Most of us have a superficial view of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a simple thing, right? Wrong. Forgiveness is very difficult because whenever anyone is forgiven, someone gets hurt. Think about it. If I punch you in the nose, you can choose to forgive me or not. If you choose not to forgive me, you can punch me back and things will be balanced out. But if you decide to forgive me, it will cost you that punch in the nose. There is no such thing as cheap forgiveness--on our part or on God’s part. Forgiveness always costs.
Our forgiveness cost God his Son. Jesus bore the cost of our sin on the cross. Paul said, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). That means you don’t have to be guilty anymore. The relationship between you and God can be restored. You don’t have to worry about a bad self-image or death or hell. You can be totally, wonderfully, joyfully accepted and forgiven.
The bad news is that we are sinners. The good news is that, because of Jesus, we are forgiven. I’m not okay. You’re not okay. But Jesus has made it okay.
The bad news is that we are sinners. The good news is that, because of Jesus, we are forgiven.
But if we are forgiven, why do we still feel guilty? There are so many Christians who have been forgiven who don’t feel forgiven. I have listened to so many confessions by Christians who ought not to be confessing. They have been carrying around a burden of guilt for years, and they have been doing it needlessly. If you still feel guilty when you ought not to feel guilty and if you suffer from false guilt, you need to do three things for release.
Readjust your thinking.
The problem with many of us is that we have not truly understood forgiveness from God’s standpoint. When you became a Christian you were reconciled to God through the blood of Christ. The problem with many of us is that we see the reconciliation only in terms of forgiveness from past sins. But when you became a Christian you were made a child of God forever, not just until you did something bad.
Most of us think of what Christ did for us in terms of a slate. When we became Christians, God wiped the slate of our past sins clean. That’s not what happened. When we became Christians, God didn’t just wipe the slate clean, he threw it away.
It is not the sin that is important anymore; it is the relationship, and the relationship is established forever.
When my children were born, I knew from the beginning that they would be disobedient to me on occasion. I knew there would be times when they would do wrong things. I knew they would not be perfect. So I gave them up for adoption. Of course not! They are my children. There’s
nothing they could ever do to me or against me that would stop them from being my beloved children.
John 1:12 tells us that when we came to know Christ, we became children of the Father. That’s settled, and we no longer need to try to earn God’s favor. Confession for salvation never needs to take place again. Salvation is an established fact. Confession takes place only to keep the lines of communication open. Our feeling of guilt is often no more or less than our fear that if we do something bad, we will be kicked out of God’s family. We falsely think that God is like an employer, teacher or casual friend. He isn’t. He is our Father and fathers (at least good ones) don’t stop being fathers. Comparing earthly fathers to the heavenly Father, Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11).
Reprogram your mind.
Most of us feel we are controlled by our emotions. We think that if we don’t feel like doing something, we can’t do it. We think that if our feelings suggest something to our minds, those feelings must reflect reality. If there were ever a lie, a real whopper, that’s it. Let me give you a principle that can change your life: Your mind controls your emotions, and you control your mind. Feelings, emotions and proclivities are not reality. Anyone who tells you different has lied to you.
As a pastor, I have performed hundreds of marriage ceremonies. Often newly married people say something like, “I don’t feel married.” And I often reply, “Stay with it. It takes a bit of getting used to. Eventually the truth will sink in.”
Now let’s suppose a newly married couple doesn’t take my advice and their feelings are more real to them than the fact that they’re now married. Let’s suppose, further, that every time they suspect they’re married, they say to themselves, I can’t be married because I don’t feel married. Believe it or not, they are programming their minds in a certain way. I suppose that if they pushed it far enough and often enough, they would never think they were really married. If someone asked them if they were married, they would always reply, “No, we’re not married.” After a while, their feelings would become reality.
That’s what a lot of Christians have done with their feelings of sin. In 1 John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s a fact. If you have confessed your sins, you are forgiven. If you don’t feel forgiven, you are doing what our imaginary couple has done. You have simply denied the facts for your feelings. Whenever you feel guilty about something you have confessed, reprogram your mind. Say to yourself, “I have confessed that before God. He is not a liar. He has told me that I’m forgiven; therefore, I am forgiven. Anything other than that fact is a lie and I will treat it like any other lie. I won’t believe it.” Then ask God to give you the grace to treat it as a lie.
Is this a magic formula? Of course not. It’s a part of a process whereby gradually you learn to live your life by the facts and not by emotions. One day you will wake up and say, “I’m free! Praise God Almighty, I’m free!”
Suffering from false guilt is one of the most subtle ways in which Satan goes after Christians. It’s not a problem you deal with once and then it’s over. When you least expect it, you’ll find you have fallen into the sin of false guilt. And so a Christian needs to review God’s grace constantly and praise him for it.
Recently my wife and I worshiped at a church where a friend of mine is the pastor. I had been feeling guilty about a number of things, and without my knowing it, was walking around bearing false guilt. When we entered the sanctuary, I noticed that my friend’s sermon was going to be about sin and forgiveness. I thought, I wish he would talk about something else. I already know all the things he is going to say. As a matter of fact, I did know all the things my friend would teach that morning. But do you know what happened? As my friend taught the old truths from the Scriptures, I found myself free. The Holy Spirit was once again applying the truth of Jesus and his love to my life. I left that church feeling like a new man.
No Christian knows the truth of God’s grace so well that he or she doesn’t have to hear it again and again. Martin Luther said that we should preach grace to one another lest we become discouraged. If you struggle with false guilt, let me suggest that you review, memorize and think about the Gospel. You don’t have to be guilty about the sin that Christ has already taken to the cross. You are forgiven.
Time to Draw Away
Read Romans 8: 1, 31-39
Do you continue to feel guilty? How would you act, think and feel if you really believed and accepted God’s forgiveness in your life? What are some practical ways you can “review God’s grace”? Nothing can separate you from God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and grace. That is a fact you can rest in.