Apostles' Creed: I Believe in the Forgivness of Sins

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 11, 2003

Matthew 26:28


Matthew 26:28
I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to
turn with me to Matthew chapter 26, as we continue our study through The
Apostles’ Creed. Many of us here this morning, perhaps, take for granted the
forgiveness of sins, and we may take it for granted in different ways. Some of
us take for granted that it can happen. We’ve known the forgiveness of sins
ourselves. The forgiveness of sins is a way of life; we’re used to it. We have
our sins forgiven often, and maybe less often, we forgive others; it’s a way of
life. Of course, sins can be forgiven. We take that for granted.

We don’t pause to realize that many people don’t
believe that sins can be forgiven or that you should forgive sins. Some of us
take for granted the morality of forgiving sins. We’ll see in just a few minutes
that the ancient pagans accused the Christians of immorality in saying that God
could forgive murderers and adulterers of their sin.

Some of us take for granted God’s forgiveness of us;
we presume upon that forgiveness and sometimes it leads us to presumptuous sin
because we presume upon that forgiveness. And perhaps, some of us are struggling
more deeply with a matter of forgiveness ourselves–struggling to forgive someone
who has wounded us deeply.

We come then, to this enormously important clause in
The Apostles’ Creed in which we affirm that we believe in the forgiveness of
sins, that is, we state that it is our conviction that our God is able and
willing to forgive sins in Jesus Christ. But we need to pause for a moment and
realize just how radical an idea that is. Pagans did not agree with that and
attacked and mocked Christians as they taught the gospel of grace throughout the
Roman and Greek world. Pagans often mocked the Christian teaching that sins
could be forgiven by another, even by God. As far as a pagan was concerned, you
either make up for your misdeeds yourself, in other words, you self-atone or
you’re forever guilty.

And pagans did not consider forgiveness a virtue. The
large-souled man in the pagan world, in which the gospel was first being
preached, might disregard offenses in cases which he considered to be beneath
his notice. But to forgive was to considered to be weak spirited. Only
the weak spirited–the weak willed–would forgive. We need to realize just how
radical the Bible’s message is of the forgiveness of sins. It’s interesting that
in Rufinus’ commentary on The Apostles’ Creed, written in the fifth century,
pagans were still attacking Christians for this very reason. When Christians
spoke about the forgiveness of sins, the pagans said, “How can you talk about a
murderer becoming not a murderer through the forgiveness of God? How can you
talk about an adulterer being forgiven of adultery through the forgiveness of
God? You can’t do this. How can one person forgive another person of something
that that person has done without that person’s making up for it?”

Well, what does that Bible say? What does Jesus say
about this? What does the Apostles’ Creed mean when we say that we believe in
the forgiveness of sins? Well, let’s turn our Bible to Matthew 26:28 and see.
Let’s hear God’s word and learn.

Jesus in the midst of the institution of the Lord’s Supper
says this:

“For this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out
for many for forgiveness of sins.”

And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and
inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we do bow before You, and we ask that You
would help us to understand forgiveness. It is alien to our nature in many ways.
We don’t like to admit our need of it; we are stingy in our giving of it to
those who need it. So, teach us to understand it and, by Your grace, to flee to
You to get it and, by Your mercy, to show it. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

You know, there’s a lot more to talk about in
connection with forgiveness than you might think. You might think of forgiveness
as sort of the ABC’s of Christianity

There’s a Christian woman. She and her husband have
been friends with another Christian couple for years. Her husband and her
friend’s husband have entered into a business agreement. Some things happen in
which her husband believes that he is wronged in that business agreement and she
is deeply wounded. She feels betrayed; she feels as if this other Christian man
has done her in, has done her family harm, has done her husband harm, and has
done her damage to her well being. She says, in the weight of this blow from a
friend, “I’ll never forgive him as long as he lives.” The question before us
is: “Can a Christian refuse to forgive another Christian?” I don’t know whether
her words were simply the words of a very wounded heart and whether those wounds
dissipated in the idea of that heart over time, but in the wake of her wounds,
that was the expression.

