Pastor Michael Bowman
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3)
One of the problems we have with forgiveness is not as much a problem with forgiveness as it is a problem with self-righteousness. Our perception of ourselves can seriously hinder how we understand forgiveness. If you have too high a view of yourself and haven’t come to recognize how sinful you are in light of the holiness of God, then it will be harder for you to forgive others. You’re covering your iniquity, but that doesn’t work. Yes your iniquity needs to be covered, but it takes more than hiding to cover it, it takes a sacrifice (Gen. 3:21). So for forgiveness to begin, you need to uncover yourself from self-righteousness and look straight at your sin, not to dwell on it, but so that you can take it in all its darkness to the light of the world so it can be removed.
If you don’t think you are that sinful or you think you have been freed from the presence of sin on this side of glory, then you are deceiving yourself (1 Jn. 1:8). You don’t get it. The reality is adequately stated by the preacher in Ecclesiastes, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecc. 7:20). Or as Paul would put it later, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). If you think you are good, you aren’t. If you think highly of yourself, you shouldn’t.
In the realm of forgiving others, this comes out when you see someone sin in a way which you don’t think yourself capable. “Lord, thank you that I am not a sinner like this drug addict. This homosexual. This woman with countless sexual partners. This pagan.” That’s the heart of a pharisee. You should be able to say with the tax collector, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” You should be able to say with the Apostle Paul that you are the worst of sinners. This isn’t to flatten sin and say that all sins are equally heinous in the eyes of God. They aren’t (see the Shorter Catechism question 23). It’s also not to shy away from calling sin sin. Everything I mentioned above is sinful and evil in the sight of God. The question is really how do you see yourself. If you don’t realize how sinful you are, then you won’t be able to forgive others of their sin because you won’t understand what it is that you have been forgiven.
You need to realize the weight of your sin. “For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me” (Ps. 38:3-4). This isn’t so you are crushed beneath it, but so you realize that someone else has to bear the burden on your behalf, namely Christ. Why does the Bible speak of bestiality? Prostitution? Witchcraft? Effeminacy or androgyny? Cross dressing? Idolatry? Murder and human sacrifice? It’s because apart from the grace of God, that is where your heart would go. There are no breaks in the human heart. Those sins that repulse you most should repulse you, but they should repulse you knowing that that is where you could end up if not for the restraining hand of God and his giving of a new heart. When you cover your iniquity with a self-righteousness, it is a false perception.
The need, as mentioned earlier, is not that you shouldn’t seek a covering for your iniquity. It is that you would seek that which is actually an effective cover. “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Ps. 32:5). You need to realize how sinful you are so that you turn and seek the mercy of God. Apart from this you can’t understand forgiveness, how could you start actually understanding how to forgive others? You must turn to the Lord and say with David, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:2).