I am increasingly mindful of the struggle Christians have to really believe that God loves them and forgives their sin. Part of our task as pastors in proclaiming the gospel is to remind the people of God that God does truly forgive sin. This is a crucial aspect of the gospel. But for some of our people it will be easy to believe that God hates sin, that God judges sin, and even that God forgives the sins of other people but not that he really & truly forgives their own sin.
Honestly, I am more accustomed to dealing with the error of minimizing God’s holiness and the horribleness of sin. This is a real problem in the church, but we must be wary of the error on both sides of the road here.
Eric Smith has a wonderful recent post on the task of proclaiming forgiveness individually to our people. He uses a great quote from Calvin on the fact that while we reject the Catholic practice of priestly pardon we do still as ministers of Christ, speaking as his heralds, proclaim the pardon of Christ to believers.
Eric then closes with these four searching questions which do truly get to the heart of pastoral ministry.
1) Am I striving to know my people in such a way that I can tell when they are burdened, and when they are rejoicing? Or am I content to prepare my sermons without thought to their needs and shake their hands on their way in and out of church on Sunday mornings?
2) Do I present myself as a knowable pastor, himself conscious of his sin and carried away by mercy? When my people think of someone who is approachable and sympathetic, do they think of me? Or do I come off as high-handed, demanding, and scolding?
3) Do I preach the Gospel beautifully, as the best news any sinner has ever heard, as sufficient to cleanse the deepest stains upon the conscience and heart? I personally find it much easier to preach legalistically about what we should do and not do, than to preach the Gospel of glorious free grace. My default mode is to try and modify our sinful behavior, rather than to exalt a merciful, life-giving Savior.
4) Am I able to personally apply the Gospel to the lives of my people when sitting across the table from them and listening to their stories as Calvin described? Or would I bungle this, able only to talk in generalities before a crowd? Have I thought through the sorts of sicknesses from which my people will suffer that will require tonic of the Gospel?
May we be the sort of faithful shepherds in view here.