Or, consider this. Sue was a very responsible mother.
She was a good mother. She cared very diligently and carefully for her
children. She was getting ready to go to church one day. She had
responsibilities at the church. She had secured a very responsible baby sitter
to take care of the children, including her three-year-old, while she went to
the church to do this particular activity on behalf of the church and between
the time that she had left the house to get into the car to pull out of the
driveway to go to the church, and the time that she had left her children with
the babysitter inside, somehow, the three-year-old got out. Unbeknownst to her,
as she backed her station wagon out of the driveway, she backed over her
three-year-old child who had gotten away from the babysitter, out of the house,
and somehow, under her car. In God’s mercy, though that child had a tire print
on his back, there were no broken bones, no internal bleeding, and when they
returned from the emergency room and full scans from the doctor’s they were
rejoicing in the home but as you might imagine, Sue struggled for a long time
with that incident. Finally, she sought counseling and her counselor, at one
point, said, “Sue, you’ve just got to forgive yourself and move on.” Well, I
think we know what the counselor was getting at, but it does raise an
interesting question: “Can a person forgive himself?”

And then there’s another question. This Christian had
fallen under the influence of a religious guru in his community who said to him,
“Jim, guilt is self imposed. Don’t let a bunch of fundamentalist Christians send
you on a sin trip–a guilt trip. The big lie is that you need to repent and be
forgiven; the truth is that God has already forgiven us all. We just need to
accept it.” Really? Is the gospel telling people that God has already forgiven
and accepted them and that they just need to accept that He’s accepted them
already?

What about this conversation between two Christian
women? One has been reading some New Age literature recently and is about to
inform, from her new wisdom, her friend, who has not been reading this
literature. “Laura, what you need is wholeness–not forgiveness.
Don’t get hung up on that sin thing; it’s negative.” The question: “Is
wholeness an acceptable biblical alternative to holiness and forgiveness?”

Or, consider this conversation. A friend says, “I’ve
got this great book called A Course in Miracles, and it has really helped
me learn about forgiveness. Really? Is that New Age approach compatible
with Christianity? You see, there are a lot of questions that you can ask about
forgiveness. I’m not going to talk about any of those today. I’d rather zero in
on two other questions that I want to dwell on with you–two stories.

The pastor is sitting at a table; eight businessmen
are gathered around and one of the businessmen is not only cursing a blue
streak, but sharing lewd story after lewd story. His buddy, sitting next to him,
knows that pastor Bob from the local Baptist church is sitting at the table and
says, “Steve, you may want to knock that off. This is pastor Bob from First
Baptist Church.” Somebody else quips lightly, comically, across the table, “Aw,
Steve, God’ll forgive ya.” And Steve, before anybody else can say anything
says, “Sure, God will forgive me; that’s His job.” Really?

Perhaps you’ve perhaps heard something like this
before. “Hey, these are my college years. God’ll cut me some slack.” You see,
the attitude is presumption of God’s forgiveness. “Sure, He’ll forgive
me; that’s His job. That’s the God-business, isn’t it?”

On the other hand, perhaps you’ve heard this kind of
conversation too. A woman goes into her minister’s office and says, “Pastor,
I’ve a very important question and I need help on it. I don’t know if God can
forgive me for what I’ve done.” The pastor begins to set forth the Scriptures
about God’s willingness to receive repentant sinners, and the woman stops him,
“But pastor, you don’t know what I’ve done, and I don’t know how I can know that
God can forgive me.”

Now those are important questions, my friends, and I
want to look at them with you today. And I want to look at them in three parts.
I want to look at the problem, then I want to look at the provision, and then I
want to look at the appropriation.

