Worship is a Result of Forgiveness

Why do we sing? What makes us praise? As a people, the things that we do are strange. I am not sure that many in the world understand why we would do what we do, especially when it comes to getting together and singing on a Sunday morning.

Of course, there are multiple reasons that we sing. We sing because God commanded us to do so. We may sing because we genuinely enjoy singing with others. We sing, because it teaches us truth. We sing because, well, we have always sung.

Psalm 51:14

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.

Psalm 51 is one of those famous Psalms. It is the one where David is writing after a major sin. It has those popular lines that we know like, “Against you and you only have I sinned,” and “Create in me a clean heart.” But what got my attention as I recently read it was this little verse about singing.

What is David saying? Is David making a deal with God? If you’ll forgive me, I’ll sing you a song. No, that is not what is going on. God is not going to have us purchase his forgiveness with promises. We cannot pay him anything, including obedience, to earn grace.

I think something much better is going on here. David is making it clear that he knows that singing, true and joyful singing, is a proper human response to being forgiven. David knows that genuine joy is to be found in knowing that our sins are covered. We will sing as we realize that God has cleansed us from a genuine guilt.

Singing and other acts of worship, acts that confuse the world around us, are right responses to the grace of God. You see, unlike the rest of the world, we know ourselves to be guilty, really guilty, before the Lord. We know we have earned wrath from God. But, as believers, we also know that our sins have been covered by the astoundingly lovely sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. God chose to save us. God sent his Son who did the work to save us. The Son of God declares us to be his before his Father. And in doing so, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God. We are transitioned from being destined for hell to being eternally destined for heaven. We Move from being lost to forgiven.

What is the right response to all that? We should love the Lord. We should sing. We should praise. We should bow and pray and weep in gratitude. We should magnify the Lord, the Holy One, who loved us enough to make us his own.

Why do we sing? One reason is that we are forgiven. That is surely enough.

God Provided the Lamb

Some phrases in Scripture are so loaded with truth that we dare not miss them. One such phrase, one that provides us with tremendous hope, is found coming from Abraham in Genesis 22.

You probably know the basic story. When Isaac was a young man, perhaps a teenager, God commanded Abraham to take Isaac, the child of promise, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. This was a test, of course, as the Lord has never called for his people to participate in human sacrifice. And it was a significant teaching tool as well.

On the way up the mountain, when it was just father and son, Isaac noticed something was missing. They had all the necessary elements for an offering except for one thing, the victim.

Genesis 22:7-8 – 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

Isaac asks Abraham where the lamb for the offering is. Abraham responds with a profound truth, one far deeper than I would guess he understood himself. Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb.”

The story on the mountain ends with God stopping Abraham from sacrificing his son. And God clearly provided a ram for the sacrifice instead of Isaac. But the bigger truth was still to come.

The human race is a race of rebels against God. We are sinners, and our sin must be atoned for if we are to be in right relationship with our Lord. An offering must be made. A sacrificial substitute must die in our place, or we must forever die ourselves.

God provided himself a lamb. God knew that we lacked the resources and the ability to make things right between ourselves and him. We could not come up with an offering that would be enough. But God provided his own lamb. God provided the only sacrifice that could satisfy his perfect and holy wrath against sin. God provided His own Son to die in our place. God sent Jesus.

An Honest Assessment

There is no power in positive thinking when that positive thinking is positively false regarding who we are before the Lord. There may be some good to be gained by a person choosing not to continually dwell on negative thoughts—I’ll never meet my goal; I’ll never get a promotion; I’ll never have a close friend; etc. But when we evaluate who we are in the light of the Lord who made us, we need to speak and think honestly. Only when we see ourselves for who we are can we truly yield ourselves to the Lord and find grace.

Isaiah 64:5-6

5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

When Isaiah evaluated Israel, he said some very true things about us all. God is good. God is for those who follow him. But, in our nature, we will not do so. We are easily led away from what the Lord commands. In our own strength, even our most righteous acts, the best of our best, will fall short of the infinite perfection of our God. We have been a long time in sin. And, if this does not change, our iniquities will sweep us away to destruction.

Honestly assessing our sinfulness will allow us to look to the Lord with proper humility. A person who understands that Isaiah 64:5-6 applies to us all will be a person who approaches the Lord differently. We will not think, even for a moment, that God owes us goodness. Nor will we think that we, in our own goodness, can earn our way into God’s favor. Instead, we will be like children, helpless on our own, who can only make it if our Father chooses to pick us up and carry us home.

Plain Truth in a Strange Passage

Because I read through a Bible-in-a-year plan on a regular basis, I often find myself in the book of Revelation as the year closes. Some years I find myself more fascinated with the mysteries. Others I find myself hard pressed to want to again consider what all the symbols might mean. In all instances, I am reminded of the glory of God, the ugliness of sin, and the victory of Christ.

At times, as we study a book like Revelation, it can be an incredibly helpful thing, in the light of such mysterious language, to find something very straight forward, very simple. And something like that hit me in my read through Revelation 9. No, it is not a pleasant passage, but it is surely clear.

The context is the trumpets of Revelation 8 and 9. In those chapters, we have seen some terrifying disasters. And the text has described for us fantastic creatures bringing much death. And while many will debate what those creatures are or what they symbolize, the reaction of humanity to them is telling. And that reaction is not a mystery at all.

