I Believe | In Forgiveness
A golden crown sat on his table, less than an arm's length away. Most of us would've behaved like a child in a hat store, giving in to the temptation to try on the crown and pretend we were the king or queen. Or, at the very least, we wouldn't be able to resist the urge to pick up the crown and try to guess what it was worth. But not Archimedes. All he could do was sit and stare.
He rested the points of his fingers on the bridge of his nose, wrestling with a problem that was literally a life or death issue. Was this crown pure gold or not? That was what the king had ordered. That is what the jeweler claimed it was made from. But the rumors still persisted. Hushed whispers throughout the kingdom claimed that the jeweler had stolen some of the gold the king had given him, and mixed cheaper silver into the crown to make up the difference. But there was no easy way to tell. So the king commissioned the brightest mind in the kingdom to find out if he had been tricked, and if the king had been conned by the jeweler...well, let's just say that jeweler would have lost his crown.
So there Archimedes sat. Compelled to do right by his king, but determined to do justice for the jeweler. He sat for days on end, simply staring at the crown while his mind worked and re-worked the problem. He didn't eat, he didn't sleep, he didn't even bathe which finally forced his servants to drag Archimedes away from the table so they could make him take a bath.
But Archimedes didn't simply head up to his master bathroom for a shower, this story actually takes place more than 2,200 years ago – long before homes had running water – so Archimedes went to a community bath blocks away from his home. As he slowly lowered himself into the steaming water below, Archimedes noticed that the further he sank into the water the more the water rose.
And at that moment, Archimedes solved his problem. He realized that by placing the crown in the tub he could measure how much water was displaced, and then he could place the exact amount of gold the king had given the jeweler into the same tub and see if it displaced the same amount of water. If it did the crown was pure gold, if it didn't then the king had been duped. Realizing that he found the solution, Archimedes jumped from the bath shouting, “Eureka! Eureka!” He was so excited that he ran all the way to the king's castle naked to share the solution.
But what does this story about an ancient mathematician and a golden crown have to do with anything? Well, long before Archimedes ever solved his problem, he was already considered one of the most brilliant scholars of his time. Yes, Archimedes was a mathematician, but he was also a physicist, an engineer, an astronomer, and an inventor. So, to put it as plainly as I can, Archimedes knew a lot of stuff.
So long before his king ever gave that jeweler any gold, Archimedes already knew something about gold. And long before Archimedes ever slipped into that bathtub, he already knew something about water. But on that night more than 2,200 years ago, Archimedes took what he knew in his head about gold and water and he found a connection that changed the field of mathematics forever.
And right now, a lot of us are just like Archimedes before his servants made him take a bath...and, no, I’m not telling you that you stink. Instead, what I’m telling you is that over the last few weeks, I have filled your heads with a whole lot of knowledge about what we, as Christians - as followers of Jesus, believe.
So just like Archimedes knew a lot about gold and water, over the last few weeks, we have learned a lot about God the Father, Jesus Christ - his Son, the Holy Spirit, and even the holy church. But today, I want you to have your own Eureka moment. I want you to go from just having head knowledge about what Christians believe to having heart knowledge that will change your life.
And to do that I want to talk about one last thing that all Christians believe. And, once again, we’ll find this belief expressed in a confession of faith that has been around for more than 1600 years. So let’s listen one more time to the words of the Apostles’ Creed. It says:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
And the part I want to focus on today is almost at the end of this creed. The part I want to focus on is the part about “the forgiveness of sins.” And that’s because our understanding of the forgiveness of sins can help us take everything else that we believe about God and make it something that changes our lives.
And I know that it might be a little surprising to hear that something like our belief in the forgiveness of sins could make that big of an impact on our lives...but that’s really just because the church doesn’t have a great history when it comes to talking about sin. I mean, let’s just be honest here and admit that it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about an old school preacher pounding the pulpit while ranting and raving about a particular wrongdoing on public access television, or a certain small church in Kansas that has a habit of picketing and protesting at funerals while professing who God hates; the church has a history of using our conversations about sin to bully other people instead of reflecting on our own shortcomings.
But, whether we want to admit it or not, we all have plenty of our own shortcomings. We all have plenty of flaws and failures. We all have plenty of sin in our own life.
The apostle Paul - who was the foremost missionary and theologian of the first century - made this explicitly clear in a letter that he wrote to the churches in Rome. Paul told them:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
All of us have sinned. You've sinned. I've sinned. We've all sinned.
But what exactly does that mean? What does it mean to sin? Because the word “sin” is one of those words we use a lot in church, and since we all kinda sorta know what it means we never really define it. So some people will say that you sin is when you do something wrong. Or other people will tell you that you sin when you break one of the Ten Commandments, and other people will say that you sin when you disobey God.
And all of these answers are on the right track, but they're only partial definitions of what sin is. Each of these definitions tells you that you’ve done something that you shouldn’t have…but they don’t tell you why you shouldn’t have done them. And I think you need to know why.
So my definition of sin is that sin is anything that separates us from God and God's purpose for our lives.
Sin is anything that separates us from God and God's purpose for our lives.
But why don’t we want to be separated from God?