I. What is sin? Understanding the problem.
Let’s start with the problem
because, friends, if you don’t get the problem right; if you don’t diagnose the
problem, you miss everything else that the Scripture says. The problem,
Scripture says, is sin. What does the Apostle Paul say in Ephesians 2? That we
were, by nature, children of wrath; we were born dead in trespasses. Jesus
indicates that right here in Matthew 26:28. Why did He have to come into the
world? For sins. His work had to do with sin. In God’s mercy, if love and grace
was going to be bestowed upon this race, it would have to be done in such a way
that sin is dealt with. Sin is the problem.

Well, what’s sin? All of us who were raised on The
Catechism
know to snap to attention and say, “Sin is any want of conformity
unto or transgression of the law of God,” if you memorized The Catechism
in the old version. In other words, The Catechism is mimicking 1st
John. What is sin? Sin is lawlessness.

The Bible uses several graphic words, actually seven
graphic words to describe sin, but I want to zero in on three pictures of sin
that the Bible gives us–first, the one right there in 1 John. Sin is
lawlessness
. In other words, sin is not doing things the way they ought to
be done. God tells us how things ought to be done. And sin is when we decide,
“I’ve got a better idea–my way.” You understand that Frank Sinatra sings
the National Anthem of hell–“I did it my way.” That’s the essence of sin;
deciding that though God has said to do it this way, I’m going to do it that way
which is my way and which is better.
It’s rejecting God’s way for our
own way; that’s sin. But the Bible also says sin is rebellion. That’s the
picture you see in the garden in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve rebel against God.
God had said, “Look, everything is yours but don’t eat of the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden. Everything else is yours; don’t eat of that fruit.”
And what do Adam and Eve do? They rebel against the command of God.

At its essence, sin is rebellion, and rebellion
really boils down to betrayal, doesn’t it
? They betrayed the best of
friends. And the Bible describes sin in those terms; sin is betrayal of the best
of friends. Sin is rejecting a relationship with God in pursuit of whatever it
is that we’re pursuing. Lord, I value that over my relationship with you.
God says, “Walk before Me in integrity,” and the sinner says, “I don’t want to
walk before you in integrity. I want to do this.” Sin is betrayal; it’s
rebellion.

But Paul also uses an interesting word to describe
sin when he says that sin is missing the mark. Now, don’t have the
picture in your eye of the bull’s eye and you’re sort of missing it by two
inches; that’s not what Paul is saying. Missing the mark is not “just slightly”
because that gets you into the bell-curve thinking. “Yeah, we know, God’ll grade
on the curve. I was pretty close.” That’s not what we mean at all. When Paul
describes sin as missing the mark he means missing the whole purpose of life,
the whole reason for being here. Totally missing the purpose of life is a little
more traumatic than being just a little bit off. Missing the mark means
rejecting God’s purpose for us as His image, and pursuing our own agendas. God
made us to bear witness to Him; we are His image and He made us for fellowship
with Himself. In sin we decide, “We don’t want to be your image and we don’t
want fellowship with you.” In other words, we miss the whole purpose that God
put us here for.

And this lawlessness, this betrayal, this missing the
mark leads to guilt. Everyone who does it from time-to-time knows that they
deserve to be punished. You remember the funny story about Arthur Conan Doyle,
author of the Sherlock Holmes series? He was a real practical joker and
apparently he hung out with some pretty dodgy company because on one occasion he
decided to play a practical joke. He sent a telegram to his close circle of
friends and it said only these words: “All is discovered. Flee at once.” Every
one of them left England. Now, my friends, those are men with guilty
consciences. I wonder what in the world that they thought had been discovered.
But they knew that they deserved for something to happen to them or they
wouldn’t have left the country.

Sin leads to uncleanness, moral degradation. Sin
always promises to make our lives better, but what it does is that it
dehumanizes us. We don’t become more human. You’ve heard the little dictum “To
err is human, to forgive divine.” To err is not humanto err is
fallen
. You’re not more human because you err; you’re not more
human because you sin–you’re less human. Sin leads to a moral
degradation, an uncleanness, is the word the Bible uses. Sin leads to
alienation.

