This week's Bible Study - January 4, 2015
The Shelter of God's Forgiveness
Quotes of the Week:
A Sunday School teacher had just concluded her lesson and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She said, "Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?" There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up. "Sin," he said.
Bits & Pieces, May, 1991
In this series of lessons we have been discussing how we, as believers, find shelter in our Lord. We have looked at different aspects that He provides in our lives - His Presence, His Salvation, His Encouragement, His Peace, His Forgiveness and His Protection (in the next lesson). These are all precious benefits that we have as believers. I am fully aware that some people look at those of us with faith in God as people who need to have a crutch in our lives. When you don't experience these aspects of Christianity, it probably does seem like a farce to many people.
In St Charles, off of Highway 94, there has been a billboard funded by the group American Atheists. It depicts a girl writing a letter to Santa, but she isn't asking for gifts. All she wants is to skip church, because, as the billboard states, she's "too old for fairy tales." One of the spokespersons for the group explained, "From the little girl's perspective, Santa makes more sense than God. I mean, at least from her perspective, when she goes to the mall, she can meet Santa in person." Sure, Santa can be seen at the mall, although if you remember the movie "Elf", Will Farrell, playing the part of Buddy the Elf, clearly called out the man playing Santa as an "impostor".
To compare a mall Santa to God is a supreme stretch, even for folks who may not believe in God. There is too much information freely available that points to the existence of God, even if folks do not take the time to seek the truth. There are people who will only look for any reason to not believe in God. They may point to the fact that believers and non believers alike get sick, are injured, die in accidents, make moral mistakes and so forth. They say that if God existed, wars wouldn't exist and bad things wouldn't happen to good people. They will look for any contrived inconsistency that they can find in Scripture. There are a multitude of excuses that people will give for not believing in God and for trying to explain away anything that might point to God. There are other lessons, under the Apologetics section on the Resources tab on the Site Index on the left hand side of this page, that speak to the existence for God and for 'some' of the arguments. This lesson is not intended to be an argument for the existence of God.
As believers, we experience many precious aspects of God's shelter. It doesn't matter who you are, there will come a time where you cannot control events in your life, and at that point, where do you turn? We all know of those who have recently experienced loss of loved ones in their lives. Others have been experiencing medical trials in their own lives. There are others with relationship problems, financial strains and many other issues that are beyond their own capacity to handle. We all have experienced situations in our own lives that cannot be solved by a visit to a doctor or hospital; by reading a book or by the assistance of a close friend. It is in those times where we truly internally experience the benefits of being a believer. There is an internal peace that God brings, as the Bible states "a peace that passes understanding". God's presence is with us, which allows us to boldly go forth with confidence even when we feel a lack of confidence on our own.
Of the many aspects of God's character, forgiveness is perhaps the one we most need (even when we don't realize it). Across the world, there may be different standards and rules of living that are applicable to different societies and cultures. Whatever the place and whatever the standard, we know that are all imperfect. You only have to be in a relationship to realize that, despite the strength of the relationship, there will be mistakes that are made. We know that the words "I am sorry" and "I forgive you" are key phrases for the longevity of any relationship. When we think of our relationship with God, we also know that we have failed. Even at the most course level, we know that we are far from what God intended. We can be thankful that a key aspect of God is His forgiveness.
This passage begins with the words "Blessed is the one …" We first have to have an understanding of what it means to be blessed. Many in our day look at blessings based on amount of money they have in the bank, the things that they possess, the climates in which they live or circumstances that occur in their lives. Some consider themselves blessed or cursed by God by the way in which their lives are going. Blessings referenced in this passage and elsewhere in the Bible, however, are independent of what we have or where we live or other quality of life factors. To be blessed is an internal well being that can exist regardless of our external circumstances.
The passage tells us we are blessed when our transgressions are forgiven and our sins are covered. To become a believer, you must confess (or admit) that you have sinned and acknowledge that there is a payment required for our sins. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. If you somehow believe that you haven't sinned (lied, stolen, thought impure thoughts, honored your parents, etc) or if you don't believe it matters what you do (or don't do), you will never become a Christian. It doesn't matter how much you have sinned; only that you realize you have sinned. We aren't graded on some sort of spiritual scale and being 'better' than another sinner really does nothing for you personally, as far as your relationship with God. As an example, what would happen if we all tried to jump to the moon? It doesn't matter if you can only jump one inch or are the high jump champion of the world; none of us are really closer to the moon than the next person. The same applies in our relationship to God. None of us are good enough - not even one. We all have sinned. As believers, we admit that we have sinned and we accept God's forgiveness and are thankful and blessed for it.
