Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do God?
The other night at prayer meeting at one of my churches, we got to talking about forgiveness, an ever-present, ever-needed discussion. Although I wasn't leading out, it became apparent to me that a few people in the room were dealing with doubts about forgiveness in general, and God's forgiveness in particular.
Thankfully, a few of the other people wanted to assure the others in the room that if we just came to God, then He would forgive us. "We have to be repentant first, though," one said, "But God will definitely forgive us if we ask Him."
Ever-so-tactfully, I decided to interject and steer the conversation back to something Jesus did. As the Roman soldiers gambled over Jesus' garments, Luke tells us that Jesus looked down and said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Bible, but the implications of it are incredible. Here were these men, gambling over Jesus' clothes, not the least bit repentant, yet Jesus had already forgiven them. The reality is, I told the people at prayer meeting, is that Jesus already forgives us even before we ever ask Him, or even before we are ever repentant.
This concept is scary to some people, I guess. One of the attendees, who was a visitor, seemed very uncomfortable with the idea. "No, we have to be repentant first before God can forgive us," he said. So then I asked him, along with everyone else, "Does God expect us to forgive each other, even if they don't ask for it, or are not the least bit repentant?" "Yes," came the response from everyone else, though this man didn't say anything. "Then why wouldn't we expect the same from God?"
The truth of the matter is, God's forgiveness towards us is dependent only on one thing - His cross. It is not dependent on my request, my repentance, my penance. It is only dependent on His objective accomplishment on Calvary.
Of course, you and I will never experience the power of that forgiveness until we come to a personal understanding of our wretchedness and our need for repentance. But, as Paul writes in Romans 2:4, even that repentance is a response to God's objective goodness that He has already accomplished and displayed on Calvary. "It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance," is how he puts it.
In light of God's ever-present forgiveness, we are drawn to His bleeding side, humbled by our desperate need for His cleansing grace.