Have you ever offended a friend and then you’re just
a little bit nervous the next time you’re around them; you can’t quite make eye
contact; you maybe avoid them at the party; you don’t respond to the e-mail;
you’re just a little bit weird around them. Why? Sin has brought alienation into
your relationship and it brings anxiety, that inner-turmoil over the
consequences of sin. That is the problem. And anytime someone tells you
that sin is not the problem and that forgiveness of sins is not the center of
Jesus’ ministry, you may be assured you are talking to a false prophet. Here at
the center of Jesus’ ministry, when He is explaining the meaning of His death,
the purpose of His coming into the world, He says, “My blood is shed and will be
shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Sin the problem.

II. God’s provision for the
problem. Understanding this amazing provision.
Now, what is the solution to this problem? Well, it’s a
surprising solution. It’s the most surprising news in the world; there is
forgiveness with God. God has provided forgiveness in answer to this problem of
sin and He has provided it in Jesus Christ. It’s at the very heart and purpose
of His ministry. Look again at Matthew 26:28. “For this is My blood of the
covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

What is Jesus saying but that His death is to the end
of, for the purpose of, the forgiveness of sins. God, in His love, is restoring
fellowship with sinners at the cost of the cross of Christ. Jesus is saying that
God has made a provision and that’s surprising news.

That’s not the news we were expecting. If we had been
in the garden with Adam after his sin, none of us would have said, “Look Adam,
no problem. Just go ask God if He’ll give His Son in your place.” None of us
would have said that. Everyone would have expected God to rain down judgment on
Adam. When we’re there with David and Nathan, and we see Nathan, David’s dear
friend, confronting him after David’s sin with Bathsheba and his complicit
murder of her husband, Uriah, we would have been expecting that after Nathan
tells that heart-rending story about the rich man who takes away that one little
ewe lamb that the poor man has, and slaughters it, we would be expecting Nathan
to say not only, “You are the man, but David, because of this God is going to
take your kingdom away and He’s going to judge you and kill you.” And we’re
stunned when we see David down on his knees saying, “God, be merciful to me. On
Your grace I rest my plea.” We’re stunned when we see David. It’s the most
surprising thing in the world that there is forgiveness with God.

What is forgiveness? It’s pardon in a personal
setting. It’s taking back into friendship those who went against you and hurt
you and put themselves in the wrong with you. And though David had sinned, and
notice that David knows that his sin is not only against Bathsheba and against
Uriah and against all Israel, but it’s against God. And God takes David
back anyway. It’s the most surprising thing in the world. But it’s done not
because David deserves it; it’s done not because David hasn’t done something
really serious; it’s not even done because David repents; it’s done because
Jesus has died.

David can count on that forgiveness because the
forgiveness of God is not based on his deserving it, or on his repenting hard
enough; but it’s based upon the atoning death of Jesus Christ. God forgives us
not because of us, but because of His Son. That’s why Jesus’ forgiveness if
forever.

If our forgiveness was based upon our repentance,
then it would be unstable because I have to question my motives every time I
repent. When I get caught and have to repent, there’s no telling what the
motives of my heart are. I may simply want to escape your disapproval. I may
simply want to escape the consequences of my wrongdoing. There’s no telling the
motive of my heart. If repentance is the basis of my security, I’m going to be
the most insecure person in the world. But because my forgiveness is based upon
what Jesus has done, I realize that I have a forgiveness that sticks.

That’s why Paul talks about justification.
That’s Paul’s favorite way of talking about forgiveness. God forgives us on
the basis of Christ;
that’s what Jesus is talking about here in Matthew
26:28. “My blood is poured out for the forgiveness of sins.” He is saying, “God
freely forgives you, My friends, not because of your faith, not because of your
repentance, not because of something good in you that He just can’t resist, not
because you’ve made up for what you’ve done or that you’re trying to be good or
anything else; God forgives you because of Me.” “He made Him who knew no sin to
be sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Our forgiveness
is based on Jesus and therefore, Jesus’ forgiveness is forever. That’s the
provision
.

