In Conversation With John Calvin
John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (1557):
It was very natural for the faithful to feel alarmed and perplexed on account of their sins, and therefore the prophet removes all ground for overwhelming apprehension, by showing them, that God, in delivering his people, had given an irrefragable proof of free forgiveness. He had before traced this deliverance to the mere good pleasure and free grace of God as its source; but after it was wrought, the iniquities of the people having separated between them and their God, and estranged them from him, it was necessary that the remedy of pardon should be brought to their aid.
In saying that their iniquities were taken away, he does not refer to the faithful being reformed and purged from their sins, in other words, to that work by which God, sanctifying them by the Spirit of regeneration, actually removes sin from them. What he intended to say he explains immediately after. The amount, in short, is, that God was reconciled to the Jews by not imputing their sins to them.
When God is said to cover sins, the meaning is, that he buries them, so that they come not into judgment, as we have shown more at large on the 32d psalm, at the beginning. When, therefore, he had punished the sins of his people by captivity, it being his will to restore them again to their own country, he removed the great impediment to this, by blotting out their transgressions; for deliverance from punishment depends upon the remission of sin. Thus we are furnished with an argument in confutation of that foolish conceit of the Sophists, which they set forth as some great mystery, That God retains the punishment although he forgive the fault; whereas God announces in every part of his word, that his object in pardoning is, that being pacified, he may at the same time mitigate the punishment.
The sequence of the pardon of sin is, that God by his blessing testifies that he is no longer displeased.
This verse has two separate thoughts but one common thread — it all begins with God. We didn’t earn forgiveness nor did We have any power in ourselves to have our sins covered. This is all God’s doing, it all starts with Him and it is His gift of salvation to us. This verse’s theme is consistent with the remainder of the Bible — the overwhelming focus that we see in the Bible is not about the work of the redeemed, but rather it’s all about the work of the Redeemer.
There is power, comfort and ultimate hope in this central theme. God’s forgiveness does not hinge on mine or your performance (Romans Chapter 3 gets to the heart of this, especially verses 10 and 23). So if our salvation is less about us and more about what God has done for us, what does this mean? This means that when Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished”, He didn’t say that “it will be finished” or “phase 1 is complete”. No. He declared that sin’s power and the resulting eternal damnation that we deserve has been defeated, and He added the exclamation point to that statement when He rose from the grave.
All of our past sins, current sins, and future sins have already been pardoned. So, what should our response be? Let’s turn again to the apostle Paul in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abount? Of course not! How can we who died to sin yet live in it?” So, yes, we do play a part in this but the main actor on this stage is most certainly not us, it’s God and the grace He has given us.
In Brennan Manning’s book “The Ragamuffin Gospel”, he succinctly puts it this way: “The gospel of grace announces: forgiveness precedes repentance. The sinner is accepted before he pleads for mercy. It is already granted (remember, it is finished). The sinner need only receive it.” Yes, our responsibility is to accept and receive this gift of salvation by believing in God and entering into a personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior. BUT our performance-driven society is hyperfocused on our spiritual growth and maturity (which are important). Placing too much emphasis on our doing could very well put us in the driver’s seat of our Christian faith and focuses on what we’re doing and less about what He’s already done for us. When we’re in the driver’s seat, this puts Jesus in the back seat (if He’s even in the car at all!). Once again, if we read this Scripture again, it brings it all back to God. YOU forgave the iniquity of your people; YOU covered all their sins.”
I write these words as a prisoner currently incarcerated serving a 24-month sentence for committing insider trading. I may not have my freedom in society but I have the freedom to love God and bask in His glory and mercy regardless of my current circumstances. A Scripture that I meditate on daily is 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweights them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
This verse gives me hope. I trust in the Lord. I don’t trust in myself because I have a sinful nature and I’m bound to mess up time and time again. But I trust that God knows what He’s doing in my life. After all, the word “oops” is not in His vocabulary. While I may be in the middle of a difficult time, I know that the best is yet to come. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus’ first parable was turning water into wine. He didn’t do this at the beginning of the wedding feast, rather He did it at the end. Like that parable, God always saves the best for last and that is where my hope is found.
It would be very easy for me to attempt to redeem myself in here or feel the need to try to earn back my grace from God, but I realize that there is nothing to earn back. I have not lost anything despite my foolish stumble that got me here. It is finished. Rather than spin my wheels focusing on earning my salvation through my merits, I am freed up to focus on loving and serving Him and others. This is the response I feel compelled to give — as an act of gratitude. To close, I want to relay a quote from the famed preacher Charles Spurgeon: “When I thought that God was hard, I found it easy to sin. But when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could have rebelled against the One who loved me so.” Thank you God for forgiving my sins!
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
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