Because God is the one who created you. God made you with his own hands and breathed life into you. And God didn't just make you...God created you on purpose and for a purpose. Or as the apostle Paul puts it in a letter he wrote to the churches in the city of Ephesus:
[You] are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [you] to do.
God knows why you were created and what you were created to do. So if you are separated from God and God's purpose for your life you cannot live the life God wants you to live. And God wants your life to be abundant. Jesus - who is God made human - tells us so much when he says:
“I have come that [you] may have life, and that [you] may have it more abundantly.”
God wants your life to be full of life. God wants your life to be full of things that give life - like hope, peace joy, and love - instead of things that take life. But when you sin, you are separated from God's plan for your life. You miss out on having the abundant life God wants you to have. When you’re separated from God, you miss out on making the difference that you can make.
So let’s recap what we’ve covered so far. We are all sinners and that means that we have all been separated from God. And because we have all been separated from God, we’re missing out on the abundant life that God wants us to have.
So what can we do about it? If you want to be who God created you to be, if you want to do what God created you to do, if you want to have the abundant life God wants you to have; your sin must be repaired.
But how do you do that? How do you repair the sin in your life?
Well, it just so happens that this is the same question that the apostle Paul is dealing with when he writes his letter to the church in the ancient city of Ephesus - this church has been trying to figure out how to repair the sin in their lives. Now, the book of Ephesians is in the New Testament, and every book in the New Testament essentially covers one of two topics. New Testament books either tell us about Jesus, or they tell us about how our faith in Jesus grew in spread throughout the first century. Well, Ephesians is the second kind of book.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s a history book written to tell us about important people and dates. The book of Ephesians is actually a letter written by the apostle Paul to a group of churches in the first century. And when Paul wrote letters to churches in the first century, he wasn’t just writing to be a nice guy and checkup on them. When Paul wrote letters, he was almost always addressing some type of problem in the church.
The problem that Paul is addressing in his letter to the Ephesians revolves around how you repair the sin in your life. There were people in that church who believed you had to do certain things in order to repair your sin - or, to put it another way, you had to work your way back into God’s good graces.
So this is the debate that Paul steps into when he writes his letter. So let’s see what Paul had to say to the Ephesians. We’ll start reading in Ephesians 2:1. It says:
1 At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. 2 You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. 3 At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.
Now Paul isn’t really telling us anything in these three verses of scripture that we haven’t already talked about today. Essentially what Paul is saying is that we are all sinners - that we are like dead people because of the things we do that separate us from God.
But in these three verses, Paul is alluding to something that we haven’t talked about yet. Paul is alluding to the fact that something has happened to us, as people of faith, that fixed our sin and our broken relationship with God.
Paul says you were dead…that you used to live like people of the world…that you used to do whatever felt good…that you were headed to destruction. So we know that something has happened that has righted our wrongs. Something has happened that has fixed our sins. Something has happened that has ended our separation from God. Something has happened that has put us back on the path that God has for our lives.
But what is it?
Well, I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not something that we did because there is nothing that you can do, on your own, to fix the brokenness of sin.
There is nothing that you can do, on your own, to fix the brokenness of sin.
So if you ever find yourself starting to sound a little judgmental when you talk about the way someone else lives their lives…remember that you have no room to judge. You didn’t do anything to fix your own sin. Someone else had to do it for you. So we are all in the same boat.
And if someone else hadn’t come to fix our sin problem, well, once again Paul it explains it to us when he says:
For the wages of sin is death…
The wages of a single sin - just one sin - is death. So when it comes to sin we have all already lost. But fortunately, it’s not up to us to defeat sin. It’s not up to us to repair our sin. It’s not up to us to fix what’s broken.
Instead, it’s up to God. And as Paul continues writing to the Ephesians, he explains what God did for you and for me. Paul says:
4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!
Ephesians 2:1-5 (Common English Bible)
God beat sin. God repaired our sin. God fixed what is broken in all of us.
And there was nothing that we did to earn it. There was nothing that we could do to deserve. There was no good that was good enough for us to fix our own brokenness. The only thing that could fix it was the grace of God.
And what is grace? Well, I personally like the definition that I once heard a three-year-old little boy, named Jack, give for grace. He said, “Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.”
Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.
And when it comes to repairing our sin, when it comes to fixing what is broken in us, we get what we don’t deserve. God fixes our sin, God forgives us of everything that we have done to separate ourselves from God through his grace. And God does it because God loves us that much. God loves us so much that he can’t stand for us to be separated from him. God loves us so much that he can’t stand for anything to come between us and him. God loves us so much that he wants us to have an abundant life…even when we don’t deserve it.
So God forgives our sin to give us the chance to follow him and fulfill his purpose for our lives.
God forgives our sin to give us the chance to follow him and fulfill his purpose for our lives.
And when you understand that, when you understand that you have been separated from God the Father, the creator of heaven and earth; when you understand that God sent his son, Jesus, into this world to forgive your sins and end that separation; when you understand that God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us live the abundant lives he wants us to have, and when you understand that the church exists to help us grow closer to this God who loves us this much; then what we believe as Christians is so much more than head knowledge.
What we believe is truly good news. What we believe is something worth sharing. What we believe in is a God that God has a purpose for our lives…and that God loves us so much that he won’t let anything come between us and him. And that’s something worth believing in.