The verse says that we are blessed when the Lord does not count our sin against us, but it also says that we are blessed when there is no deceit in our spirit. Deceit can be defined as the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth. Have you ever concealed the truth? We all know about white lies, but are there gaping holes in your life where you are filled with deceit? I have seen ever fervent believers that have tried to partition their lives and conceal or deliberately misrepresent the truth. It can harm each of us individually, but it can wreak havoc to relationships as well. Are there areas of deceit in your life right now? Are there areas where you are deliberately hiding the truth, or perhaps not willing to seek the truth? To continue to believe a lie and not even search for truth is the same as if you were lying yourself.
In the previous section, we established that we all sin and that God does offer a solution. However, when you hold onto your sin and keep silent in regards to your sin, that sin can take a huge toll on your life. Given that we are all human and we all have sinned, ask yourself what has happened in your own life when you have chosen to hang on to your sin and remain silent.
In this passage we see a very poignant example of the impact of sin that has not been confessed. David writes that when he kept silent, his bones wasted away through his groaning all day long. Day and night, the hand of God was heavy on David and his strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Do you get a clear picture of the impact of this sin on David, while he kept silent? How is your life impacted when you hang on to your sin? From experience, we know that we can keep some sin from others for a period of time, but even when that is so, do you really believe that God doesn't know (or care)?
As a parent, have you ever 'known' about things that your kids have done, but not let on? We know that there are times when a parent needs to correct their children immediately, but there are other times when essential life lessons are needed to be learned. Our society (as well as many of our churches) is full of helicopter parents who will do any and everything to control situations and remove any hint of discomfort from their children's lives. It starts in preschool and often continues through college and even into adulthood. Ultimately, parents can do more damage than good to their kids by 'handling' or 'manipulating' situations for them. Certainly, at times, parents need to have conferences with teachers and protect their children, but when kids have gotten in trouble and they know that someone will always swoop in to save the day, what do they learn? Do we want our kids to think that somebody will come behind them and clean up every mess that sin brings in their lives? Obviously, we can't sap the strength of our kids (or others), as God does to David, but we know how sin that is held onto can cause much damage in life. When we take a step back and think of our own lives and all of the ways that we may have tried and protect our own position (when we have been in sin), we know that it usually only serves to make the situation worse. We may fool others, but we are never fooling God.
The Wide World of Sports on ABC used to have the slogan "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat". In mind, I can still see the guy losing control while going down the ski jump - ouch. In our lives, we know some level of that thrill when life goes well and the agony when we have failed. In the context of this lesson, it may not be an athletic event, but we do know of the agony of sin (which is what defeats us). When we are living in the way we know that we are called to live, there is a peace that we have which is associated with a clear conscience. However, when we have acted against what we know to be right, there is an agony that tends to follow. Others may not know, but we know and God knows.
If you have no outlet for forgiveness, where can you turn? When we have sinned against others, we need to learn to be willing to admit our mistakes and ask them for forgiveness. When you confess to others, you may or may not find them willing to forgive. In life, we deal with all sorts of people and there are some things that you may legitimately fear, for good reason, if you confess your sin. Consequences of sin can cost jobs, relationships and impact other areas of life. Ephesians 4:32 (my mom's favorite verse), states "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you". Some people have effectively removed or redefined the meaning of this verse in their Bibles, so as to validate their own attitude of unforgiveness.
However, when we have failed God, where can we turn (and what can we expect?) We read that David acknowledged his sin to God and did not cover up his iniquity. He confessed his transgressions to the Lord. What do you think David thought would happen? With God, when you confess your sin to Him, He forgives you and the guilt of your sin. The amazing thing to realize is that things are worse with your relationship with God as long as you try and hide your sins (which is pointless, as He already knows all that you have done) and they become much better once you confess them.
