Forgiveness requires a response on our part.
Suppose someone is proven guilty of dangerous driving. No matter how much the judge likes the person, he must declare the law-breaker guilty and fine him appropriately. It is quite legal, however, for the judge to offer to pay the fine out of the judge’s own pocket. It is then up to the offender whether he accepts the judge’s gift.
There is one more consideration, however. If the reckless driver intended continuing the same offenses, he would be a danger to the community. It would be wrong to pardon someone who plans to continue flouting the law.
Likewise, the Perfect One is obligated to consider our attitude to sin before releasing us from eternal condemnation. He does not insist that we never fall; simply that we want never to fall. I am referring neither to your actions nor to sinlessness, but to a mental attitude of vital importance to God. The Bible calls it repentance (Scriptures) – a change of heart regarding sin; a willingness for God to deliver us from sin. It involves placing our trust in him, rather than in our own ability to control our lives; giving more credence to his wise and loving demands than to our own whims. We may find it virtually impossible to even desire a sin-free life, but we must at least want God to make us willing.
Suppose you are caught in a burning building. Just in time a fireman hears your terrified screams, bursts through the flames and begins to carry you to safety. But you fight him off. ‘No!’ you say, ‘I don’t want to burn, but I want to stay here.’
‘You idiot!’ shouts the fireman, ‘This whole building is about to go up. Either you leave this place immediately, or you’re dead!’
Likewise, we either let Jesus take us from our sin, or we will die in our sin.
The essence of sin is disobedience. So to be saved from sin is to be delivered from disobedience. No matter what you pray, heaven knows you cannot want the Savior to deliver you from disobedience if you want to remain in disobedience.
It is sheer hypocrisy to ask God to take away the sins we hate, if we plan to keep the sins we love. It is blissfully easy to make a sin seem little. We can never fool God. Tragically, we often fool ourselves. Adam’s sin, with its cataclysmic results, was not mass murder, hideous perversion or demon worship. In God’s sight their sin was so gross that Adam and Eve had to be forever banished from Eden, and yet they had lived better lives than any saint.
The Almighty longs to give us holy desires and victory over sin, but he never abuses his power by forcing this upon us against our will. Many people, though they would never admit it, want to keep their favorite sin more than they want forgiveness. Though it would grieve God greatly, we will rot in any sin we deliberately choose to remain in (Scriptures). This would result in our entire lives being cut off from God.
Just as we cannot let a jet take us into the sky while keeping one toe permanently on the tarmac, neither can we let Christ take us to heaven if we stubbornly insist on keeping a part of us outside of his will. Our own efforts will never get us off the ground, but we must agree to Christ’s desire to lift every part of us away from the world. This has nothing to do with our own moral struggles, but simply permitting Christ to save us from the sins we love – giving him permission to wrench our darling sins from us.
I reel at the thought of the hordes who have tragically missed this point. Another analogy will confirm its centrality.
You are trapped in a sea of sin. Bottomless waters lap towering cliffs. No one can tread water forever. The murky depths terrify you, except for one spot. You’ve found a place where the deadly waters seem beautiful and the sensual waves exquisite. How can anyone take seriously your cries for help if you’re splashing around enjoying yourself? And what’s the point of saving someone who is hell-bent on plunging back after every rescue attempt? No one with a suicidal commitment to a sin can be saved.
How can God take seriously your request to be removed from sin’s penalty if you have no desire to be removed from sin’s ‘pleasure’? The sin you love is as deadly as the sin you hate.
This doesn’t mean you must initiate a sinless life to enjoy forgiveness. We’re in sin’s death grip. Only Jesus can break it. But do you want him to? Do you want to be rid forever of your favorite sin?
The Almighty gives us dignity by respecting our wishes. If we don’t want him to be our God – ie in total control of our lives – it grieves and appalls him, but in his gentleness he will permit us to go our own way. No one has suffered the pain of rejected love like God.
The issue is not ‘works’ – our attempts to do right – but faith – trusting God’s loving wisdom above our own so that we give up running our own lives – trying to be our own god – let God be God of our lives.
You can never be forced to love someone. Nor can you be forced to genuinely want purity of heart. The Giver has done all he can. It’s over to you.
By genuinely wanting to be removed from both the penalty and ‘pleasure’ of all sin and trusting the pardoning power of Jesus’ sacrifice, you give God free rein to do what he longs to do – pay your debt to justice and credit to your account the moral perfection of Christ. That makes you so pure in his eyes that you need no longer be isolated from him. You can then commence an endless communion with the most wonderful Person in the universe.
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