?” It answers: “It is to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it.” Second, “What is the coming-to-life of the new self?” Again, it answers: “It is wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to” (Lord’s Day 33). It is that simple. In the economy of grace, God in Christ by the power of the Spirit is always the God of new opportunity.
Let’s be honest. We love to receive forgiveness. We quickly embrace the grace that teaches: “Because of Christ’s blood,” God will “not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us.” Yet, we must also honestly state that we are not “fully determined, as evidence of [His] grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.” Let’s be honest enough, then, to affirm that this too is sin from which we all need deliverance (Matthew 18:21-35; cf. 6:14-15). The simple truth is that forgiveness freely received and freely given is the Christ-gift that is the hope of the world.
So, together lets embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8).
Pastor Calvin Hoogendoorn
Sunday, November 26
Prayerfully read John 7:53-8:11. Today, as it was during the earthly ministry of Jesus, performance religion defines our understanding of grace and forgiveness: “God’s grace is for those who behave in certain righteous ways.” How do Jesus’ words bring comfort to your life, and how will they equip you to bring grace and forgiveness to others?
Monday, November 27
Prayerfully read Matthew 18:21-35. It is a sin to claim God’s forgiveness yet at the same fail to extend forgiveness to others, especially when we realize our personal sin against God is always greater than another’s grievous sin against me. What needs to change in your life because of God’s Word?
Tuesday, November 28
Prayerfully read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. In Christ, we are set free from sin and have become the righteousness of God. How will this grace and forgiveness be displayed in your life?
Wednesday, November 29
Thursday, November 30
Prayerfully read Romans 8:1-4. In Christ, we are set free from condemnation and judgment. How will this grace and forgiveness be displayed in your life?
Friday, December 1
Prayerfully read Hebrews 2:11. In Christ, we are set free from shame because He is not ashamed of us. How will this grace and forgiveness be displayed in your life?
Saturday, December 2
Prayerfully read Psalm 32. The Psalmist calls us to genuine confession of sin and announces full forgiveness for those who do confess. How will this grace and forgiveness be displayed in your life?