What happens when God forgives? He truly forgives. We tend to hang on to the things that we have done, and at times, that may be a good thing. Recalling our past failures may very well help us safeguard against similar failures in the future, repeating sin in our lives. We may hang on to what we've done, but God is able to move past it. It really doesn't matter what you've done, as long as you are willing to turn to Him and confess it. However, with any sin, we are not guaranteed to be free from consequences. None of us can undo sin. We can't unbreak an egg that has been cracked open. We read that God casts them as far as the East is from the West. In Micah 7, we read that God casts our sins to the bottom of the ocean. It is hard enough to find a lost ship in the Ocean (on top of the water) and virtually impossible to find things at the bottom of the sea. You may find that others around you are similar to Sponge Bob Square Pants, preferring to stay at the bottom of the sea, reminding you of what anything you've done. At some point, it will start to weigh on the Sponge Bob folks for doing so. The inability to forgive others and move on becomes an issue all to itself, which will eventually lead others to seek forgiveness from God themselves.
We have read that we all sin. We have read about the impact of sin on our lives. We have read that God is desirous to forgive us for our sin. Given that we have these truths, what needs to change in the way we live? As God is faithful, all the faithful people should pray to Him while He may be found. Have you ever considered what your life would be like if you were not forgiven by God for your sin? What if you had to be perfect and free from any sin in life to be declared not guilty by God? Knowing who we are and our propensity for sin, none of us would stand a chance. However, God is available and He does not change.
We should put our trust in Him, knowing that He will be with us. David writes that surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach the faithful. He writes that God is his hiding place, protecting him from trouble and surrounding him with songs of deliverance. We need to realize that we can put our trust in God, but that does not mean that the rising of the waters will never reach you. You only need to think back to the people who are experiencing deep loss right now and realize that a relationship with God will not insulate you from losses of all types in life. Truly, God is our hiding place and He will be with us in whatever we experience.
Our core need is to be found innocent before God. We often mistake that our core need involves health, wealth and prosperity. Those things may be 'wants', but what we need is to be found right with God. When you have lived your life and hundreds of years have passed, will it matter what your circumstance is right now, or will it matter where you stand before God? Sadly, some people would prefer that God only deal with things right now as they give little thought to eternity.
All of this is good to read and comprehend, but is there something more that God is saying to you today? He isn't asking for you to become more intellectual in things of Scripture, although that is something we should strive for. In all cases, we should be seeking to apply what we learn from Scripture.
Is there anybody who doesn't want to be blessed? We all want to be blessed. We want to experience God's forgiveness. As stated earlier, the benefits of being a believer include eternal life, but also includes the ability to live in the midst of our circumstances and experience the fullness of God's presence in our lives. We will endure what nearly every other person endures, but we can have the presence of God with us. If you aren't a believer, this may sound overly spiritual to you, but if you are a believer, you know of the joy of which we speak. Without these blessings, we really do not know where we could turn to find peace in the midst of strife.
Realize that you are a sinner. This doesn't mean that you sinned at one time, and now are free from sin. Each of us deals with sin on a daily basis. It may be habits, it may be thoughts, it may be an unforgiving attitude, it may be unbelief or it may be all sorts of things. Admit your sins to God. It should be part of what you pray when you pray. I've heard the acronym ACTS - Adoration (praise God), Confession (admit sins), Thankfulness (thanking God for blessings) and Supplication (bring needs to Him). Each of these pieces is important, but we need to understand that if we don't confess our sins to God, we are only going through the motions.
Take a look at your relationships and identify where you have problems. Is there something that you need to do? Have you sought truth in areas where you have been led to believe something? When we base the way we live on lies we have been told, we will find that we are doing much damage to ourselves. In all of the events in our world in the recent months, we have seen massive problems based on people acting on what later proved to be a lie. Many of these are publicized in the media, but what we need to do is to see if the same thing applies to our lives internally.
Ask God for forgiveness and realize that He is willing and able to forgive you for your sins. Others may remind you of what you were or what you have done. God wants to remind you of who you ARE and how the blood of Jesus Christ covers your sins. When we focus on how God sees us, despite how others see us or what we may think of ourselves, we know that we have been forgiven and set right with Him.