The Meaning of Forgiveness

By John Thiel, mp3

Micah 7:18 Who [is] a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth [in] mercy.

To gain the understanding of the meaning of forgiveness this there needs to be a correct understanding of the revelation of God’s word. God’s word provides for us doctrine and teaching. There is a doctrine that our Lord Jesus hates.  Jesus our Lord hates a particular doctrine and he expresses this.

Revelation 2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.

We would better understand what that doctrine is so we would understand the danger we may fall into if this doctrine has taken root upon believers today. The Spirit of Prophecy identifies to us what this doctrine of the Nicolaitans is.

The doctrine is now largely taught that the gospel of Christ has made the law of God of no effect; that by “believing” we are released from the necessity of being doers of the Word. But this is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Christ so unsparingly condemned (ST Jan. 2, 1912).  {7BC 957.6}

What is the doctrine?  That the upholding of the gospel of Jesus Christ belittles the law of God, it makes the law of God of no effect. This subtle doctrine has created distaste in the heart of Jesus.  Why?  Because Jesus wants to save us from our sins and this doctrine does not bring a soul to a deep sense of their sinfulness so it might lead them to repentance.  Our greatest danger is that we may be affected by the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes where we have this wonderful picture of the cross of Jesus touching the emotions of our life that he has died there on the cross. We see him with nailed pierced hands and on the cross like in the films they portray, what a heart wrenching picture this is.

People think that is the most important thing and they become emotionally wrapped with the gospel and the Ten Commandments are sidelined of irrelevant importance. This is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.  What is in the very heart throb of Christ that makes him hate this doctrine? What is the sort of true repentance that he wants us to come to so he can forgive us?

Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? [is] the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin [was] dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which [was ordained] to life, I found [to be] unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew [me]. 12 Wherefore the law [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. 13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

What have we just reiterated in our knowledge of the Ten Commandments? Are they are necessary to make me feel my sin?  It says by the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.  Why is it so important to have sin become so exceeding sinful to you and me not to be blasé about my sin that it doesn’t matter so much? Why do people lay aside the commandments today?  Those commandments stick like a problem in their heart. They don’t like to read them as it shows they are not keeping those Ten Commandments but that is the very reason why God has put the Ten Commandments there, to help people see their true condition.

The source of true repentance can only take root if the commandments are vividly portrayed that condemn us.  What is sin?  It is the transgression of the law.  I am thinking I am fine and the law comes along and says look at how you failed.  The law thou shalt not covet shows whether I have lust or not.  The commandment shows me look at how wretched you are. That is one aspect but is all that is needed to come to repentance?  There is another element that it leads us to also.

Galatians 3:22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 

The apostle is bringing out the law the Ten Commandments as the discovery of my sinful condition but that wasn’t all. The law is our school master that brings us to Christ so that we might be justified.  If someone forgives you, are you justified?  You are free from condemnation.  Without the law we cannot come to forgiveness because the law is our school master that brings us to Christ through whom we can be forgiven.  As we see the detail and seriousness of my sinful condition, I then discover the goodness of God.

Romans 2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

You and I cannot appreciate the goodness of God and his longsuffering and forbearance without knowing the extreme case of my sinfulness and the condition I find myself in when the law shows me what a dreadful sinner I am. I can’t alter the consequences of my sinfulness, it drags upon my experience and as I go through this dreadful experience of my condition I see what a God, his mercy, longsuffering and goodness. I see the contrast of my wickedness and Gods amazing goodness that leads me to repentance. I cannot repent correctly if I am under the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.  The only thing we concentre on is only Jesus in terms of his sacrifice.  If I do look upon Jesus correctly, what is it written?

Psalm 40 thy law is within my heart.

If we meet the real Jesus we will meet the Ten Commandments as it can’t be separated. As we meet the Ten Commandments in Jesus we will see the combination that leads me to repentance.

The Moral Law

The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” In this scripture, the Holy Spirit through the apostle is speaking especially of the moral law. The law reveals sin to us, and causes us to feel our need of Christ, and to flee unto Him for pardon and peace by exercising repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. . . .  {6BC 1110.3}

The moral law reveals our sins to us and causes us to flee to our saviour.

When the mind is drawn to the cross of Calvary, Christ by imperfect sight is discerned on the shameful cross. Why did He die? In consequence of sin. What is sin? The transgression of the law. Then the eyes are open to see the character of sin. The law is broken but cannot pardon the transgressor. It is our schoolmaster, condemning to punishment. Where is the remedy? The law drives us to Christ, who was hanged upon the cross that He might be able to impart His righteousness to fallen, sinful man and thus present men to His Father in His righteous character (MS 50, 1900).  {6BC 1110.8}

Here is an imperative understanding that has been laid out before us. If I look at the cross of Jesus, I look with imperfect sight. I see him hanging on that shameful cross but that on its own is an imperfect sight. I must ask the question, why did Jesus die?  Now my eyes are open.  The transgression of the law that condemns me and draws out my emotional life in consternation of hopelessness and the inability to change myself is brazen in front of my eyes and there I see Jesus suffering under that revelation.  Now I see him totally differently as someone as the God of the universe that was prepared to suffer my condemnation as I see the law and its impact upon my life. In seeing this I am led to the true repentance and to a true understanding of what forgiveness is.

Can we receive the forgiveness of sins before we feel that we are sinners? and before we realize the sinfulness of sin? I think not. When we repent before God of our sins sincerely, we shall feel that without the pardoning blood of Christ we must perish. If we cast ourselves in our wretchedness wholly upon the mercy of Christ, and feel that unless he saves us we perish; when we yield our own will, our own way, and plead for Jesus to control our will and actions, then we come into a position where we can receive and appreciate pardon and the forgiveness of sin.  {AY 67.1}

You cannot appreciate the forgiveness of sin unless first you realise your sinfulness and the sinfulness of sin. We can’t appreciate the meaning of forgiveness unless we have that experience.  The doctrine of the Nicolaitans bypasses that important connection.  That is why Jesus hates it as it blocks the real channel by which the forgiveness of God can be appreciated and the preciousness of Christ could be seen and understood.

Only he who sees his own sinfulness can discern the preciousness of the Saviour.  {DA 494.4}

This doctrine of the Nicolaitanes has produced the modern revivals of today but it bypasses the importance of the Ten Commandments.

But many of the revivals of modern times have presented a marked contrast to those manifestations of divine grace which in earlier days followed the labors of God’s servants. It is true that a widespread interest is kindled, many profess conversion, and there are large accessions to the churches; nevertheless the results are not such as to warrant the belief that there has been a corresponding increase of real spiritual life. The light which flames up for a time soon dies out, leaving the darkness more dense than before.  {GC 463.1}

I don’t know if this has happened to you where you’ve listened to a powerful emotional message and it churns your heart to follow it and Jesus and after you left you plummeted down worse than before.  That is because the true story of Jesus has not been comprehended.

Popular revivals are too often carried by appeals to the imagination, by exciting the emotions, by gratifying the love for what is new and startling. {GC 463.2}

This is what we have been conditioned to. If it’s the old story heard before and people want something fresh and new.

Converts thus gained have little desire to listen to Bible truth, little interest in the testimony of prophets and apostles. {GC 463.2}

If I handle the God’s word solely on the presentations of the apostles and prophets people yawn.  That is what happens but if I start to inject the enthusiasm of my own in it all of a sudden now they are listening. To sit down and go through hard study of God’s word is not favorable because of the injection of the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes which Jesus hates.  Let us behold the forgiveness of God found in Jesus.

Matthew 5:3 Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Do you want assurance the kingdom of heaven is yours?  What does Jesus mean?

All who have a sense of their deep soul poverty, who feel that they have nothing good in themselves, may find righteousness and strength by looking unto Jesus. He says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden.” Matthew 11:28. He bids you exchange your poverty for the riches of His grace. We are not worthy of God’s love, but Christ, our surety, is worthy, and is abundantly able to save all who shall come unto Him. Whatever may have been your past experience, however discouraging your present circumstances, if you will come to Jesus just as you are, weak, helpless, and despairing, our compassionate Saviour will meet you a great way off, and will throw about you His arms of love and His robe of righteousness. He presents us to the Father clothed in the white raiment of His own character. He pleads before God in our behalf, saying: I have taken the sinner’s place. Look not upon this wayward child, but look on Me. Does Satan plead loudly against our souls, accusing of sin, and claiming us as his prey, the blood of Christ pleads with greater power.  {MB 8.2}

Blessed are the poor in spirit.  If you are poor in spirit it means that you are very much affected by your past life of sin and you know within yourself that your present circumstances are as a consequence of your sins and you can’t even pull yourself out of those consequences and you have very discouraging circumstances.  As you look and appreciate those things you are overwhelmed by a sense of your unworthiness.  You are poor in spirit.  If you are like that the kingdom of heaven is yours.  It doesn’t make sense to the natural mind but that is what Jesus said.  When you cease trying to boost your ego to make yourself feel good and cease trying to argue the point that you are right trying to make yourself feel better, when you have a contrite spirit, you have the kingdom of heaven for your taking.  A person who is a true Christian, who is like the Apostles Peter, Paul and all the great men of the Bible then you will be of a broken spirit. You will be poor in spirit.  The true Christians were of this spirit.

The nearer we come to Jesus and the more clearly we discern the purity of His character, the more clearly we shall discern the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the less we shall feel like exalting ourselves.  {COL 160.1}

Is that a nice experience?  You won’t even fell like exalting yourself.  You are going down under the terrible sense of your sinfulness that is what the Christian world doesn’t like and they walk away from the pure doctrine as it makes them feel bad.

Those whom heaven recognizes as holy ones are the last to parade their own goodness. The apostle Peter became a faithful minister of Christ, and he was greatly honored with divine light and power; he had an active part in the upbuilding of Christ’s church; but Peter never forgot the fearful experience of his humiliation; his sin was forgiven; yet well he knew that for the weakness of character which had caused his fall only the grace of Christ could avail. He found in himself nothing in which to glory.  {COL 160.1}

None of the apostles or prophets ever claimed to be without sin. Men who have lived nearest to God, men who would sacrifice life itself rather than knowingly commit a wrong act, men whom God had honored with divine light and power, have confessed the sinfulness of their own nature. They have put no confidence in the flesh, have claimed no righteousness of their own, but have trusted wholly in the righteousness of Christ. So will it be with all who behold Christ.  {COL 160.2}

At every advance step in Christian experience our repentance will deepen. {COL 160.3}

When you first appreciated your sinfulness, wasn’t that a deep repentance?  It meant death to my shameful life. That experience will not depart from you, it will deepen and become more intense as you walk along the Christian path.

It is to those whom the Lord has forgiven, to those whom He acknowledges as His people, that He says, “Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight.” Ezekiel 36:31. Again He says, “I will establish My covenant with thee, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; that thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God.” Ezekiel 16:62, 63. Then our lips will not be opened in self-glorification. {COL 160.3}

When we open our lips to say I’ve got this now, I’ve got something now, we are saying it to make our inward self feel a bit better.  I’m not so bad after all. No, God’s people will not do that.

We shall know that our sufficiency is in Christ alone. We shall make the apostle’s confession our own. “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.” Romans 7:18. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14.  {COL 160.3}

At no time in our Christian experience while we are still here on this earth will I be of a better spirit than of what Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit. If I get to heaven I have to have a poor spirit.  We are in the period of Laodicea and what is said? I’m rich and increased with goods and have am need of nothing. I know all the truth and all God has done for me and I’m fine.  Sorry, thou knowest not thou art wretched, miserable, poor blind and naked. It’s hard to get our head around as surely the Lord doesn’t want us to be under a crushing spirit continually?  Surely he wants us to be happy?  He does. To be of a poor spirit and a true Christian does not make you walk around with a discouraged face. If I am a poor spirit and I haven’t got Jesus, it is an anomaly as you can’t be of a poor spirit without Jesus.  If you have Jesus you will be of a poor spirit.

