Forgiveness and Grace

"God Forgives Me" was the title of a talk I gave out our church a while ago. It's one of my favorite topics, probably because I need it so much. But as I feverishly finished it that Saturday night I wasn’t the least bit happy with it.

My message seemed pedantic and propositional, proving the need for, basis of, and results of forgiveness. What was I doing: presenting a case to the jury, or offering hope to sinners like me?

Blecch. I'm sick of treating messages like theme papers. When will I learn that forgiveness is less about clearing a slate, and more about restoring a relationship? Why breathe all the life out if it by treating it like a law room debate?

It was too late to reconstruct my whole message, so as I began to speak I did what you should never do: I said, "I don't really like this message, and here's why." I think (hope) you can get away with that once.

What astounds me about God's forgiveness is that he seems to get such a kick out of doling it out. If you doubt me, take a close look at Ephesians 1:4-7 and notice the words "in love," "his pleasure and will," "grace ... freely given," and "grace ... lavished."

Love ... pleasure ... grace ... freely given ... lavished. Sounds like God is having way too much fun with this!

And he is. He doesn't fold his arms while Jesus pleads our case to him. "But you've got to let them go, Sir!" Jesus begs. "Okay, if I must," he glares as he pounds the gavel. "Not Guilty! You're lucky he's on your side," we imagine him saying to us. We walk out, free but shamed, our tail between our legs.

My goodness! What kind of picture is that? But it's how I naturally picture my heavenly father and me. He loves me, but just barely. “Oh, you again? Same sin as last time?” In my head I know it's not like that, but it's in my heart where I get things mixed up.

I just can't get over this whole forgiveness thing. It was in place "before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1) -- before sin even happened! It's like God said to himself, "I want a canvass on which to paint my grace. I want it to be magnificent: bold strokes and lavish colors. How can I do that? I know: I'll make a world full of people in need of grace!"

Later the text says (4 times) that humanity’s greatest glory is to live "to the praise of his glorious grace." What is it about us that most magnificently demonstrates God's grace? Our sin and his forgiveness.

"Look at this one," God seems to say. "You should have seen him before I got hold of him. He was a liar, a cheat, an addict, a real mess. He’s a real grace project. I've never had so much fun!"

Anyway, my message didn't have any of this good stuff in it, so I had to figure out how to sneak it in at the last minute. It came out kind of convoluted, I'm sure, but I hope everyone (especially me) got the point: "God loves to forgive."

"Where sin abounded, grace abounded even more," the Bible says. God's having a lot more fun forgiving our sin than we religious-types like to admit. At least that's what I think.