The chaplain had just finished preaching a sermon about God’s great love and forgiveness to a group of elderly in a nursing home. But he noticed a woman in a wheelchair at the back of the room who was weeping.
He approached her and dropped to one knee beside her. “I see you’re troubled about something. May I help you?” he asked.
The woman looked up with tears in her eyes and said, “God could never forgive me for what I did.”
The chaplain responded, “Ma’am, whatever it is that you have done, God’s grace and mercy is big enough to cover it.”
Then she blurted out, “When I was 15, I got pregnant out of wedlock and had an abortion. I killed my baby! God could never forgive me for that!” And with that she broke into convulsive sobs of remorse.
The chaplain took her hand gently and asked, “May I tell you something?”
With difficulty, through her sorrow, she agreed.
This is what he shared with her that day…
The Apostle Paul was perhaps the most ardent evangelist and follower of Jesus Christ in the first century. Much of the book of Acts is devoted to telling how God used Paul hugely to spread the Gospel throughout the known world at that time. Paul and his companions launched countless churches and suffered extreme persecution in the process. In addition, Paul wrote 13 of the 27 New Testament books.
But before his conversion to Jesus Christ, Paul aggressively persecuted followers of Jesus. In fact, Paul’s mission in life was to snuff out Christianity and prevent its spread. He obtained official authorization and went from town to town and house to house arresting followers of Jesus, confiscating their property and throwing them in prison. He even cast his vote to put some of them to death.
In his own words, Paul says, “I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.” (Acts 26:11) And, “I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” (1 Timothy 1:13) In that same letter to Timothy, Paul makes the bold claim that his sins made him the worst sinner in the world. He doesn’t make this claim out of a sense of false humility. He truly believed it as “a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.”
But Paul experienced what countless others have experienced. He found that God’s love and forgiveness are infinitely greater than any sin he had committed. In fact, here’s what Paul wrote after coming to Christ:
This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:15-16
In other words, Paul expressed that God used him as an example of His great mercy and forgiveness so no one else could say, “God could never forgive me for what I did.”
Many people look at sin and good works like a scale, hoping their good works will outweigh the bad. But it doesn’t work like that. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We all fall short. No matter who we are or what we’ve done, we all stand guilty before God.
Here is perhaps a more accurate analogy for sin. Imagine that I baked a fresh pan of brownies and I offer you one. They’re warm, right out of the oven. But just before you take a bite, I confess to you that I only put ¼ teaspoon of rat poison in the recipe. Would you still eat the brownie? Of course not!
Sin in our life is like that rat poison in the brownie recipe. It doesn’t matter whether there’s ¼ teaspoon or half-a-cup! It doesn’t matter that 99.9% of the recipe consisted of good, wholesome ingredients. Any amount of rat poison ruins the brownies! In the same way, sin has spoiled our life, no matter how great or small our sins.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
When we say that God could never forgive us for what we’ve done, it is simply because we don’t understand how infinite and gracious God’s love and forgiveness is. Could our sin be greater than God’s forgiveness? I.e., are we greater than God? I don’t think so!
The guilt and shame you feel over your sin is there to lead you to repentance, so you’ll trust the sacrificial death of Jesus as payment for your sin. Put your faith in Him now and receive His free gift of forgiveness. The Bible promises, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
And, “If we confess our sins to God, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
Then, the chaplain asked the woman, “Would you like to trust Jesus today for the forgiveness of your sins and be free from the burden of this awful guilt?”
And now, with tears of joy streaming down her face, she responded, “Yes!” And that very day, after carrying the heavy weight of her guilt for 70 years, this woman experienced God’s rich love and forgiveness.
How about you?