A Sermon Based On Richard Foster's - Celebration of Discipline
Readings - Psalm 51:1-14 & 1John 1:5-9
Prussian king Frederick the Great was once touring a Berlin prison. The prisoners fell on their knees before him to proclaim their innocence and beg for release—except for one man, who remained silent. Frederick called to him, “Why are you here?”
“Armed robbery, Your Majesty,” was the reply.
“And are you guilty?”
“Yes indeed, Your Majesty, I deserve my punishment.”
Frederick then summoned the jailer and ordered him to, “Release this guilty wretch at once. I will not have him kept in this prison where he will corrupt all the fine innocent people who occupy it.”
Today in the Word, December 4, 1992
1JN 1:8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
The word John uses for forgiveness (aphiemi) has at its roots the idea of the "cancellation of debts" or the "dismissal of charges." The verb used for purification is katharizo. It pictures an act of cleansing from the pollution of sin so that a new life of holiness may begin. The sinner is perceived as cleansed from moral imperfections and from the injustices that separate him from God. [EBCOT]
Paul explains to us in the book of Romans that the wages of sin is death. He also says we have all sinned so none of us can claim to be without sin - or as John puts it, we are deceiving ourselves. So we are all "guilty as charged" standing before God. Only his forgiveness will dismiss these charges.
Richard Foster from the book Celebration of Discipline (that Allan has been working through recently) explains why confession is so difficult - even though the benefits are so great. He says:
Confession is so difficult a Discipline for us partly because we view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners. We come to feel that everyone else has advanced so far into holiness that we are isolated and alone in our sin. We could not bear to reveal our failures and shortcomings to others. We imagine that we are the only ones who have not stepped on to the high road to heaven. Therefore we hide ourselves from one another and live in veiled lies and hypocrisy. [Richard Foster - Celebration of Discipline.]
Many people find solace through private confession with God. However, there are also many of us who do not experience the release from sin after crying out to God in private prayer. We are nagged by constant temptation despite our prayers.
Because we do not experience a release from the bondage of sin we doubt our forgiveness. Richard says:
We have doubted our forgiveness and despaired at our confession. We have feared that perhaps we had made confession only to ourselves and not to God. The haunting sorrows and hurts of the past have not been healed. We had tried to convince ourselves that God only forgives the sin, He does not heal the memory, but deep within we know there must be something more. People have told us to take our forgiveness by faith and not to call God a liar. Not wanting to call God a liar, we do our best to take it by faith. But because misery and bitterness remain in our life we again despair. Eventually we begin to believe either that forgiveness is only a ticket to heaven and not meant to affect our lives now, or that we are not worthy of the forgiving grace of God.[Richard Foster - Celebration of Discipline.]
We are left feeling lost and many even walk away from their faith at this point. However, we should not despair as we have not yet exhausted all the possible avenues open to us.
Like the little boy in the sandpit who was struggling unsuccessfully to remove a large obstacle in the way of his newly formed highway. After some time of futile effort he sat down and cried. At this point his father who had been watching came over and asked what the matter was. The boy explained that he tried everything he could to move the object but could not. His father replied you have not tried everything - you haven't asked for my help.
In his grace, God has provided others who can minister to us. James tells us [Js 5:16] to confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another.
Because, as Peter explains, as a Christian you belong to a Royal Priesthood (1 Pet 2:9).
If you forgive the sins of any, says John 20:23, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
We learn in the book of Hebrews that Jesus has made the sacrifice for all sin. But the ministry of priest is one that he has passed on to us all. We can uphold the sacrifice of Jesus before God and before our brother/sister in Christ and administer the forgiveness of God.
Bonhoffer says "A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has been brought into the light."
1JN 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
The light brings comfort, just as the sun brings warmth and security as it chases away the night each morning. But the light is also an enabling power. The light of the sun enables us walk without stumbling and so too the light of God enables us to walk through life without stumbling.
Our reading from the Psalms this morning is King David's heart crying out to God in confession and seeking forgiveness. However, if you remember the story this wasn't his first reaction - even although he is known as "a man after God's own heart."
The story began when David saw Bathsheba from the roof of his palace and he desired her. Acting on that desire he had her brought to him and she ended up pregnant. David wanting to cover up his sin called her husband back from war so he could spend the night with Bathsheba. Uriah, her husband, was one of David's most loyal men and was with David he was running from Saul. Uriah refused the comforts of home while his comrades were in battle and David's plan was foiled.
Again, king David acted out of guilt and fear, and sent Uriah back to the battle. But he made Uriah carry his own death warrant back to the commanding officer. The moment when David gave Uriah that note can only be compared to the deceitful kiss Judas offered Jesus on the night of his betrayal.
Uriah was indeed "killed in battle" and David thought the matter would soon be forgotten and his sins would lay uncovered.
God had other ideas. If you remember he sent Nathan to David with a story about a rich man with many sheep who killed his poor neighbours only lamb when he wanted to put on a feast. David responded in outrage, wanting to know who this man was so that he could be brought to justice.
YOU are that man David, it is YOU. Came the response from Nathan.
Fortunately, that was enough to bring David to his senses and to his knees before God again. And the result is one of the most powerful confessions ever recorded.
Because David confessed his sins, God was faithful and just and forgave David's sins and purified him from all unrighteousness.
Richard Foster tells the story of how he felt that somehow he was not getting the full blessings of God in his life and after some soul searching felt compelled to confess all his sins. So he divided his life into three categories childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and proceeded to write down every incident that came to his mind as he reflected on his life. He then went to a fore-warned brother in Christ, and proceeded to read his list of sins.
When he was finished he folded up his list and was about to return it to his briefcase when his brother reached across and took the list - this wise Christian ripped the list into a hundred tiny pieces and dropped it in the rubbish bin. At that point Richard knew that his sins had been removed as far as the East is from the West. His friend then laid hands on him and prayed for the healing of the sorrows and hurts of the past - the power of this prayer lived on throughout Richards life.
If you are struggling or feel you are not getting the full benefit of God's grace this morning ... you have to ask yourself "Have you tried everything?"
Or perhaps, you like David, have tried to avoid coming before God?
1JN 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.