No greater gift has ever been bestowed upon man than the forgiveness of God. Man of his own free will chooses to sin. When man sins, he violates the very nature of God; thus necessitating man's punishment and eternal separation from the presence of God. God is rightfully displeased when man makes this choice that compels God to do what His holiness and justice demand. Yet, regardless of how horribly man may sin against and repulse God-He extends forgiveness! The God of the universe who is perfectly holy and just is also "Merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Exodus 34:6-7). Such forgiveness as He extends is unequalled and incomparable: "Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds (Psalm 36:5).
Unfortunately, far too often people take God's forgiveness for granted. For whatever reason, they neglect and spurn the greatest gift they have ever been offered. There are various ways in which this occurs.
Some simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of God and the blessings He bestows (compare with Psalm 14:1). Others realize God exists, but are misled into believing that God's forgiveness is received by grace only. They think that God universally or randomly bestows forgiveness, regardless of whether or not a person has obedient faith. They fail to acknowledge that there is personal responsibility in receiving God's forgiveness. They remember "For God so loved the world and "should not perish but have everlasting life, but seem to forget "that whosoever believeth should not perish (John 3:16, emphasis LM). They remember "For by grace are ye saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8), but conveniently forget that "faith without works is dead (James 2:20, 26). May we never forget our personal responsibility to respond to God's offer of forgiveness; may we never hear wisdom's voice say of us, "I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded (Proverbs 1:24).
While some mistakenly believe they have sinned so severely that God could never possibly forgive them (contrast with Ezekiel 33:14-16; 1 Timothy 1:15), others live under the false notion that God owes them forgiveness. They say such things as, "I've never killed anybody or anything like that. I try to be a good spouse, a good parent, and a good citizen. If God cannot see fit to forgive me of whatever sins I have committed, I'm not going to bother myself with Him. However, God owes no one forgiveness. Indeed, He paid the greatest price ever paid by offering His perfect Son, but it was not a price He owed: For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8; compare with Isaiah 53:4-12; 2 Corinthians 5:21).Again, when we sin, it is a choice we make for which we are responsible. That price God paid through Christ was not His debt, but ours. How small a token it is that we have merely to obey the Gospel to receive the great gift of forgiveness! (Romans 6:16-18; Hebrews 5:9).
Sometimes children of God, those who have obeyed the Gospel of Christ by submitting in faith to baptism (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27), take God's forgiveness for granted. They are aware that "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). But instead of allowing God's faithfulness and forgiveness to motivate them to overcome temptation, they use it to rationalize succumbing to temptation. One might rationalize, "I'll just go ahead and commit this sin-I can repent and confess later, and God will forgive me. But did that person truly ever repent of anything? It seems that he had the same attitude as he committed the sin as he did confessing it. Repentance can be defined as "a change of mind that leads to a change in life; but if the one "repenting is merely doing what he planned to do when he entered into sin, there is no change of mind and there will likely be no change of life.
For some, it may be the case that they give no thought to forgiveness whatsoever. Life seems to be moving along just fine, thank you, and they see no need to receive forgiveness from God. They may even reason that God demonstrates His pleasure in them by blessing them so abundantly. Indeed, God is the Source of every blessing they receive (Psalm 65:9-13; Philippians 4:19; James 1:17; et al.). But God's blessings may not be a demonstration of His pleasure, but a testimony designed to call man to Him: "[God] in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:16-17).
Generally, the temptation is greater for one to forget God when he is being blessed than when he is not. God warned the Israelites of the inherent dangers in the prosperity He would grant them, urging them in particularly in such times to remember Him, lest they forgot the Source of their blessings "And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17). This is why those who live in prosperous nations should especially guard themselves against a callousness against gratitude.
That God does not smite sinners on the spot does not show that He has forgiven them. It merely shows that He has forbearance. But the Scriptures ask the question, "And thinkest thou . . . that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (Romans 2:3-4). "Forbearance refers to a temporary cessation or pause before something disagreeable takes place. "It points to a truce, not a peace. . . . God's forbearance is wonderful, and eloquent of his deep concern for people. But it is not forgiveness. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise (to come again in final judgment, LM), as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9, emphasis LM).
Indeed, God is a wonderfully forgiving God; but this does not mean that every person is guaranteed God's forgiveness: "Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7). Instead of taking God's forgiveness for granted, let us ever crave and be appreciative of God's forgiveness, living lives to His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). God will pardon abundantly, but there will come a time when it is too late for pardon:
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7).
1 "Anochee," in Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Univ. Of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 86.
2 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), pp. 112- 113.
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