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How You Can Experience God’s Love and Forgiveness - Part 1
The Forgiveness God Offers
Imagine yourself in the crowd as this story takes place as recorded in the Book of Luke:
What a marvelous illustration of God’s willingness to forgive.
God’s holy Word tells us that Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, has set us free - free from sin, free from the Law, free from the of guilt that sin and the Law bring.
Maybe you are finding it difficult to believe in your heart that your sin has been paid for. Perhaps you are thinking, “I have lustful thoughts toward another person.” Or, “I’ve been taking the Lord’s name in vain. God won’t forgive that, will He?”
The fact is, He has forgiven you if you have placed your trust in Christ. You simply need to claim His forgiveness and believe His promise. And what a promise it is:
That’s the forgiveness God offers. And think of it! It became yours the moment you believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior and as an act of your will received Him by faith into your life as your Lord and Master.
The Greatest Relationship You Will Ever Experience
Let me explain why.
Jesus Claimed to be God
Our Lord’s claim is reinforced by the fact that He fulfilled prophecy. Hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth, various prophets of Israel foretold His miraculous birth, the place of His birth, His divine character, the purpose of His ministry, how He would die and that He would be raised to life. These prophecies represent only a few of the many predictions made about Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. And He fulfilled every one down to the very last detail.
After His cruel crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated that He was God by rising from death and appearing over a period of forty days to hundreds of people, as many as five hundred in a single meeting. Then, as His followers watched in wonder, Jesus returned to heaven, having promised a continuing relationship with those who love Him.
God’s holy, inspired Word also affirms Jesus’ claim. The apostle Paul records,
Jesus Came to Provide the Life You Need
In a conversation with a religious leader of His day, Jesus said,
A rich and satisfying life is the heritage of every Christian. Jesus intended the Christian life to be an exciting, abundant adventure. He promised,
When you walk in a close relationship with our Lord, and in the control of God’s Holy Spirit, every day is filled with wonder, meaning, and purpose - your life overflows with desirable qualities:
But most Christians don’t experience the abundant life. The life of joy and victory modeled and promised by our Lord is strangely foreign to them. Instead, they consider the Christian life a burden, a chore, a terrible cross to bear. They endure their Christianity on earth, hoping at last for relief in heaven.
Jesus never intended for you to live a defeated, dreadful existence. He called you to a life of joy and victory. Whatever the circumstance you are in - comfort or conflict, abundance or need, health or sickness, freedom or persecution - our Lord promises peace (John 14:27; 16:33). He said He would never leave you, and that He will do anything you ask in His name (Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20; John 14:14).
God has promised you, as a Christian, a legacy of support, abundance and joy. Why, then, are so few Christians really enjoying their inheritance? Let me ask you: Are you living a joyous, fruitful life?
In his introduction to Letters to Young Churches, J. B. Phillips writes:
The first-century church rocked their world. Filled with the Spirit and compelled by the love of God, the early church took the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness to the entire known world. Never before had any small body of ordinary men and women made such an impact on the world.
Those Christians were a group of ordinary people, like you and me, who knew the love and forgiveness of God. Controlled and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, they reached out in love to people living under the tyranny of an evil empire.
If you have experienced God’s love and forgiveness in your life, you too can influence your world.
The world today is filled with anxiety, fear and crisis. So much of the world is in a state of chaos. Nothing characterizes the mood of our day more than the word “upheaval.” In every facet of society and in every country of the world, there is upheaval - politically, socially, economically, even religiously.
In America, for example, we are witnessing epidemics of crime, drug addiction and alcoholism, ography, AIDS and venereal disease, abortion, broken homes and divorce - just to mention a few of the serious problems facing our nation.
Countless human solutions have been proposed, and yet the crisis becomes increasingly worse. People are searching as never before for peace in their troubled relationships, for answers to the gnawing emptiness in their lives, for something more.
Through the process of elimination, many are now beginning to turn back to God. Never before has there been such an ideal climate for presenting the claims of Christ. The Spirit of God has created an unprecedented hunger in hearts. People are turning to Christ in increasing numbers and are experiencing God’s marvelous love and forgiveness.
Even so, a relatively small number of Christians are involved in this great harvest. In the midst of these tremendous opportunities, most Christians have not entered into the joy of reaping the harvest God has prepared. The vast majority of believers live in spiritual impotence, defeat and sterility. The average lay person and even many pastors seldom, if ever, introduce another person to Christ.
Unfortunately, many Christians do not display a quality of life that encourages others to desire a relationship with our Lord. Some believers do not even display a quality of life that encourages others to have a relationship with them.
You Can Change From Living a Fruitless Life
One day as I was driving in an unfamiliar city, I made a wrong turn and found myself driving against traffic on a one-way street. People on the sidewalk called to me that I was going the wrong direction. But I had already realized that in the split-second after I turned. My problem was not to decide whether I was going in the right direction - it was how to get turned around! Soon, through the help of a friendly policeman, I succeeded in changing my direction and went on my way relieved and happy, driving with the traffic. It is the same in the Christian life. If you make a wrong turn and find yourself defeated and frustrated, you do not just need to be told you are traveling in the wrong direction, you need someone to help you get turned around. In this article I want to show you how you can get turned around and follow God’s direction.
The Bible, God’s holy, inspired Word, provides this guidance. Paul wrote:
The Bible not only instructs you, but it can show where you have turned in the wrong direction, give you assistance in making your course correction, and then train you to continue in the right way.
