We Believe: The Forgiveness of Sins

We Believe: The Forgiveness of Sins

This Easter season, we take time to explore the core foundations of the Christian faith. This series on The Apostles’ Creed explores the basic theological understandings of one of Christianity’s earliest statements of belief. The full set of sermons will be added each week to this page.

This week’s message gets difficult in a number of ways. First, we must consider what sins are, and then we have to know what forgiveness means and how it relates to sins. Is this just about wrongdoing and redemption? Is there something more? Indeed, for many Christians, the idea of sin is a central focus. To me, this sounds awfully depressing!

Even so, I believe we must come to an understanding of what this means for us and how this phrase in the Apostles’ Creed might guide us to deeper relationship with God. The phrase in the Creed claims a belief in “the forgiveness of sins.” Look at the phrase for what it is. The primary focus is on forgiveness. The emphasis is grace.

Surely we must acknowledge that we all fall short of expectations – our own as well as God’s. We miss the mark from time to time! But what if these words in the Creed are not meant to fill us with guilt and shame, but instead to remind us that we are loved in spite of our shortcomings?

Romans 5:12-21 (CEB)
Grace now rules
12Just as through one human being sin came into the world, and death came through sin, so death has come to everyone, since everyone has sinned. 13Although sin was in the world, since there was no Law, it wasn’t taken into account until the Law came. 14But death ruled from Adam until Moses, even over those who didn’t sin in the same way Adam did—Adam was a type of the one who was coming.

15But the free gift of Christ isn’t like Adam’s failure. If many people died through what one person did wrong, God’s grace is multiplied even more for many people with the gift—of the one person Jesus Christ—that comes through grace. 16The gift isn’t like the consequences of one person’s sin. The judgment that came from one person’s sin led to punishment, but the free gift that came out of many failures led to the verdict of acquittal. 17If death ruled because of one person’s failure, those who receive the multiplied grace and the gift of righteousness will even more certainly rule in life through the one person Jesus Christ.

18So now the righteous requirements necessary for life are met for everyone through the righteous act of one person, just as judgment fell on everyone through the failure of one person. 19Many people were made righteous through the obedience of one person, just as many people were made sinners through the disobedience of one person. 20The Law stepped in to amplify the failure, but where sin increased, grace multiplied even more. 21The result is that grace will rule through God’s righteousness, leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, just as sin ruled in death.

Matthew 5:38-48 (CEB)
Law of retaliation
38“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.

Law of love
43“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Consider these questions:

  1. What do you think sin is? How do you define it? (Note: one pastor defines sin as missing the mark. How does that fit your understanding?)
  2. Is there a specific list of sins (like the 7 deadly variety)? What happens within you when you sin? What happens outside of you (to others, etc.) when you sin?
  3. Where does sin fall into your theological understanding? Is the idea of sin a significant focus? Is it less significant?
  4. What does forgiveness mean to you? How is forgiveness related to sin? And where does grace fit in?

Post-Worship Update on 6/4

Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).

Pastor Christopher’s sermon on Sunday challenged us to talk about sin. Recalling his own upbringing in a theologically conservative environment, he would often hear difficult messages about sin. With this perhaps common experience in mind, Christopher also rightly critiques progressive Christians in our difficulty talking about sin.

Pastor Christopher’s message included an understanding of sins as those harmful things that we shouldn’t do, but also the reminder that sins can be the omission of action. He reminded us that we have a moral obligation to speak up when we hear racist or sexist (or other -ist) comments. In doing so, we humanize those who are treated as other; but we must realize the importance of not dehumanizing ourselves or even oppressors in the process. Humanization helps to restore the image of God in which we have all been created.

Consider these questions:

  1. Above, we note that sin can not only be action, but can also be inaction. What other ways are helpful for you to think about sin?
  2. Consider that dehumanization is a sin. Then could humanization be connected with forgiveness? How do you see the interconnectedness of humanization and forgiveness?
  3. Sunday’s sermon focused more on sin than forgiveness. How do you experience forgiveness? How does forgiveness impact your faith journey?

One Comment

    David DeBus

    Dear Rev. Bob,
    Thank you for your bold assertions of belief. I differ in a couple of mine: I am not convinced of the divinity of Jesus, although I am sure that Jesus is a “window through which we can see God” (Pastor April). He has come to me early in my life and I feel a great companionship with him.
    He is my “master”–a term that Saint Francis used. I wonder about the passage–I think it is in Matthew–where Jesus is talking about having a gift one takes to the temple, and one suddenly remembers “a brother hath aught against thee”–Jesus advises us to lay the gift on the road and hurry to be reconciled with the ‘brother’–the word is imperative in Greek: Katalegete. It is hard for me to understand how I can be commanded to reconcile since “it takes two to tangle.” Be that as it may, I take this as another avenue for responding to sin, especially sin against another. I so appreciate your efforts with the Apostle’s Creed. I am not a trinitarian Christian, although I am reluctant to forsake this assertion. I thought that Matthew 28 was considered by most Biblical scholars to be added on late. Did you get that? For example, in The Five Gospels from the Jesus Seminar. Thanks for reading this.

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