III. How
do you receive this forgiveness? By faith.
You say, “How do you get that? How do you get that
forgiveness?” The Bible’s answer is by faith. You get that forgiveness by
faith. Accepted and forgiven of God by trusting in a righteous substitute. You
look away from yourself and you look to Christ. You take seriously your sin and
you look to Christ. You make no excuse for your sin and you look to Christ. You
know how it is when we sometimes grudgingly come to repentance? We say to our
wife, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” And as our wife graciously forgives us, we then
say, “But, of course, you have to remember…” and then all of the qualification
comes and it undercuts everything we said before the “but” because we really
don’t think we need forgiveness.

You see, that’s how men are. We deal with forgiveness
in two ways. We deal with the issue of being right before God in two ways; we
want to self-justify ourselves in two ways. Some of us like to go the way of
denial. We like to pretend like we don’t need to be forgiven. Have you ever
visited a prison? It’s amazing. Our judicial system must by the worst judicial
system in the world because 98% of the people in prison shouldn’t be there. They
have not committed a crime; they were framed. If you ever worked in a prison,
you know what I’m talking about. Nobody committed the crime that they’re in
prison for. It is amazing how bad our judicial system is. They are all innocent.
Why? Because we want to protect ourselves. But friends, you don’t have to look
in prison to find that kind of behavior. Sometimes it’s harder to be
forgiven than it is to forgive somebody because you don’t want to have to admit
that you need to be forgiven. So we cope with our sin by denial.

Then there are other people who try to cope with it
through their works. Lord, “If you’ll just get me through this, I promise I’ll
go to church every week next year.” There’s some sort of deal with God. “You do
this for me, God; I’ll do that for you.” Or maybe its, “I’ll give lots to
charity,” as if we can fix things by giving some money or being good for a
little while or being a good person.

See, both of those are ways of self-justifying,
self-atoning for sin; they don’t work. You have to look away from
yourself because you are the problem. That’s the hard thing about sin; you
have to admit, “I am the problem.”
And the problem does not have within
himself the solution. I have to look away from the problem to the solution; I
have to look to Christ. Martin Luther put it this way. “Learn to know Christ and
Him crucified. Learn to sing to Him and say, “Lord Jesus, You are my
righteousness; I am Your sin. You took on You what was mine; You set on me what
was Yours. You became what You were not, so that I might become what I was
not.” God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin that we might become the
righteousness in Him.” That’s how you receive forgiveness. You look away from
yourself; you stop making the excuses and you look to God.

So what can keep you from that kind of forgiveness?
God is offering that free forgiveness. What keeps us from it? One thing is
presumption. Why is it that David in the Psalms prays that God would keep him
from presumptuous sin? Because presumption that God will forgive you proves
that you really don’t want forgiveness. A man, a woman, who wants forgiveness
knows how deadly serious sin is, and so he/she is never, ever presumptuous about
sin. Presumption that God will forgive you proves that you really don’t want to
be forgiven.

What else can keep you from this forgiveness?
Denying that you need it. “I’m a basically good person. God will accept me.
Doesn’t He accept everybody?” Denying that you need it will keep you from this
glorious forgiveness. Trusting in your works. That will keep you from this
glorious forgiveness because this forgiveness isn’t based on you; it’s based on
Jesus.

When we say, “I believe in the forgiveness of sin,”
we mean that our glorious God, at the cost on the cross of His own dear Son, has
purchased for us a just forgiveness of sin that we appropriate by believing on
His Son. Looking away from ourselves, and looking unto Him. May God grant us
the ability to see our sin and to see our Savior, and then to become merciful in
the way we deal with other sinners. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we acknowledge that we are
sinners. We work hard not to acknowledge that, because it’s embarrassing, it’s
humiliating, but O God, it’s the first step to glory, because it is only when we
see our need that we c an seek it’s remedy, so show us the need and show us that
the remedy is not in us. Sbow us the Savior, show us His perfection, show us
His cross, show us His love, show us His promises, show us His call, show us His
claims, drive us to Him, draw us to Him, and then having brought us there,
assure us of Your pardon and make us into merciful giving people, because we
believe in the forgiveness of sins. We offer this prayer in Jesus’ name, Amen.
********************************************

