Pastor Terry Tatum
There are not many things I’ll claim to be an “expert” on. I’m just an ordinary guy, after all.
But one thing I’m great at, dare I say “an expert on,” is getting right with God. I have had to get right with God just about every day of my life since becoming a Christian. And through the years I have gotten really good at asking for forgiveness for all the dumb things I have done and continue to do! I boldly make the claim that I’m probably better at doing this than anyone I know. 🙂
If you keep reading, I think you’ll come to agree that I really am an expert on this. And maybe you can become an expert getting right with God, too! It’s actually not too complicated of a process, though it does take some self-will and effort.
Let’s start off by looking at the opening phrases of the key Scripture for our current sermon series, How to Pray. It’s found in Matthew 6:9-13 and is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us…
Wait a minute.
“Forgive us our trespasses.” I get that, but “as we forgive those who trespass against us”?
In his model prayer, why would Jesus marry the process of getting right with God with the process of getting right with everyone we have ever known? I’m here to tell you that those two truly do go hand in hand.
This is where the process gets a little difficult, at least for me. As good as I am at asking God for forgiveness (and asking others for their forgiveness), I’m not always the best at forgiving. I try, and for the most part I forgive but it is VERY difficult for me. It just is.
The way my mind works is, if the Bible says it, it’s true and we should do it. And if you’re like me, you have no trouble with that until you get to this verse.
Let’s look at a passage from Psalm 51 to help us begin to understand what God wants for us and how he wants us to accomplish it. David cries out to the Lord and says: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:1-3, 10 ESV)
David is asking for forgiveness. Like David, none of us deserves forgiveness for the things we’ve done. Forgiveness is a free gift.
We can’t earn forgiveness and we can’t work hard enough or do enough good to be forgiven. The only way to receive forgiveness is through God’s one and only son, Jesus.
I deal with a lot of people who carry around a lot of guilt. They say things like “what I did was so bad I could never be forgiven.” If that’s you, I want to make sure you understand that there is more grace in God than there is sin in you.
Do we need to forget what we did or what someone has done to us? No. In fact, the Bible references remembering more than 250 times. Often we need to remember simply to help us avoid making the same mistakes again. Scripture doesn’t tell us to forget. It tells us to forgive.
Forgiveness is a huge part of getting right with God. So, how do we get right with God? First, we need to admit that we need forgiveness:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Romans 3:23 NIV
There are all kinds of sin. Too many sins for me to name. But a pastor friend of mine told me once that there was “The sin” (the big one). It’s the sin of SELF, or self-centeredness. It’s having the mindset of “I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it.”
Say this to yourself, “my biggest problem is me.”We are not just the ones who sin. We are also the ones whose arrogance won’t let us admit that we’ve messed up.
When was the last time you were wrong? Hopefully you know that you are not always right. And neither is anyone else. When you realize that and the wrongs you have committed and admit those to God you will feel relief and peace like you have never known.
I have found that some of the people who have the hardest time with this are addicts. A friend told me once that when an addict’s mouth is moving, they are lying. When you are dealing with someone in the throes of an addiction they will lie, manipulate, hurt you, and hurt anyone they know or love to satisfy that addiction. It is awful.
But do you know who some of the most devout Christians are? Recovering addicts.
That’s because, at some point, they get it. They understand Romans 3:23.
I’ve become very familiar with 12-step programs that are often used in recovery programs. Two of the steps people have the hardest time with are steps 4 and 8. Step 4 is “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 8 is “Make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.”
I am very proud of the people I’ve seen complete these steps. The outcomes of the moral inventory, and the act of making amends isn’t always what they hope for, but the important part is that they asked God and others for forgiveness. They admitted their wrongs and tried to make them right.
Following the example of our brothers and sisters who have suffered from addiction helps us know what we need to do to get right with God. We need to admit that we need forgiveness, and then we need to believe that we have been forgiven.
Even long-time Christians sometimes struggle to believe in our hearts that God has forgiven us. This has been true for me. Sometimes I’ll ask God to help me with something, but then I will go and do the same thing again. Then I’ll beat myself up wondering if I was sincere in my heart, or if God can really forgive me. It’s as if I think he questioned my sincerity in asking.
If you were to come to me and ask those questions, I would respond the same way I do about most things. I would ask you what the Bible says about it. I would point you to a verse like 1 John 1:9 … “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (NIV)
God’s word tells us that all we have to do to be forgiven is to “confess our sins.” In other words, just ask. Then believe in His promises.
Read what the Psalmist over 3,000 years ago:
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Psalm 32:1-5 NIV
To get right with God, you must get yourself right. How do you do that? Believe in His promises!
Once you have admitted that you have a problem (your sins), and then you believe in God’s promise of forgiveness, there is one last step to get right with God: Offer forgiveness to others.
Remember what we read earlier in the Lord’s prayer? And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. This may be the hardest step to take in the process of getting right with God. But don’t ever forget, “forgiven people forgive.”
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)
As I said earlier, we don’t have to forget, but God’s word is clear that we need to forgive. The next time you are praying, pray that God will let you forgive the person that wronged you. Remember, this needs to be after you get you right.
Make the following commitments to yourself while you are talking with God:
“I refuse to seek my own revenge.”
“I refuse to be consumed by past wrongs.”
“I will offer to others what God has offered to me.”
Why do we need to do that? Because forgiven people forgive.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12 NIV).
To get right with God, we need to get in the right mindset about forgiveness. Remember these words from the psalm of David:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12 NIV)