These three words from Jesus on the cross encapsulate the entirety of His ministry. His whole purpose for coming to earth was to glorify God, to magnify the truth and to sanctify souls through the mercy that He paid to provide. All of this, and so much more of what Jesus did on earth, is finalized in those three words: “Father, forgive them.”
When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,” there were two men close by who heard it—namely, two thieves on crosses. Unlike the masses of humanity that were spewing hatred and malice as they passed by, unlike their own hearts that railed against the punishment inflicted on them, these two men heard from the One Man who was unjustly punished and yet spoke words of compassion for his executioners. Jesus’ words did not fall to the ground without having an impact, for one of those two thieves found forgiveness.
So, what does it take to find forgiveness? Two things:
First, you must Believe It.
Sounds simple enough… but there is something more to this. To believe Jesus can offer you forgiveness is first to believe that you need it. Many people dismiss the idea that forgiveness is necessary because they simply refuse to believe that they’ve done anything wrong. The skewed moral and ethical compass of our world always points to the standards of humanity rather than the standards of God as the measure of right and wrong. Therefore, if the only criterion used to determine sinfulness is based upon what the world considers sinful, then it is easy to skirt the issue because the standards are pre-built by a sinful condition. But thief #2 did not see it that way. “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done no wrong” (Luke 23:41). Paul reiterates this truth in Romans 3:10, “…as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one.’” For those who believe that they have done no wrong, they will never see their need for forgiveness.
Then, to believe Jesus can offer you forgiveness is to believe that He actually has the authority to forgive. Jesus does have the authority to forgive because He is God. Though I highly doubt that they meant to, the scribes and Pharisees of His day gave Jesus an opportunity to prove it. In Mark 2:5-12 we read:
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
You must understand that the one who has the right to forgive is the one who was wronged in the first place. I do not have the position to forgive a man who wronged someone else; I can only forgive a man who wronged me. However, with every sin committed by man, with every offense done in this world, God is wronged. Has Jesus been wronged by you? Of course He has, even as David said in Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”
Second, you must Receive It.
Again, it sounds simple enough—and it is—but there is still a bit more to it than first meets the eye. For, to receive forgiveness, you must go to the One who offers it and humble yourself. This might be the most difficult reality of them all, for we are a proud and stubborn people as a rule and would more likely want to try to hide our sins rather than confess them. If, however, you have come to that place of knowing the situation before God – that you are a sinner – then you are on the right track. Do not, then, let your pride decide that you can fix the situation on your own. Too many people have forsaken the grace of God for the works of men, determining that they can “work off” any necessary debt before God and cleanse themselves. I met a man who told me that he would come to Jesus when he has finally “cleaned up his act” because he believed that God would not forgive a man who doesn’t. Nevertheless, that’s the problem: if you could clean up your own act, there would be no need for God to forgive you. Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Then, to receive forgiveness, you must trust the One who offers it. This is the work of faith—to trust God’s word and know that all things He has promised is true. Is God reliable? Is God trustworthy? Can you take God at His word and know for certain, without any hesitation of doubt, that if He promised you forgiveness, then you will receive it? Consider the words of Hebrews 6:17-20.
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.
The steadfast reliability of God is the anchor point for faith. If God cannot be trusted, if God ever determined to change His mind, then all that He spoke concerning the promise of forgiveness is set into question. However, God is the truest, most certain and unfailing Savior! He has never failed to accomplish all that He has promised and so you and I can approach Him in humility and confession of sin, knowing that in Christ we have mercy and will receive from Him a full pardon. For John said in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Finding forgiveness is simple: you have to believe it and you have to receive it. Do not let your pride hinder your moment and divert you from receiving God’s grace and mercy. I want to close with the call from Isaiah 55:6-7.
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
©2015 Michael Duncan
For further reading and study on the topic of finding forgiveness and walking in a new life with Jesus Christ, pick up A Life Worth Living in Kindle or print at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HVI3XTY