When was the last time you put your foot in your mouth? I remember one time in particular when I hurt a close friend by some careless words. I did not realize it at the time, but later it dawned on me that what I said could have been offensive. I criticized his work and belittled him with a few simple words. So, very embarrassed, I went back and apologized. I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said, “It’s OK, Cameron. I forgave you the second you said it.” I love friends like that, friends who are ready and willing to forgive, reconcile, and restore, even before we come to see our own sin.
God is that way. While he cannot ignore sin, and he must deal with it, he is always ready to forgive. Our sin nature is relentless. Constantly, it seems, we come back to God pleading for forgiveness. And every time, if we truly come confessing and forsaking our sin, God is ready to forgive. Why? Because God is full of something the Bible calls “steadfast love.”
What Exactly is “Steadfast Love”?
We use many words in our English Bible to translate the Hebrew word “hesed” (חֶסֶד; “he” as in “head” and “sed” as in “said”)—steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, loyal love, etc. It carries more meaning than can be contained by any one English word. So it will take some time to unpack everything that we can learn from this word. Here’s the first reality: God’s steadfast love gives us confidence in God’s forgiveness.
Hesed = Forgiving
The Psalms tells us God is filled with grace, mercy, and compassion (Ps. 86:15; 103:8-18; 111:4-5; 145:8-10). Helpless sinners who humble themselves before God can know that God is approachable based on his steadfast love (Ps. 5:7a).
When we give in to sin, and we will, we can plead for God’s forgiveness and protection from sin on the basis of His steadfast love (Ps. 25:7; 36:11a; 51:1b).
“If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared…
For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption.
And He will redeem Israel from all His iniquities.”
~Psalm 130:3-4, 7b-8 (cf. Ps. 86:5, 15-17; 116:5)
Genuine forgiveness can be hard to come by in the real world. People hold on to grudges. They grow irritable and resentful. They coddle bitterness. But not so with God— he always stands ready to forgive and reconcile. Jesus extends his hands, still scarred by nails that were pierced for our transgressions (Is. 53:5), and promises forgiveness to the truly repentant. And no one has been sinned against more severely than Jesus.
If you think God cannot forgive you, think again. There is no word so crass, no thought so vile, no action so wretched that it can break the steadfast love of God. As the hymn-writer puts it, God provides “grace greater than all our sin.” Lift your eyes from the cesspool of your sin and instead gaze on the steadfast love of your Savior.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
More often than not, though, our problem is that we do not think we need God’s forgiveness. We do not take time to ask God what he thinks about our lives or to look into his Word. Instead, we get caught up in the rhythm of live. We give ourselves a pass. We coast. We drift downstream. We grow distant in our relationship with God.
But you are not OK. I am not OK. None of us has arrived, and we all need daily forgiveness.
Nothing is more detrimental to seeking forgiveness than pride. Arrogance, it seems, comes in many shapes and sizes. But for all of us, the answer is the same. When we humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, we find abundant joy and delight in the merciful, steadfast love of Jesus. I begin to cherish these passages that describe forgiveness because they become true for me. Don’t coast! Find forgiveness at the cross.