I’ve shared before how I was bullied and teased a lot as a kid. The worst incident took place in 6th grade. We were on a field trip, and a few guys cornered me in the woods, apart from the everyone else, and proceeded to pee all over my legs. Then one of them, the ringleader named John, took me and showed me off to his friends. And they all laughed. It was humiliating and heartbreaking.
As the years went on, man, I hated John. I would dream of beating him up—hitting, punching, kicking, and just not stopping. I spent most of middle school developing a revenge fantasy. In the meantime, John moved away and nobody ever heard from him again.
Time passed, I went into high school and forget about John. And then my sophomore year, I accepted Christ, and one of my new friends at church was named Chris. Over summer, he went on a mission trip to Haiti. The first Sunday back, he grabbed me at church and said, “I gotta introduce you to somebody from the trip. He’s so cool and strong in his faith… Greg, I want to meet John.” My heart just sunk. It was him. The guy I had dreamed of beating to a pulp was now standing before me. But I just said, “Nice to meet you,” and I walked away.
I walked out of the youth rooms just reeling. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to do something. So, I walked back up to John and said, “Do you remember me?” He nodded. It was tense. “I want you to know that I forgive you for what you did to me back in 6th grade.” With that, his whole body relaxed. He apologized. We talked a bit, and life went on.
I had no idea that encounter would become a defining moment for me, a single point in time that would direct my life. I could have taken revenge or forgiven him. I chose the latter. That was the day that I chose to believe in the forgiveness of sins.
I believe in the forgiveness of sins. That’s the line of the Apostle’s Creed that we’re going to talk about today.
So, let me ask you. Do you believe in the forgiveness of sins? Come on, really? What does it mean for us to believe in the forgiveness of sins?
Well, there are really two parts to forgiveness: God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of one another. These two are intricately related. You can’t separate them. And we’re going to hit both of them today.
First, how would you define forgiveness? One definition I really liked is from Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Texas. It says “Forgiveness is releasing someone from their wrongs fully, freely, and forever.” That’s what God does with us, and that’s what he calls us to do with other people. Fully, freely, and forever.
Now, if you want another definition, we can turn to an equally wise person… my wife, Pang Foua. I asked her and she said, Forgiveness is giving up your right to punish someone else. And being the one she usually punishes, I like that definition.
Now let’s see what Scripture has to say. We’re going to look at Psalm 103 today, at least the first 12 verses. It centers on praising God for who he is and what he does. I want you to listen for the things God does for his followers. (And I’ve highlighted them in yellow to help you out.)
1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
There are three sentences I want to highlight in this psalm because they are fundamental to believing in forgiveness. If you struggle with forgiveness, either receiving or giving it, chances are really good that you don’t actually believe one of these three statements.
First is verse 8 – “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
This says God is forgiving. It comes from his character, who he is. If you don’t really believe this, you’re not going to go to him with your sin. You’ll be afraid God will condemn you. So, you’ll do things like stop going to church or your life group or not text back that church friend that reaches out to you.
The biggest obstacle you have to believing that God is forgiving is your experience with your earthly parents. If one of both of your parents were critical and judgmental, quick to anger, and withholding love, then it’s probably really hard to believe that God is forgiving. But, thankfully God is not like our parents. God is forgiving.
Second is verse 10 – “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”
This says: Our sins are serious. Do you believe that? I love the wording in this: God doesn’t treat us like we deserve. Do you believe you deserve punishment for your sin? Even hell? Most of us don’t. But that’s what the Bible says.
When you don’t believe this, you’ll rationalize your sin away. This can play out in two ways. One, you’ll do stuff and say it’s not sin. You’re sleeping with or living with your boyfriend or girlfriend and say, “But we’re gonna get married.” Or you’ll lie on your insurance or public assistance forms and say, “It’s not a big deal.” Two, you’ll do stuff that you know is a sin but make excuses like, “I’m only human.” All of that denies the fact that our sins are serious.
Third is verse 12 – “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”
This one says: God’s forgiveness is complete. We don’t have to add anything to it. This is a really popular metaphor. It shows up in songs, Instagram quotes… and for good reason. It’s an incredible statement of how God forgives us. Remember our definition from earlier? “Forgiveness is releasing someone from their wrongs fully, freely, and forever.”
When you don’t believe this, you’re going to try to earn your forgiveness: you’ll beat yourself up over it or you’ll promise God that you won’t do it again. Similarly, you’ll only give forgiveness when someone else earns it. You’re very stingy with your forgiveness.
So, what is it for you? Which of these, deep down, do you now really believe?
- God is forgiving
- Our sins are serious
- God’s forgiveness is complete
Today’s the day for you to confess, to reject the lies you’ve come to believe about God, sin, and forgiveness. That’s the beauty of reciting the Apostle’s Creed. It’s a time to reject the false narratives that have influenced us and plant ourselves firmly in the truth of God.
So, we’re going to finish out our sermon by reciting the Apostle’s Creed together—just up the part we’ve studied so far. So, if you believe all these statements, then say them loud. If you’re still wrestling with some of them, that’s okay as well.
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
 suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day, he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of Father
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins.