Many believe that God hands out forgiveness like blank checks.
I am sure you have met such people.
They don’t deny the existence of sin, nor do they believe they are free from sin, but they believe in the end, their sin and what they do after they sin does not matter because God always forgives, even if that sin is not repented of and even if that sin is not covered by the blood of Jesus.
Moreover, many believe Christians are obligated to forgive everyone, under all circumstances.
In other words, we must hand out forgiveness like a blank check.
This belief has caused a crisis in the life of many believers.
They know they are to love their enemies, but they have been told love means we forgive them even if they don’t repent, because according to pop-culture ethics, “Love means you never have to say your sorry.”
Such a belief is a terrible burden to carry, because it is in direct opposition to the sense of justice God has placed in every human soul.
I am here to tell you that God does not forgive that way, nor should we.
Our Scripture lessons is taken from three texts; the first is 1 John 2:1-2:
The second is Luke 17:3-4:
Finally, Ephesians 4:32:
From these three verses we learn that Forgiveness is Not a Blank Check:
It Must Have an Account to Draw From
It Must Be Co-signed
It Must be Accepted
A Check is no good unless it has an account to draw from:
It Must Have an Account to Draw Upon
The first text I read from, 1 John 2:1-2 makes it clear that God’s forgiveness of sin is not based on sentimentality, but cold-hard justice.
Sin demands a price—the price of death— “for the wages of sin is death.”
Those who think God can simply sweep sin under a rug do not take sin, nor God seriously.
We have been working our way through the Psalms as a congregation.
Most of the Psalms were written by David.
Although David lived an exemplary life for the most part, he was not without sin.
In fact, he committed two very serious sins: Murder and adultery!
Psalm 51 was a psalm David wrote after these two sins were exposed.
It is a Psalm of repentance and faith.
In the midst of this Psalm we find this very interesting confession by David.
Now think about it—this is not that confession we would expect from a man who had just had an adulterous affair with another man’s wife and to cover up his deed arranges her husband’s death!
These are two very serious sins, even by the standards of the most libertine among us, yet David sees his primary offense as against God!
We imagine ourselves as independent from God and “masters of our own ship,” but nothing could be farther from the truth.
We are created by God and for God.
Sin is first and foremost a rebellion against God.
Moreover, this God who we are rebelling against is perfectly righteous and just—the punishment He hands out always fits the crime.
Human judges tend to be lax in their judgement towards those who are their friends and harsh towards those who are their enemies.
Few American’s have any faith in our justice system, yet our system is one of the fairest in the world!
There is a Judge, who is always fair and His court is in heaven!
It is this Judge we are rebelling against every time we sin.
This is why even the smallest sin carries with it the penalty of death and this brings us to the “good news” of the gospel—Jesus by taking our sin upon Himself paid the penalty of sin.
A “propitiation” is a sacrifice that turns God’s wrath against sin away from us and onto the sacrifice.
Jesus Christ was that sacrifice.
“Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” because the check of forgiveness in backed up by the blood of Jesus.
However, if a person seeks forgiveness on any other bases, the check will bounce because there are insufficient funds to back it up.
This brings us to the second point:
It Must Be Co-signed
Many organizations to prevent fraud require two signatures on a check.
Our church, requires this and I am glad it does.
I have heard too many stories of someone who is a beloved and trusted member of a local congregation defrauding his or her church because the trust others had in him or her gave them the opportunity to steal.
Forgiveness is this way.
God requires two signatures: Repentance and faith.
The First Signature is Repentance
Repentance is not simply feeling sorry for our sin and wish we had not be caught, it is a turning away from sin unto God.
Sin is attractive to us because it offers us the promise of reward and happiness.
Repentance is turning away from the promises of sin to the greater promises of God.
Repentance is when we see God as the greatest reward.
If this sounds a lot like faith, it is!
Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin.
Repentance is the negative turning away from sin and faith is the positive turning towards God.
The Second Signature is Faith
Faith is believing God that He is everything He says He is.
Faith is also trusting that God will do everything He promises.
Getting back to 1 John 2:1-2, faith is believing that Jesus truly is our advocate before the Father and that His blood is the “propitiation for sins.”
God will not forgive anyone without repentance and faith.
Many say they believe that God will forgive them, but you can tell it is a fraudulent faith because it has not been co-signed by repentance.
Others deny themselves and turn away from sin, doing great acts of penitence, but you can always tell that their repentance is fraudulent because they are not turning towards God, rather they are turning towards their own good deeds.
Let me read from Luke 17:3-4 once again and this time look for faith and repentance.
Notice that the one who repents is called a “brother.”
In the context of Jesus’ world this means he or she was member of the community of faith.
This is a person who is a part of the community of faith and we can tell his faith is real because he repents when rebuked!
That is the first signature and the second of course is repentance itself.
This is why it is important that we don’t forgive anyone on a bases other than what God does, we are defrauding them by giving them the impression that their sin is forgiven when it is not.
If God doesn’t sweep justice under the rug, what gives us the right to do so?
Now don’t misunderstand me here; I am not saying we should be vengeful and unloving towards those who have sinned against us, in fact we must be the exact opposite!
Again hear the words of Luke 17:3-4:
Notice it says we rebuke him.
The only way to successfully rebuke someone is to do so in love.
We rebuke someone not because we are spiteful, but because we love that person and desire that they know God’s forgiveness.
This is way Paul says:
How do we know if our rebuke is motivated by love and not spite?
By what we will do when they do repent and seek Christ’s forgiveness.
Often times we hear a person say, “I can never forgive them!”
We must never say this.
We must always forgive when God forgives.
It Must be Accepted
Checks are not commonly used anymore, but when they were, it was not uncommon to see in a store a sign that read, “Checks unaccepted.”
When it comes to human transitions, it is often difficult to know whether or not they have the funds to back their checks up and whether or not they are forging someone’s signature.
When it comes to forgiving other people, we know without a doubt that Christ’s death is more than sufficient to cover any and all sins.
It is a very serious thing not to forgive one of our brothers and sisters in the faith in they come to us in repentance.
It is tantamount to saying, “Christ’s death on the cross is insufficient to meet the demands of justice.”
But if we say this about their sin, we are saying it about our sin!
This is why Jesus said if we don’t forgive others their sin when they come to us in faith and repentance we will not be forgiven.
Just as repentance reveals the true nature of our faith, so too does our forgiving others.
The bottom line is this: Forgiveness in not based on love, but upon justice.
When the demands of justice are met by repentance and faith in the blood of Jesus, we must forgive.
Realizing this frees us up to love our enemies and those who have sinned against us.
So many struggle with loving their enemies because this means they have to forgive them when the demands of justice have not yet been met.
God has placed within us all a sense of justice—it is called a conscience!
Forgiving someone before the demands of justice have been met feels wrong, because it is wrong!
John 3:16 does not say, “God so love the world that He forgave the world.”