First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ June 21st, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
One great benefit of studying the Apostles’ Creed is connecting ourselves to what all Christians everywhere have always believed. In so doing, we remind ourselves that despite our ever-changing social circumstances, Christian faith is not ours to redefine. Being deeply rooted in “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3) is essential to the live and ministry of God’s people.
We’re almost finished with our journey through the Apostle’s Creed, only a couple short phrases left, and along the way we have encountered some of the most profound, uplifting, and life-changing truth.
Today, we get to affirm our belief in the forgiveness of sins. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” the Apostles’ Creed affirms. It seems to me at first glance that “the forgiveness of sins” seems to be in the wrong place. Shouldn’t it be in one of the first two sections? Doesn't it better describe the world of the Father Almighty or Jesus Christ? Aren’t they the one who handle forgiveness?
Instead the affirmation of the forgiveness of sins comes near the end in the section about the Holy Spirit’s work in the context of the Christian community. And its placement here means two things. First, it means that those of us who recite these words are part of the church because we are forgiven. We are a forgiven community. We are sinners saved by God’s grace. We declare the forgiveness of sins because without such forgiveness, we would not be here, we would not be confessing this faith, we would not be part of this company.
Second, it’s a reminder of the ongoing work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. John 16:8 says, “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the church is the community of those who have experienced – and continue experiencing – the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness seems to be a trademark of the church.
Whenever Christians declare, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” we testify – to ourselves and to the world – that our faith is in a God who is both willing and able to forgive us when we mess up. We basically declare that our God is a God will never give up on His elect. We testify that our God is the God of new beginnings. The Prophet Isaiah says these great things in Isaiah 43:18-19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
In order to understand the richness of this statement, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” we need to underscore two important concepts here; the concept of sin and the concept of forgiveness. So, real quick, what is sin? What is forgiveness?
First: What is Sin?
The word “sin” in the New Testament Greek is “ἁμάρτημα” “hamartia.” The Greek word hamartia literally means “to miss the mark.” In other words, sin is not doing things the way they ought to be done. In His infallible Word, God tells us how things ought to be done. And sin is when we decide, “I’ve got a better idea–my way.” That’s the essence of sin; deciding that though God has said to do it this way, I’m going to do it my way which is better. Sin is rejecting God’s way for our own way.
Sin is missing the mark. It is missing the whole purpose of life, the whole reason for being here on earth. In Romans 3:23, the Apostle Paul reminds us that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No one is exempt. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” says 1 John 1:8.
Theologians often speak of two different kinds of sins: sins of commission and sins of omission. Both kinds of sin are equally wicked in God’s eyes. Sins of commission are sins that we commit by doing something we shouldn’t do. This kind of sin is easily recognizable. It is something like worshiping other God’s, cheating, killing, lying, manipulating, etc. It’s something someone did that they shouldn’t have done.
As you might have guessed, sins of omission are sins we commit by not doing something we should do. James 4:17 says, “Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” These are the opportunities God gives us to grow up in our faith, to be more like Christ, to take our discipleship seriously, and to impact the lives of those around us. When we waste these opportunities, we commit the sin of omission.
Second: What is Forgiveness?
“I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” The word translated “forgiveness” in the New Testament writings means, “to let go, to release.” Originally, it was a legal term used to describe the release of debtors from the debts.
God’s forgiveness is a gift. You don’t deserve it, you don’t earn it, you just receive it as a gift. God in His mercy forgives our sins because of Jesus. We are forgiven because Jesus took our sin upon Himself, bore our punishment, and paid the full price. All of God’s wrath against our sin was poured out on Jesus, who absorbed it on our behalf. He died to pay our moral debt and forgive us. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace,” says Paul in Ephesians 1:8.
A sinner in God’s eyes is bankrupt. When we come to Christ, accept what he has done on our behalf, the righteousness of Christ, the victory of Christ over sin, is accredited to us. Christ’s death “canceled out the certificate of debt.”
Friends, this is exciting news. It’s glorious news. In 1776, the British Anglican hymn writer Augustus Toplady wrote the great hymn, Rock of Ages Cleft for Me, and he captured the essence of our affirmation today. In this third stanza he said:
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
“I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Amen!
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