Sometimes a person can feel the weight of his or her sins and wonder How could God forgive me? I have been selfish all my life. I have been arrogant. I have hurt other innocent people with my actions, my attitudes, and my words. I have divorced the only one who ever loved me. I have alienated my children. I have ignored God all my life. I have always hated the church and the Bible and anyone associated with them. I have destroyed my life and my reputation. Nobody would ever trust me--and with good reason. I have______(fill in the blank with other reasons that God should never forgive or accept me).
This could surprise someone who is struggling with such feelings, but I do not know a Christian who has not felt the same way. I have felt it myself. I know that I deserve God's anger and judgment...and that's what makes his forgiveness seem so strange, but so appealing.
On the cross, Jesus Christ prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Even as he was dying, Christ wanted to forgive those people who were killing him. He understood their sins. He was suffering because of their sins. But he also understood their needs. More than anything else, they needed forgiveness.
As the apostle Paul would explain later, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6, 8). Jesus was paying the price for our ungodly sins. He was suffering for our selfishness, pride, and careless attitudes toward God and those around us. He was satisfying the demands of sin so that we could be forgiven and free from those sins.
After Christ's resurrection and return to his Father, the people for whom he had prayed--the people directly responsible for his death--received the opportunity to be forgiven. The apostle Peter confronted them with these words: "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'
"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:27-38).
"Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day" (Acts 2:41).
Thousands of people who had sought the death of Jesus were given forgiveness. If God can forgive the people who murdered Christ, he can forgive me...and you. They did not deserve God's forgiveness, but he offered it to them anyway. We do not deserve God's forgiveness, but he offers it to us anyway. Their sins were horrible, but God forgave them. Our sins are horrible, but God is willing to forgive them, too. They accepted God's forgiveness. He asks that we accept it, too.