God's Forgiveness

The book of Malachi contains a message from a God who loves his people (Mal. 1:2) even though they have strayed from him, and who is calling them to return (Mal. 3:7). When we reach the end of Malachi, we discover that some of the people who originally received this message responded to it by repenting. Mal. 3:16a says, “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other.” They apparently discussed together what they might do to turn from the sins that had drawn them away from God.

In the verses that follow this act of repentance, we discover four things: how quickly God forgives; how completely God forgives; how joyfully God forgives; and, how important it is to find forgiveness from God.

First, we see how quickly God forgives. Before the people had a chance to do anything at all to change the sinful patterns of their lives, as soon as they simply began to discuss these changes with each other, Mal. 3:6 says, “the LORD listened and heard.” God didn’t put them on six months’ probation to make them prove their sincerity. He didn’t require them to log in 100 hours of obedience to show that their intentions were true. As soon as they spoke, the LORD heard. God was so quick to forgive them. This reminds us of Isaiah’s words to the people of his day: “… the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion…. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.” (Isa. 30:18-19)

We also see how completely God forgives. Mal. 3:16b says, “A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.” When we want to be sure not to forget something we write it down. A written record is a permanent record. Of course, the omniscient God doesn’t struggle with forgetfulness the way we do, so we can assume that the “scroll of remembrance” here is a metaphorical devise used to communicate the permanence of God’s mercy. When he declares that we are pardoned, he never forgets that we are now acceptable in his eyes. If the people of Malachi’s day could be sure of this, how much more we who have seen the price God paid for our pardon – the precious life of his Son. We never need to fear that God will change his mind about our justified status in Christ Jesus. Romans 5:10 says, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

Thirdly, we see how joyfully God forgives. He doesn’t begrudgingly pardon those who apply for mercy, secretly wishing he could have punished them. Nor does God merely forgive the penitent out of a sense of divine duty. God delights to extend mercy to those who seek it. God loves forgiving people! God loves forgiven people! Mal. 3:17 says, “’On the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.’”

Finally, we see how important it is to find forgiveness with God. Mal. 3:18 tells us that the day is coming when we “will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” The verses that follow (Mal. 4:1-6) describe the coming day of judgment when those who find God’s mercy in this lifetime will be separated from those who never seek it. The radical difference in the destinies of those who repent and those who don’t should spur us to “seek the LORD while he may be found” (Isa. 55:6).

What kind of God would forgive sinners so readily, so willingly, so eternally? The God who loved us enough to send us his Son. Surely, these are thoughts that invite us to repentant. These are thoughts that call the wanderer home.