While the Christian’s life will be characterized by humility, it should not be marked with sadness and self-depreciation. {GC 477.2}

Can you see an anomaly here?  I’m to be of a poor spirit and I shouldn’t be under the spirit of self-depreciation? There are some things not easily picked up.

It is the privilege of everyone so to live that God will approve and bless him. It is not the will of our heavenly Father that we should be ever under condemnation and darkness. There is no evidence of true humility in going with the head bowed down and the heart filled with thoughts of self. {GC 477.2}

Self says I have to be under oppression and condemnation so self says I’m terrible and horrible and I’m walking around with a depressed spirit and I think that is right.  That is self. Self can be proud or full of self.

We may go to Jesus and be cleansed, and stand before the law without shame and remorse. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:1.  {GC 477.2}

As you hear these words don’t let self get into the equation.  Self must be crucified and it can’t be crucified if self is trying to make itself feel good and admits to its terrible state of condemnation, self cannot get there.  It is the revelation of Gods amazing forgiveness that can be appreciated when the law shows me my true condition when God’s word shows me what I’m like.  Why is that a true Christian like the apostles and prophets were always of a poor spirit but never walked with a hanging face but walking cheerfully? Why?  With the ever increasing awareness of another defect of my life, the deeper discovery of the areas of my sinfulness that I am continually confessing to God, I’m appreciating continually his forgiveness. It thrills me with joy and thrills my soul. Can you be joyful if you don’t see yourself as you really are so you can be truly forgiven?  Unless I see my condition as Apostle Peter and the others saw it, the sense of my unworthiness and the sense of God’s forgiveness thrills and then I discover another detail that I wasn’t conscious of and I feel bad about it. I come to the Lord as I feel bad and he fills me with his forgiving Jesus found in the gift of Jesus. As I continue to progress in my living experience repentance deepens and joy increases.  This is contrary to all human appreciation.  I am constantly of a poor spirit as the law creates that in me and shows me what a wretch I am. But the more wretched I feel, the more I come and confess my wretchedness, the more I appeal to Gods mercy and the more Gods mercy shines upon me.  This is what I see and this is what makes me happy.

Christ declared that the gospel is to be preached to the poor. {HP 234.5}

What happens as the gospel is being preached to the poor?

Angels of God are there, and their presence makes the crust of bread and the cup of water a banquet. Those who have been neglected and abandoned by the world are raised to be sons and daughters of the Most High. Lifted above any position that earth can give, they sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. They may have no earthly treasure, but they have found the pearl of great price.  {HP 234.5}

In the midst of poverty of the poverty of my own spirit Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall have the kingdom of God.  They are lifted into heavenly places and there is their joy and happiness.  They are not looking to anybody in the church to make them feel good. If they look at each other in the church it only makes them feel bad because people are constantly at each other. I  know this to be true.  There is much sadness but when we accept that I am an undone ungodly person and I come to the Lord in my true contrition that comes alone from the overpowering sense of the condemnation of the law of God and I take this great pearl of price and I receive it, look how it continues to unfold to our understanding.

God’s forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10.  {FLB 129.2}

If you take even one step toward Him in repentance, He will hasten to enfold you in His arms of infinite love. His ear is open to the cry of the contrite soul. The very first reaching out of the heart after God is known to Him. {FLB 129.3}

He is looking and watching for it. He is looking to your heart for true repentance and the moment there is the slightest response he is there and says I’m here.  God is intensely interested in my response of the condemnation that the law places upon me and of his mercy extended through Jesus Christ.

