“I’m a sinner! Can I be forgiven?”
That was the question I was asked a few weeks ago and it was asked by a Christian. The truth is, I know a lot of Christians, including myself, who have been confronted with this reality once again and have wondered about this question. This can be a difficult burden to bear.
Too Troubled to Speak…
I wonder if that is part of the problem the writer of Psalm 77 is facing as he cries out to God for help (v. 1). The Psalm never reveals what the actual issue is that has caused such anguish but whatever it is, the Psalmist says “I was too troubled to speak” (v. 4). That’s actually one of my favorite lines in the collection of 150 Psalms because I have experienced moments in my life when I was too troubled to speak… because of sin, death, doubt, etc… I’m sure others have too. What the actual issue is, it has troubled the Psalmist enough that he wonders if the Lord will forever reject him forever, no longer showing love, mercy, and compassion (vv. 7-9).
That’s a horrible feeling to live with. I’ve been there in my own life before and I’ve sat across the table with others in this same state of emotions. But the Psalm does not end here. The Psalmist basically states that he will remember the mighty deeds of the Lord done in the past and then he recalls these acts (vv. 10-20). Here is the key to the question of whether we can be forgiven: Remember and Recall the mighty acts of God!
But What the Lord Has Done…
What has the Lord done? Did he not lead the children of Israel, unworthy of his mercy, out of slavery and into the promise land? Did he not forgive King David, who had an affair with Bathsheba and then had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah murdered? Did he not promise to love and show mercy to the adulteress children Israel by sending a prophet named Hosea who was married to a prostitute as an illustration? Did God not show his love and willingness to forgive by sending us his one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins? Did this Son not show grace and mercy to a sinful woman in Luke 7 who could only wipe the feet of Jesus with her tears of shame? Did the Son not show mercy to Peter and the other apostles who, as his followers, abandoned him when he was arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion? Did the Son not offer grace to Saul (who later became the Apostle Paul) who was a murderer and persecutor of Christ and his church?
And those are just some of the mighty acts of grace and mercy that I often recall.
Grace and Mercy!
When we are confronted with our sin, I find that there are two responses we try first. One is to wallow in despair, believing that God will not forgive us. I hope what I’ve discussed above reminds us that there is not any need for such despair, for the Lord does indeed does forgive.
The other response is to try and offer penance for our sin. Penance, as I am using the term, is the attempt to make ourselves worthy of God’s forgiveness by doing something to show how sorrowful we are of our sin. This is different from repentance in which we acknowledge that what we are doing is wrong and change so that we are not doing what is wrong anymore. In my experience, I’ve ministered with a lot of people who at one time were taught a legalistic approach to the Christian faith where we get right with God because of what we do rather than what God has done. For such people, including myself, it is always tempting to try and offer some expression of penance but that will never work.
God’s grace and mercy is just that. God forgives not because he is compelled to do so by anything. Rather, God forgives because he chooses to do so! God forgives because he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103:8, NRSV). This is why God does forgive us! And of course, it is this grace of God that should move us to turn away from sin and as the righteous people of God he has made us in Christ.
So remember the might acts of grace and mercy that God has done in the past. And that includes the people around you at church who all can only stand in the presence of God because of his grace and mercy!
And when you find yourself in that place where you are saying, “I’m a sinner! Can I be forgiven?” Remember that the answer is, “Yes, you are!”