Core Idea and purpose
Idea: God offers His forgiveness and we simply receive it through faith in Jesus
Purpose: To encourage people to accept God's forgiveness and know that they are saved.
The Sermon Summary
As a pastor, you will never hear me say, "If you ask for forgiveness, God will forgive you." This probably sounds very strange to you. Many Christians make this claim. So, why would I not say it? I choose not to say it because this sentence is not the most accurate way to describe God's forgiveness.
When you say, "If you ask for forgiveness..." you're implying that God is not already offering forgiveness for our sins. This is not true. God offers forgiveness for our sins before we know we need it. Once we realize our need for God's forgiveness, we don't need to ask for it. We simply receive it through faith in Jesus because God is already offering it to us. It is, therefore, much more accurate to say, "God offers His forgiveness and we simply receive it through faith in Jesus". I will repeat this sentence again and again.
Do you see the depth of God's love here? God has decided to offer us forgiveness before we ever repent. When we do repent, we simply receive God's forgiveness and enjoy a re-established loving relationship with God. We don't have to do anything but receive what is already being offered to us.
Jesus demonstrated this on the cross. It started when the High Priest, Caiaphas, ordered the temple guards to arrest Jesus. When they arrested Him, the guards mocked & beat Jesus and then brought Him before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling council). There Jesus endured the mockery of a trial and was thrown into a dark pit. He probably spent the night with little if any food or water. In the morning they brought Jesus in front of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, who placated the Jewish leadership by ordering the whipping and crucifixion of Jesus. The Roman Soldiers gave Jesus 40 lashes with a whip that had stone or metal shards embedded in the leather designed to tear the flesh off his back. Then Jesus stumbled through the city streets until he reached the place of the skull, right outside the city gates. There they nailed Him to a cross. As He hung on the cross, dehydrated, emaciated and weak from loss of blood, Jesus talked with His Father and said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."
The people crucifying Jesus had not yet repented. They did not even know how evil they were being. Yet, God decided to forgive them. This is probably the most obvious example of grace in Scripture. God says, yep, they are forgiven. All they have to do is receive it.
How many of us are like the High Priest, Sanhedrin, Roman Governor and Roman Soldiers? How many of us commit sin without even realizing it? How many of us understand that once we realize our sins, all we have to do is receive God's forgiveness.
We all, however, must be aware that receiving God's forgiveness is the beginning of change. Once we receive God's forgiveness through faith in Christ, we begin a restored loving relationship with God. As we walk in a relationship with the Father through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit works to change our hearts to make us more holy & loving like Christ. This is what it means to be 'born again' or a 'new creation'.
Receiving God's forgiveness and desiring to change are intimately linked. This desire to change is called repentance. Receiving God's forgiveness and repentance must go together. If you receive God's forgiveness without desiring to change, you remain in your sin and your relationship with God remains broken. If you desire to change but don't receive God's forgiveness, then you will attempt to change yourself without God's power. You will fail and your relationship with God will remain broken.
As previously stated, God has been offering us forgiveness before we even knew we needed it. The ball is in your hands. What will you do with it? Will you demonstrate your desire to change by receiving God's forgiveness or will you stubbornly cling to some sinful attitude or habit?
John Newton, the author of "Amazing Grace", knew what it was like to receive a forgiveness that was offered to him before he even knew he needed it. He first professed his faith in Jesus in 1748. This occurred right after experiencing a severe storm while aboard a ship. He cried out to God and God saved him and the ship from the storm.
John avoided profanity, drinking and gambling but soon became a Captain of a slave ship. He was actively involved in the slave trade until 1754. During this time he did not realize he needed God's forgiveness for participating in such an evil enterprise.
In 1788, Newton went public with his anti-slavery views and published "Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade". Sometime between 1754 and 1788 John Newton realized his sinfulness for participating in the slave trade and received God's forgiveness. This changed Newton and that's when he became an abolitionist. Perhaps this happened in 1779, when he wrote "Amazing Grace". Notice the words of the first verse of that hymn, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see..." While working as a slave ship captain, John Newton was blind but God's grace opened his eyes so that he could receive God's forgiveness and become an abolitionist.
We all may have a sinful attitude, desire or belief that we are too blind to see. If that is the case, know that God has already decided to forgive you. Ask God to open your eyes so you can see the sin that has captured you. Then receive the forgiveness that God has already offered you.