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God’s Salvation Is Past Our Knowledge

January 15th, 2020

But I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all the day,
for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. (Psalm 71:14-16 ESV)

David, the inspired psalmist, is caught between his enemies and his failures but he lifts up his eyes to his God, his Rock, “Be to me a Rock of refuge to which I may continually come” (Psa. 71:3). He leans heavily upon the salvation of God, realizing that it is greater than he could ever know.

Whatever is revealed to us of God’s salvation, whether it is biblical truth — what His word says — or personal experience — our sins that we know and deliverances from our personal circumstances — in all of this, God’s salvation is greater than we know. God’s graces to us are innumerable.

You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told. (Psalm 40:5)

As God’s graces to us have a past tense — in Christ Jesus, He has forgiven my sins of the past, a present tense — in Christ Jesus, God is protecting me today, and a future tense — in Christ Jesus, God will watch over me for all eternity, so our knowledge in each of these tenses is incomplete, both of our need and of His grace to us. We may simply rejoice and say, as Paul said, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

My confession of my sins has never been complete. It is a humbling thought to realize that I have never known my sin fully. I have only confessed my sin as the Spirit has convicted me (John 16:8-11 and 1 John 1:9-10). If my salvation depended on me bringing all my individual sins — unholy thoughts, careless words, undisciplined choices — I could never attain it. The same is true for you and as much as we may try to confess all our sins, we will fall short. 

However, less I be misunderstood here, we ought to try to confess them to God. As the Spirit convicts, we ought to confess individual sins to God – specific thoughts, words, acts, etc. The bland blanket confession, “forgive us our sins,” may be uttered merely out of habit or routine, and have no meaning behind it at all. Until the idea of sin is attached to something specific that you and I have thought or done or said, we have not even begun to understand that we are sinners in need of God’s grace.

But God’s grace has always been complete toward me. His grace always exceeds our sins, always goes beyond what we could think of, or remember. 

The Sacrifice of Two Goats: There is a very clear and picturesque description in Leviticus 16 of how God, through His grace, forgives us both of the sins we know and the sins we do not know in our lives. 

In Leviticus 16 is a description of the Day of Atonement. On that day the high priest was to sacrifice two goats for the sins of the people. The first goat, after it was killed, he was to take the blood into the Holy of Holies, “behind the curtain” (Lev. 16:15), and sprinkle it seven times over the “mercy seat” of the Ark of the Covenant. This was to forgive all sins, even those unknown of by Israel.

In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. (Lev. 16:16 NIV)  

The NIV uses the phrase “whatever their sins have been,” and several other translations use the phrase “all their sins,” but the meaning is the same. This was a sacrifice for all sins, known or unknown. 

And this sin offering prefigured Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary and the spiritual altar in heaven before which He presented Himself as the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12 NIV)

Again, we see the emphasis on a timeless and limitless redemption. Repenting of our sin and trusting in Christ brings His grace to us that completely covers our sins, known and unknown by us, and covers them forever. 

The second goat was the scapegoat, as both Tyndale (1530) and the King James Version (1611) interpreted it in Leviticus 16:26, thus coining the word in English of someone who bears the blame for another. The passage reads:

And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22 KJV)

The scapegoat carried away known sins, because the high priest confessed the sins of the people, the sins that he knew of. And the scapegoat was let go in the wilderness. 

There is meaningful imagery for us in this of forgiveness existing both on the spiritual or divine plane and on the physical or human plane. The first goat whose blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain, symbolizes forgiveness on the divine plane. The sin unknown by us is atoned for in the presence of Holy God, and it is entirely covered by the blood of Christ. That is forgiveness on the divine plane and it is mystical, complete, and goes beyond what we could ever envision. This is grace greater than our sins.

The forgiveness on the human plane, however, is symbolized by the scapegoat. And the goat was taken out into the wilderness but he was also known to wander back into the camp. The sins that we know do that in our lives. We confess it to God and feel the forgiveness, then after a while the goat wanders back into the camp, and we wonder if God ever truly forgave us. 

If we have full forgiveness in Christ over the sins that we do not know we committed then surely God is also able to forgive us of the sins that we know we have committed — and I suspect there are many, many more of the unknown sins in our lives than there are of the ones we do know we have committed.  When we are doubting that God has truly forgiven us for the sins we know about, be encouraged that God who knows infinitely more about both sin and our own lives, says to us:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18) 


Forgiveness, Psalms

The Supper of the Lord and Our Shame

April 13th, 2017

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28 NIV)

I mentioned in my sermon this past Sunday that the Lord has given us two rituals to observe in the church family. One ministers mainly to our guilt and the other mainly to our shame. The first is believer’s baptism and the second is the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism is a picture of our sins being washed away. It is brief and done only once – biblically, baptisms were always done, and only done, after someone believed in Christ, and they were done by immersion. Baptism is a picture of a new life beginning, the old life dying with Christ and a new life beginning in Christ.

In this sense baptism for the believer is a picture of our guilt being taken away. We are saved through faith and not through baptism, but as a picture to the believers and to the world, it reminds us that we are instantaneous forgiven for all our sin – past, present, and future – the moment we trust in Christ. Guilt produces fear of punishment, and in the gospel we learn that Christ took the punishment that was due us upon Himself, and paid for our redemption.

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 NIV)

For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Rom. 3:25 NLT)

This is saving faith – genuine repentant faith in Jesus Christ, believing that He died for our sins and rose from the grave. As such guilt can be resolved rather simply, through faith in Christ.

The Lord’s Supper, however, ministers to our shame and it is done repeatedly. Shame is more complicated and is an emotion that makes us feel excluded, embarrassed, inferior, dirty. The Lord’s Supper shows inclusion in the body of Christ, acceptance by God to sit at His table, and the church family.

The Lord’s Supper involves the biological mystery of the digestion of food, of turning grain and wine into body mass and strength. A bath can wash away dirt quickly, but it takes time to digest food. The Lord’s Supper enables us to sit and contemplate the grace of God, to confess our sins, to be assured of our forgiveness.

One of the most primal human fears is this fear of rejection. “If these people really knew who I was,” we reason in our insecurity, “they would not accept me.” We feel often as though we do not belong in some situations, and especially our sense of shame and spiritual weakness makes us wonder what we are doing at the table of God, eating the body and blood of His Son.

The Lord’s Supper tells us that we are accepted by grace, and grace means inclusion, not only forgiveness. So we come together to sit together, to eat and drink together, to acknowledge the inclusion, and the acceptance, of every believer in Christ. There is no seat at the Lord’s table that is elevated higher than the others. Each is there by grace, and none by works. Each considers not only himself but the entire family of faith as being invited by Christ.

It is one thing for God to forgive a guilty sinner. It is another thing for God to convince that sinner that he is forgiven, that his shame is removed. This is the work of the Spirit in our lives, and we as the body of Christ should seek to do that for each soul that confesses Christ as well.

Daily Devotions, Forgiveness , , ,