“…Blessed are they whose
iniquities are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered.”
Much of what we call religion today is based upon the striving of mankind to make themselves somehow good enough to be acceptable to God. Whether we work ourselves up to God or bring God down to our level, religion of this sort is based upon the efforts of the creature. This kind of religion asks the question: what must we do to be acceptable to the Creator?
The Bible teaches throughout both the Old and New Testaments religion of the human sort is not what pleases God. We can go back into the infancy of religious practice and find Cain offering up the fruits of his labor (works) and Able bringing to the altar a lamb from the flock (God’s requirement). Both men were religious (they practiced their faith) but only one was acceptable because Able came to God with His provision and on His terms. Read Genesis 4:1-16.
In the New Testament, in John 3, Jesus confronts a very religious but ignorant man. Nicodemus, though sincere, was mistaken in his understanding of what would please God.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” John 3:10.
Saul of Tarsus was an up and coming star in the ranks of Pharisaical Judaism and yet his hands were bloodied with the children of God’s way. Read Acts 9:1-2.
“And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” Romans 9:4-5.
Jesus had to powerfully interrupt Saul’s sincere worship to save not only God’s sheep from his abuse, but Saul from a religious practice which was condemning Him.
Now back to the question: Have you been forgiven? It is not enough for you or I to be sincere, to be a “good” Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, Anglican or any of the other 31 plus flavors of denominational Christendom. Nor is it acceptable to approach the Creator God through a host of other religious practices which have no attachment to Christianity. These are the labels of our practice, of our preference, of our doctrinal positions, of the traditions we were raised with. If the Bible is truly the Word of God, He is approachable only one way. What does Jesus say about coming to God?
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6.
He does not list any of our religious flavors, or our doctrinal statements, our efforts, a religious ceremony, our pastor, priest, or pope. He simply lists Himself. The separation between man and God is because of our sin. Sin is not politically, medically, or religiously correct anymore, but the Bible clearly teaches us we are moral lawbreakers by nature. The whole purpose of the Ten Commandments (Exodus chapter 20) is to demonstrate to us how far we are away from a holy God. By nature we are liars, thieves, disobedient children and this just deals with three of God’s laws. To violate the law of God is what God calls sin.
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4
If you think about the gospel story, this totally makes sense. Our denominations, our preachers, our doctrinal statements did not die on a cross. They were not buried on our behalf, and then raised again on the third day victorious over the grave, over our sin and over Satan. Only Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father to make intercession for those who “believe.” You see, it is not what you and I have done or what our religion has done to make ourselves acceptable to a Holy God. It is all about what a Holy God has done for us though the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23.
To add any of our effort to the work God has done for us is to take away from and negate the free gift of grace.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10.
Faith needs to be based upon what God has done for us not upon what we do for God. We need a change of mind that goes beyond human effort to simply resting upon the finished work of Jesus. This work, his death, burial and resurrection, is the sacrificial payment for our sin and a glorious victory for us. This change of mind is simply called ‘repentance’. We have not been thinking rightly about approaching God, so our minds have to be changed based upon what God says. Look back to the account of Cain and Able. Cain was confronted by God to do what was right and apparently he understood what was right to do, but he failed to repent or to change his mind and accept God’s way of approaching Him. Instead of killing a lamb to come near to God, in his religious pride he killed his brother and alienated himself from God.
“The wages of sin is death (separation)…” Romans 6:23a.
A truly repentant heart can see two things. One, the condemnation of our sin is just and we rightly deserve to be judged. Two, God in his great love for us has given provision for the forgiveness of our sin.
God’s provision for our sin is not found in our religion but in a person. Joseph was told by the angel of the Lord:
“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David,fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21.
John the Baptist saw his cousin, Jesus, coming to him at the river Jordan and said,
“…Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29.
And my personal favorite, because it was the verse I was reading when God turned the lights on for me, is John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Some believe going to church, being baptized, taking communion and other religious activity is what makes them be in a right relationship with God. While doing all these things is good and right and even commanded for the Christian, they have to come after a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We do not do these things to become holy. We do them because we have believed and have been made holy. We do not practice our faith in order to be saved. We are saved and then practice the faith once delivered to the saints. Faith cannot be in one’s practice but rather in the person of Christ.
Cain, Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus were all sincere in their religious practice. You may be very sincere as well, but, like them, not forgiven because you have not yet simply accepted Jesus as the only acceptable payment for your sin. Your church says this, religion may say another thing, but what does Jesus say? Or maybe this is the first time you have heard about Jesus and his love for you.
Either way, will you listen to what the Apostle Paul says and simply call out by faith to the one who can save your soul?
8 “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
If you have come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, we would love to hear about it and help you in any way we can. You can reach us at our contact information.