After Forgiveness, What Then?
We should never take for granted God’s unimaginable grace and mercy. If we truly grasp the nature of sin – that it is disrespect toward our sovereign creator; that God declares it a capital offense; that it is rebellion against God’s very nature – then we should stand in awe of God’s willingness to forgive, restore and bless sinners.
But once we avail ourselves of that forgiveness offered by God to the penitent at great cost to Himself, and we intellectually accept that God is willing to forgive us, how do we handle the aftermath of sin? That is: Are we truly able to let go of our guilt and live an emotionally and spiritually healthy life? Or do we merely observe some formal rituals and emerge from the waters of baptism psychologically unchanged?
You see, it is fairly easy to talk about forgiveness in detached legalistic terms. We can answer questions on the conditions of forgiveness, the sacrifice that secured it and the wonderful love of God that offers it but still have great difficulty fully believing that we stand guilt-free before God.
And Satan loves this, for he can still keep us in bondage even after we have confessed our allegiance to Christ and serve as an active member of His body. Still, some harbor deep-seated insecurity and lack self-respect; they do not have the hope rightly defined as “confident expectation.” We can answer all the questions correctly and still flunk the test.
How do we let go of our sins and live with the “full joy” that we have been contemplating in our annual theme?
Accept that Christ’s sacrifice is for the WORST of sinners. What I mean is that we might actually think we’re pretty good people, and we have pretty high expectations of ourselves (parents can unconsciously reinforce such views in their children by constant praise without a balanced view of their shortcomings). Thinking that we’re “high class sinners,” it is all the more difficult to accept that we are egregious transgressors. So when we do mess up big time, we don’t really know how to handle it.
After the Lord destroyed Paul’s worldview and convicted him of persecuting Him, Paul called himself “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15), “the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor 15:9). But make no mistake, Paul was not wallowing in muddy pity party. Now that Paul knew exactly who and what he was, he was free from the pride that can blind even a believer.
“Yes, Lord, I did a terrible thing. I have no excuses; no one to blame but myself. I deserve to die. But You have forgiven me and let me live, and in gratitude I will live faithfully to You till my last, dying breath. Thank you, Lord, for your grace.” Isn’t that liberating??
Accept that Christ’s sacrifice covers the WORST of sins. Jeff Smith tells the story of studying with a veteran who had fought in battle. When the man realized what he needed to do to be saved, he refused saying, “I have done horrible things in war that I know God will never forgive.” He did not become a Christian.
But again, listen to Paul: “He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 1:12-14). Even though Paul said he acted in ignorance, he was an expert in the laws and traditions of the Jews (cf. Ph 3:4-6). However, he had not connected all the dots of OT prophecy to Christ as the Messiah. He was totally responsible for his sins.
“But you don’t understand, preacher, I _______________ ( murdered, had an abortion, committed sodomy, embezzled from the church treasury, lost people’s life savings in bad investments, killed my roommate in a drunken crash, did and sold drugs …). Fill in the blank with whatever you wish. John affirms: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
Accept that prolonged false guilt and self-persecution robs us of spiritual energy, destroys joy and undermines a healthy outlook on ourselves and others. In other words, excessive guilt is not just our emotional cross to bear, it further disrespects God, evidences lack of trust in Christ’s sacrifice and models faithlessness to others. God does not want us slogging around the rest of our lives flagellating and loathing ourselves, feeding this poison to our family and friends and generally being miserable and depressed. This is the work of the devil, and if it describes you, some serious soul-searching is in order.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
Paul said, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:1-2).
John said, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:13).
Are Jesus, Paul and John describing your faith and joy in forgiveness?