A Forgiving God

by Erin Bird

As I type this on the morning of Tuesday, Nov 9, it is a beautiful sunny day outside. But I suspect when you are reading this, the weather outside is a bit different! (It’s a good thing they hold the high school playoff football games at the UNI Dome. (Good Luck, Go-Hawks, in the semifinals!))

Veterans Day

Before we jump into this week’s Notes,  I want to point out today is Veterans Day (if you are reading this on Thursday, Nov 11). I know we don’t get very political or super patriotic at Riverwood, but I would like to encourage you to stop and say a prayer on this day. First, thank God for allowing you to live in a nation where you have the freedom to worship God through Christ without the government storming in to mute our microphones and arrest our leaders. Then, thank God for the veterans who have served in our Armed Forces to protect this freedom. And finally, pray our veterans would find their identity in Christ, experiencing a peace that surpasses understanding because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

And if you are a veteran – thank you for your service!!!

He is a Forgiving God

Today, we continue our God’s Bio series from Exodus 34:6-7. Here’s that passage to refresh your memory:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  (Exodus 34:6-7 ESV)

You may have noticed the phrase “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” in bold above. That is this week’s topic.

I don’t know about you, but I found it interesting that this phrase lists iniquity AND transgression AND sin. I have so often seen all three words simply as synonyms for the same thing.

On one hand, they are all the same: they are all sin. But just as the word “mankind” captures both males and females, “sin” captures all the different types of wrongdoing and wrongness.

But on the other hand, these three words bring variety to what we just typically call “sin.” So let’s take a moment to look at each word and understand why God gives such nuance by listing all three.

1. Iniquity

The language tools in the NET Bible study environment identify the Hebrew word for “iniquity” as also meaning, “perversity, depravity… and guilt.”

Two chapters prior to God giving His “bio” to Moses here in Exodus 34, we read how the Israelites sinned against God by erecting a calf made of gold and worshiping it as the god who brought them out of Egypt. This was a “perversity.” To take credit away from the One True God for the miracles performed to bring the people of Israel out of slavery and give that credit to a hunk of metal that looked like a baby cow… THAT’S twisted! Such an act might be called depraved, or (to use the word from Exodus 34:7) we might say it was an “iniquity.”

When you and I take the good things God has given us and use them in ways that do not honor Him, we are guilty of “iniquity.” Whether it is accidentally drinking one too many, or allowing your eyes to lustfully linger too long on someone who is not your spouse, or reveling in violence, or using your words to inflict emotional harm in a moment of anger, we have done something perverse… we have committed an “iniquity.”

2. Transgression

The next thing God says He forgives is “transgression.” I see this as a step beyond iniquity. Whereas iniquity is twisting the good things God has given us for our own enjoyment or benefit (whether unconsciously or consciously), transgression is outright rebelling against God.

When you intentionally lie about where you were last night, or when you deliberately go looking for pornography to watch, or when you purposefully use your money in ways that you know does not honor God, these aren’t just “accidental” sins – these are rebellious “transgressions.”

3. Sin

A Forgiving GodAnd finally, to cover all the bases, the third word given is the general word “sin.” I think God included this word to capture the idea that we don’t just sin unintentionally (as could be the case with iniquity) or willfully (as is the case with transgression), but rather to point out that sin is our default state.

Much of Romans 3 shares the uncomfortable truth that all humans have sinned. It is what we are born with, or rather, born into. We can’t escape our sin. Even when we try to clean up our act and eliminate our deliberate transgressions or accidental iniquities, we are still sinners. As Isaiah 64:6 so bluntly states, even our best efforts are like “polluted garments” (or “filthy rags” or “menstrual rags” depending on your Bible translation). In other words, you cannot clean up your own messy sin because sin is your default spiritual state from birth.

The First Word

While all of that is quite a bit of a downer, don’t forget the word that preceded those three words: “forgiving.”

According to the IVP Bible Background Commentary, it was somewhat common in ancient literature for a list to be given of a deity’s attributes. However, the list given by God Himself in Exodus 34 is quite different from those other lists of false gods. While the lists of false deities focused on power, God focused upon His grace and mercy in His bio.

And we see it so vividly in this single word: “forgiving!”

But that’s where a “twist” comes in. For inside this word which reveals God’s grace and mercy also lies power. For you may not have the power to cleanse yourself of your iniquities, transgressions, and sins – but God does! He is like a huge ocean wave completely washing away the footprints of sin in your life, giving you a clean new start with Him.

And the best news? He performed this powerful act of forgiveness permanently through the work of Jesus on the cross and through the empty tomb!

So let this downer-of-a phrase which describes our sins with three words encourage you by reminding you that God is so loving, so merciful, and so powerful, He is capable of forgiving you of ALL your wrongdoings and wrongness.