A Guide to the Morning
Service

The Sermon
Continues our study of the Apostles’ Creed. For hundreds of years the
Apostles’ Creed has served as an instrument for instructing Christians in the
basics of biblical faith. We recite it often in our public services. But what
does it mean? What are we affirming in each of the phrases? How do these truths
relate to our daily lives? Check out the whole series to learn more through this
unique survey of an ancient confession of Christian belief. Our study: (1)
Anchors the specific assertions of the Creed in text of the Scriptures
– we
show clearly that the Bible teaches these truths. (2) Addresses contemporary
deterrents to belief
– we respond to the cultural forces currently arrayed
against historic Christian teaching. (3) Affirms Christian confidence in
biblical truth
– we encourage Christians to whole-heartedly embrace the
teachings of Scripture despite modern skepticism. (4) Aims to arrest
Christian defection from the biblical truth
– we respond to false teaching
that often goes under the name “Christian.” (5) Applies the truth to specific
issues in the Christian life–
— we show how good theology serves to lead to
the good life.

The Psalm and Hymns
Come, Thou Almighty King

We open our worship today with a trinitarian hymn of praise. Terry Johnson says:
“From its earliest days the church understood that God had revealed Himself as
both unity and diversity. God is one. Nothing could be clearer from Scripture.
But God is also three – the names, works, attributes, and honors of God are
shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus in the one God there is a
trinity of persons. The three persons of the Godhead are “the same in substance,
equal in power and glory” (the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.6). The
doctrine of the Trinity is the centerpiece of Christian theology, and a defining
doctrine of orthodoxy. “It is only when we contemplate this Trinity that we know
who and what God is,” said the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck – a very
appropriate thought to begin the morning’s corporate praise, in light of Derek’s
message last Sunday evening.


Now Thank We All Our God

“Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was a Lutheran minister in Eilenburg, Saxony. During
the Thirty Years’ War, the walled city of Eilenburg saw a steady stream of
refugees pour through its gates. The Swedish army surrounded the city, and
famine and plague were rampant. Eight hundred homes were destroyed, and the
people began to perish. There was a tremendous strain on the pastors who had to
conduct dozens of funerals daily. Finally, the pastors, too, succumbed, and
Rinkart was the only one left – doing 50 funerals a day. When the Swedes
demanded a huge ransom, Rinkart left the safety of the walls to plead for mercy.
The Swedish commander, impressed by his faith and courage, lowered his demands.
Soon afterward, the Thirty Years’ War ended, and Rinkart wrote this hymn for a
grand celebration service. It is a testament to his faith that, after such
misery, he was able to write a hymn of abiding trust and gratitude toward God.”


God, Be Merciful to Me (Psalm 51:1-15)

This is the great Bible song of repentance. C.H. Spurgeon notes of this psalm,
its heading says “For the chief musician” “Therefore [the psalm is] not written
for private meditation only, but for the public service of song. Suitable for
the loneliness of individual penitence, this matchless Psalm is equally well
adapted for an assembly of the poor in spirit. A Psalm of David. The Psalm is
David like all over. It would be far easier to imitate Milton, Shakespeare, or
Tennyson, than David. His style is altogether sui generis, and it is as
easily distinguished as the touch of Rafaelle or the colouring of Rubens.”


Marvelous Grace of Our Loving Lord

The hymn’s author lived in Peoria, Illinois, where her father was pastor of the
First Presbyterian Church, and she directed the First Presbyterian Church
Children’s Sunday School for over 40 years. She also found time to serve as
president of the Presbyterian Missionary Society of Peoria for 20 years, and to
write more than 500 hymns.

This guide to worship is written by the minister and provided to the
congregation and our visitors in order (1) to assist them in their worship by
explaining why we do what we do in worship and (2) to provide them background on
the various elements of the service.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

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