Sometimes people will say things like “God would never forgive me for the things I’ve done”. They have given up on themselves, and they have no hope or expectation for the future. They recognise what they have done wrong in the past, and are trapped there, unable to break free.
Central to a Minimalist Christian is that this is simply not true. There is always hope, whatever you have done and whatever situation you find yourself in.
Think about the person who recognises that they have ‘sinned’ and done stuff that they feel cannot be forgiven. How can they know that they have hope? We read early in the gospel of Mark that “Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” from which we can conclude that it is Good News to recognise and wish we hadn’t carried out all the bad things we’ve done, and ‘repent’ of them. So the recognition of what we’ve done is a first and positive step.
Later in Mark, Jesus says that “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven”.and at the end of Luke he says “There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.” When Jesus says ‘all’ he means ‘all’. None of us are beyond God’s forgiveness. And we learn that Jesus has the authority to forgive when he comes across a man paralysed from birth. Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” Later Jesus asks “Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” So Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, demonstrated by his power to perform miracles. However, he also delegates that authority to those who choose to follow him, for in John’s gospel he meets the disciples after he has been crucified and resurrected. Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” and we can know that his followers must forgive us because he explained it to Peter: Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! So, we can rest assured that if we have done bad things in the past, and we now regret them then we are forgiven as soon as we ask, and so we can move on in our lives with renewed hope for the future. And we can know that every time we mess up in the future and with regret ask once again for forgiveness that we will once again be forgiven. Jesus would not tell his followers to forgive ‘seventy seven’ times if he were not going to do that himself! But of course, if we don’t ask to be forgiven then we won’t receive forgiveness.
But suppose we are nearing the end of our lives. Is there any point in asking forgiveness, after all, we’re not going to be around much longer? Well yes! A Minimalist Christian knows that this life is not all that there is; there is a life to come. St Paul summarised this rather well when he said that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So whatever stage of life we find ourselves in, there is always hope and always sense in asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness.
And Jesus tells a story of how a landowner hired workers throughout the day, some only working a short time. But at the end of the day they were all paid the same amount. This shows that it is never too late to choose to receive his forgiveness, and to receive it in full.
The people that Jesus spoke to understood this, and in response to receiving forgiveness and hope they wanted to know what to do what was right in the future. Jesus told them, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” I’m not sure that anyone who recognises God as the creator and sustainer of the universe would argue with the first, and we all understand the second ‘golden rule’. But it’s nice to know that a good future is not a killjoy future.
Underpinning all of this hope is the knowledge that God loves each and every one of us. He demonstrated that love in such a powerful way, there can be no doubting it. As recorded in the gospel of John “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgement against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgement is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” Forgiveness and eternal life are freely available for anyone who wants them, but anyone who wants to keep living an evil life has already judged themselves; they will not seek forgiveness with a sorrowful heart and unless they ask they will not receive it.
So the bottom line is, whatever stage in life we are, no matter how much we’ve screwed up, no matter how unwilling we are to forgive ourselves, God will forgive us if we truly want him to and he will give us hope for the future.
If you feel you are worthless and if this speaks to you, give up your pride and self pity and just ask. And when you ask, know that you are forgiven. Embrace the hope that the future holds.