To find the solution for misguided, unfruitful Christians, it is important to know what the Bible says about the source of the problem. It reveals that there are three kinds of people in the world:
Let me share briefly the characteristics of these three types of people:
1. The Natural Person
Before you became a Christian, you were what the Scripture calls a “natural” person:
The circle represents your life, and the throne represents your control center or will. You were living under Satan’s dominance, and your fleshly nature - directed by Satan - was “on the throne,” controlling your life. Christ was outside of your life, knocking at the door, wanting to liberate you from Satan’s dominance through His love and forgiveness.
The Bible describes the natural person this way:
The natural person considers the things of the Spirit of God as foolishness. Paul writes:
Relying entirely on your own resources, you were spiritually dead to God and separated from Him because of sin.
Then you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ.
2. The Spiritual Man
At your invitation, Christ entered your life and took the throne to guide you and strengthen you to live for Him. At that moment, His Holy Spirit came to live within you, gave you new birth, sealed you for heaven, and baptized you into the body of believers. With Christ (Spirit) on the throne, you are “filled” (directed and empowered) by the Holy Spirit.
The spiritual man understands the things of God. The apostle Paul records:
The act of staying “filled” with the Spirit is the act of deliberately keeping Christ on the throne of your life. He will not demand control against your will. If, despite His guidance and warning, you wish to yield to the influence of your flesh and wrest control away from Him for a period of overt or covert sin, He will sorrowfully step down. When you are in this state of unconfessed sin, God’s Word describes you as one who is “worldly” or “carnal.”5
3. The Worldly Believer
There is a vast difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. The Scripture clearly teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
But often, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3, the worldly Christian acts like the nonbeliever, and it is very difficult to tell the difference between them.
The worldly Christian is one who has received Christ but who also has allowed his sinful nature to reclaim the throne through sin. God still has possession of this person, and Christ is still in his life, but the individual has fallen into sin in one or more areas of his life. Not yielded to God, the worldly believer is in a period of stunted spiritual growth because he is not confessing and repenting of his sins, and Satan has succeeded in influencing and controlling him through the flesh.
Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth:
The worldly or carnal Christian certainly experiences the conviction of the Holy Spirit and will not continue in his sins indefinitely; otherwise, he is possibly not a Christian at all. But defeated and fruitless, he depends on self-effort and energy to live the Christian life instead of drawing on the supernatural, inexhaustible resources of the Holy Spirit. Grasping self-interest in one hand and groping for God’s blessing with the other, this person fails again and again to live the Christian life in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit.
The state of carnality, or unconfessed sin, is a miserable existence. Yet, sadly, this is where millions of Christians rest today—back on the throne of their lives—and they often don’t realize that they are in this fleshly category. One man told me he had heard his pastor talk about worldly Christians all of his life, but he always thought his pastor meant somebody else. It surprised and shocked him to discover that he was a worldly Christian.
Paul knew what it meant to be worldly. In Romans 7 he records:
Does this passage of Scripture describe your present relationship with God?
In Detroit, Michigan, an elderly couple was taken to the hospital, suffering from malnutrition and starvation. When police began to search through their rubbish-cluttered home, they discovered $40,000 in cash hidden away among their belongings. They had long since forgotten that they possessed such wealth.
In a similar manner, the worldly Christian lives in spiritual poverty, much like a practicing atheist: Professing to believe in God, he acts as though God doesn’t exist or is unwilling to help. He fails to understand the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Christ not only paid the price for his sins, but actually broke the power of sin in his life.
Paul understood the anguish and frustration of attempting to live the Christian life in the energy of self-effort. He records:
Have you ever asked, “Who will free me from my ugly self, my failures and defeats?” There is good news! Look at Paul’s answer:
A pastor of a large church came to talk to me after I had presented a message on how to experience God’s love and forgiveness. He was filled with hatred and resentment toward the lay leaders of his previous church because he felt they had done him great harm and had even tried to destroy his ministry.
The pastor had now realized that in his attempts to get even he had turned into a mean, critical, worldly Christian. He had come to the point of either getting right with God or getting out of the pastorate. As he put it, “This cancerous worldliness is destroying my life and ministry.”
As we knelt together to claim the love and forgiveness of God, his tears of repentance were followed by tears of joy. Several days later he went to visit the church leaders whom he had hated before, and when he told them that he loved them and asked them to forgive him, the leaders responded with joy and Christian love. This dear pastor returned to his second church with a heart burning with love and zeal for our Lord.
A businessman from another church came to see me one day, greatly distressed because his church was splitting.
“Half of our members are going to move out and start another church,” he said.
This distressed me, too, because I cannot think of anything more tragic than for a body of Christians to be divided.
As we talked, the man discovered and admitted that he was a worldly Christian. I explained to him how God had made provision for him to be a spiritual person. He did not need to continue to live as a worldly, carnal Christian. Finally, we knelt together and prayed. He asked forgiveness for his sins and invited God to fill and control his life by the Holy Spirit. As we rejoiced together over what God had done, he said, “You know, there won’t be any problems in my church now. You see, I’m the one who has been causing all the trouble.”
Unfortunately, the acid of worldliness doesn’t just burn into churches. It also dissolves marriages, homes, families and jobs. You may have felt its affect in your life as relationships with loved ones have deteriorated and friends have become mere acquaintances.
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