A week ago I left off with a post on forgiveness. Looking back on writing this last Wednesday reminds me just how long this post has been on my heart. Almost a year in fact and it isn’t done yet, maybe I won’t ever be able to put this topic in the “COMPLETED” column, and I’m thinking that may be the point.
So… I started sharing my story of how God worked in my life through my best friend taking me to VBS at her church. This was my salvation story, when I was 11. I said I had a lot to learn, still do. As the years passed and my knowledge of God through the Word grew and I understood the love of God through Christ. I was blessed with many opportunities from going to a camp as a teen, a solid youth group program, conventions, concerts, Kingdom Bound, Niagara and more… to gain solid teaching and to see lives changed by the transformative power of the gospel.
Yet, in the back of my mind would sit the guilt and the struggle to know if I was really forgiven.
I knew the truth found in the Bible. I knew that with God I was forgiven. There was no mistaking that my sin had me guilty. But Christ paid the penalty of my sin. I was no longer held captive by sin and death because Christ had ransomed me.
I had memorized the beautiful truths that “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) And when “we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Scripture in Isaiah gives us the merciful and gracious heart of God for us: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
But what happens when you know the truths that you are forgiven but you feel like you are walking around trying to hide the stain of sin?
Some of the darkest times of my life were spent with this very question at the heart of my struggles. I’m thankful for the people who walked those dark roads with me. For the people who stayed up at night, talked for hours on the phone, prayed their hearts out for me. And today, I write for those who are struggling right now.
Let’s get practical for a moment, if we can. When dealing with the times when you don’t feel forgiven there are three things I’ve been asking myself lately.
#1- I have to be honest and ask myself: Am I repentant?
There are times that I don’t feel forgiven because I haven’t actually repented of my sin. The Spirit works in my heart to convict me yet I make the continual choice to do what is wrong. And in that case, I face the hard pill to swallow: I don’t feel forgiven because I am not repentant. Some days that takes more work than other, you know, the being repentant part. I am hard hearted and this can take some effort. “
So this is where I start, allowing God to work on me in this tough place. Praying from Psalm 139:
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
#2- I ask myself: Am I forgiven?
Have I repented and confessed my sin? If so, I am forgiven. For me, it is one of those things that I know in my head but convincing my heart is another matter entirely. But the Bible is clear: “we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) In my life, when I’ve hit those rough patches where I can’t convince my heart of what my head knows… I’m so thankful for the love of the people God placed in my life to remember for me. Literally remembering out loud, speaking truth into the dark places.
[not sure if you are forgiven? The Romans Road lays out the message of forgiveness through Christ.]
#3- I face the hard question: Am I holding onto the guilt of my sin?
Secrets have this awful way of growing, festering, eating us from the inside out. Sin can be a secret we hide deep. We push it down hoping that the secret will never find the light of day but from the hole we stuff the secret into the secret eats a hole in us. We are worried that Ephesians 5:13 says, “everything exposed by the light becomes visible.” There are things we don’t want anyone to see.
But the glorious work of Christ!
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
All so often my struggle is wanting to keep in darkness what Christ’s forgiveness has overcome. I’m still trying to save face, be strong. But that isn’t the message of the gospel. The gospel doesn’t say that God forgave me by making me strong enough to overcome my sin. The message of the gospel is that even when I was stuck, dead even, in my sin Christ gave himself for me. And here is where I have to surrender my strength, because I never really had it anyway. (You should go back and read that post too!)
When you don’t feel forgiven might be just the very time that God is asking you to see that He has brought light to the dark in your life when you choose to share that with others.
You mean to say that you want me to share with someone else the very things I am trying so hard to keep in?
Yes. And trust me, I know the struggle of choosing to do this.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
I’ve seen the power of confession bring healing, in my own life and in the lives of others. When light is brought to darkness we see God at work. First we see the redemptive work of God through forgiveness. Confession shows the glory of God at work instead of your own righteousness. When we share the goodness of God’s transformation through redemption we can share in thanksgiving and praise of our loving Father.
Second, our sharing of our sin and God’s forgiveness can bring healing to the broken around us. When we choose to confess to one another, allow light to shine in the darkness, and we bless others by seeing how God restores brokenness.
I’m not asking you to shout it from the mountain tops (I don’t know if God is) but I am saying that the times when you don’t feel forgiven may be just the time when God is asking you to open the door of your heart and confess to a fellow believer of your struggles, share with them the forgiveness of God in that area of your life, and bring light to the dark places where you struggle to forgive yourself… for your good, for their benefit and for God’s glory.
So, today, in what area(s) are you struggling to feel forgiven? Who has God placed in the Body of Christ for you to talk with about this area? How can God use your struggle for His glory and the benefit of others?