Revelation 9:20-21

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

When the people of the earth in the book of Revelation are faced with the horrors of these creatures, when they come face-to-face with their own mortality, the people do not change. One might think that a reminder that we live in a world that is well beyond our control might have an impact. One might think that that a reminder that we die, and that there is a judgment to come, would change the hearts of men and women. But the word of God is clear that it does not. When mankind is set on rebellion, logic and emotion are powerless to change us.

What did the people cling to in the passage? The list is awful. They would not repent of their idolatry—no surprise there. But they also would not repent of murder, sorcery, sexual immorality, or theft. People facing the judgment of God will still kill. People facing the clear evidence of the power of God will still worship false gods or turn to fortune-tellers. People, even in a world that is falling to pieces, will cling to sexual immorality and materialism. Human nature is depraved.

Now, let’s think of three quick things. First, we see in this text that certain sins are a big deal to God. We must not allow our culture to tell us that, since society has moved on to a new consciousness, the old morality no longer applies. God is the one who tells us what is right and what is wrong. Idolatry and sorcery, false religion and the embracing of supposed spiritual energies and powers, are direct assaults on the glory of God. Murder and theft, things we basically still see as criminal, are things God hates. And right there in the list, even in the face of the eye roll and sneer of society, is sexual immorality. God takes these sins seriously. And one way we know they are all significantly evil is that God includes them in the list of sins that man doubles-down on to his own destruction.

Second, just note the basic depravity of humanity. I’m using that word in a technical and theological sense, not as an intended insult or expression of exasperation. Ever since the fall of mankind, humanity has been corrupted by sin. Every aspect of our humanity is fallen. Our nature is to oppose the Lord. By the grace of God, people do not tend to be as evil as we possibly could be. But the fall of man has so impacted us that it is impossible for a human being, apart from the transforming grace of God, to be pure before God. And that depravity is so deep-seeded that, even in the face of genuine judgment, humanity will scratch and claw and fight to keep our sin rather than submit to the God who made us.

And that leads me to my third thought today. How great is the grace of God? I am just like the people in the verses above. I am, by nature, nasty to the core. I would fight God tooth and nail were it not for one simple thing: God saved me. The sovereign God over all the universe and beyond did a work of supernatural power in my soul to bring me to himself. After God transformed my spiritual heart and made me spiritually alive, I repented of sin and believed in Christ for salvation. I have never yet been anything like perfect. Some of the worst things I’ve ever thought or worst impulses I’ve ever acted upon were still in my future. But the Lord had changed me. I could no longer sin without conviction. And, by the grace of God, my desires began to be turned to the Lord and his glory and not toward my natural evil.

God is good, mighty and gracious. He is the only one who can change a human being who would otherwise spit defiance at him with his dying breath. May we allow these moments of clarity in Revelation, these scenes that are not at all difficult to interpret, to remind us of the power and grace of God. Mankind is irreparably fallen. We, by nature, will never turn to the Lord. Sin is significant, no matter what culture thinks. But God is gloriously gracious. He saves sinners, transforming us from what we would naturally be into something that can truly honor him. Let us repent and be amazed at the grace of our God.

Grace and Repentance

I love grace. I really do. I love to recognize how deep is the love of God for his people. I think, in many situations, we fail to realize just how marvelous it is that the Lord would actually choose us and love us, love with a genuine affection and not a begrudging forgiveness. God calls us his children and really loves us like a good Father loves his children.

But if we focus so much on grace that we forget that salvation is transformative, we have a problem. Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Yet the call to salvation in Scripture is always both repent and believe. Salvation comes to us when we trust in Christ. But trusting in Christ includes a yielding to his lordship and repenting of sin.

Think of this paragraph from John.

1 John 1:5-10 – 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Look at the two sides of the coin that simply cannot be ignored. God is light. God has no darkness at all. So all who claim to belong to the Lord turn from sin, from darkness, and walk in light. That may sound all spiritual, but it really is not deep. God is good. If we are his, we will walk in goodness. God hates sin. If we are his, we will walk in righteousness and not in sin.

But, if we took that light and dark stuff as the only message, we would be overwhelmed. You are a sinner and so am I. Christians are still battling sin, and we do not always win in our day-to-day. So does that mean that, if my life has sin in it, if I ever fail, then I am not a true Christian? Praise God, no! Verse 8 reminds us that a claim to have reached sinlessness in ourselves would be us calling God a liar. But, what marks Christians is that we confess our sin, find cleansing in Jesus, and then strive to change and walk in the light as Christ is in the light.

What makes this passage so beautiful and so worth considering on any day is that it paints the picture of us rightly. It shows us grace and repentance side by side.

Are you a Christian? I hope that you are someone who has come to Jesus in faith and repentance to find salvation. If you are, then walk in righteousness. There is no such thing as a Christian who does not turn from sin and seek to obey Jesus. Living a life that obeys the commands of God is part of biblical Christianity. And any faith that pretends that we are not supposed to be changed and to live righteously is an antinomian religion, something wholly non-Christian.

But, before we let the burden of law and righteousness crush us, we also see that Christianity is a gracious, cleansing, loving thing. WE confess our sin. WE own our failing. We bring it to Jesus. And he cleanses us. That means both that we are forgiven and that we are helped by God to live more purely. We are sanctified by the Spirit of God so that we actually turn from sin and walk in the light.

So, dear friends, test your claim to faith. Are you walking in the light? Are you battling sin? Where there is sin, are you confessing it and bringing to Jesus? Are you being cleansed and led to repentance?