Never a prayer is offered, however faltering, never a tear is shed, however secret, never a sincere desire after God is cherished, however feeble, but the Spirit of God goes forth to meet it. Even before the prayer is uttered or the yearning of the heart made known, grace from Christ goes forth to meet the grace that is working upon the human soul.  {FLB 129.3}

It’s all grace, the Ten Commandments is grace and as it works upon the human soul to fill him with a true appreciation of his sinfulness and the moment there is the slightest response to the mercy of God through Jesus Christ God is right there.  The path is progressive, it goes on and on and on in this way. We are then affected by this love, the love that will love me while I am still in this decrepit sense of my unworthiness.  Try to understand this phenomenon. I have nothing that makes me feel good about myself. I am so overwhelmed by my deplorable condition this love will constrain me. This is the true forgiveness of God to a person who is deplorable in his own eyes.

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:

Without this amazing love of God, I’m a dead man. I realise my dead condition and discover greater dimensions of my condition and as I get closer and closer to heaven, this love constrains me. I am touched, I just love my God.  I love him because I understand his forgiving character.

“But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In the life of Christ this love found perfect expression. He loved us in our sin and degradation. He reached to the very depths of woe to uplift the erring sons and daughters of earth. There was no wearying of His patience, no lessening of His zeal. The waves of mercy, beaten back by proud, impenitent, unthankful hearts, ever returned in a stronger tide of love.  {HP 234.2}

The Important Impact

This is the love of Christ, a love that would come and love us in our sin and degradation.  What does this love do?  It constrains us.  Only the one who is conscious of his own sinfulness and finds the amazing forgiveness of God to his own soul can truly forgive others who have grievously sinned against him.  If you and I cannot forgive a brother or sister or anybody, what does that mean?  It means that I’m not forgiven.  Why?  Because I haven’t even appreciated the forgiveness of God to me.  What was the forgiveness of God?  He loved us in our sin and degradation.  He reaches to the very depths of woe to lift us up. Put yourself in that position and you see what God has done for you, how can you do anything else for others but the same? To be forgiving and patient with the other persons sin towards you.  This is the message of life to our fellowship.

Nothing can justify an unforgiving spirit. He who is unmerciful toward others shows that he himself is not a partaker of God’s pardoning grace. In God’s forgiveness the heart of the erring one is drawn close to the great heart of Infinite Love. The tide of divine compassion flows into the sinner’s soul, and from him to the souls of others. . . .  {FLB 131.4}

We are not forgiven because we forgive, but as we forgive. The ground of all forgiveness is found in the unmerited love of God, but by our attitude toward others we show whether we have made that love our own. {FLB 131.5}

The attitude that we show towards others is an index of God’s love for me whether I have made that my own.

Nothing can justify an unforgiving spirit. He who is unmerciful toward others shows that he himself is not a partaker of God’s pardoning grace. In God’s forgiveness the heart of the erring one is drawn close to the great heart of Infinite Love. The tide of divine compassion flows into the sinner’s soul, and from him to the souls of others. . . .  {FLB 131.4}

Wherefore Christ says, “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.”  {FLB 131.5}

Let Christ, the divine Life dwell in you and through you reveal the heaven-born love that will inspire hope in the hopeless and bring heaven’s peace to the sin-stricken heart. As we come to God, this is the condition which meets us at the threshold, that, receiving mercy from Him, we yield ourselves to reveal His grace to others.  {FLB 131.6}

May the sense of God’s love for our sin sick soul spill over to our fellow sin sick souls.


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Posted on 23/01/2011, in Divine Service Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi John. I appreciate your sermons. The law “was” our schoolmaster. You need to come up with a better answer. Play on the Greek word “Padagogue” “who was” the Master’s slave to make sure his children would not play truent.
    The second advice is on the word Nicolaitans. It is made up of two Greek words meaning the Victors over the Laity i.e. Lording it over the people. Jesus warned for the leaven of the Pharisees and hates the deeds of the Roman Catholic clergy with their high offices and position as Bishop, Cardinal and popes.


    Brother Rolf

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