Guilt and Forgiveness

What is "Forgiveness"? How do I get rid of my "Guilt"? If you were to go to your pastor, or any pastor for that matter, and ask him how you can be "forgiven", almost every one of them would probably tell you that all you have to do is ask God to forgive you and it is done. He will probably take out his Bible and turn to 1 John 1:9 and show you that God says: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." He will tell you that Christ died for you so that you may be forgiven (to learn more about why Christ had to die in order to make forgiveness possible read, Why Jesus Had to Die ). He will also tell you that you simply must believe this to be true, claim it to be true, and it will be true. Then he will probably pray with you and you will go merrily on your way. Right? The problem is that most of us find in a very short time that even though we have asked for forgiveness, have been assured of it, and even believe it, that we still feel guilty! Why?

Most of us really don't understand Forgiveness. We don't understand what it really is, what it means, or how it works. Yet "Forgiveness" is vitally necessary if we are to achieve freedom from guilt. And guilt is the thing that stops us dead in our tracks. Guilt will cause you to think less of yourself, cause you to quit trying, leads to discouragement and stress and, in turn, to illnesses of the mind and body. If you want to be successful in your marriage, job, and personal relationships, you must get rid of your guilt. If you want to achieve optimum health (mentally and physically), and if you want to have a Vibrant Christian Life - You must get rid of your guilt.

When using the terms "guilt" or "guilty" it is important to remember that we may be discussing to two completely different concepts. I can use both words to refer to the negative "emotions" I feel over wrongs I have committed, or, I may use each to refer to my "judicial" standing. For example, if I say that I feel guilty then you know that I am talking about my emotions. If I say that I am guilty, you recognize that I am referring to the fact that I am actually responsible for having committed some wrong.

Every one of us has done things that we are not proud of and that causes us to feel guilty. This is the human condition. Perhaps you have treated someone else unfairly. Perhaps you have caused them personal injury, loss, or harm. Perhaps you have lied, stolen, cheated, or in some other way had a very negative impact on another human being. Or, perhaps, the source of your guilt comes from having violated your own morals and values. Perhaps the "sin" that you have committed has not involved someone else and has only been committed against yourself and/or our God. All sins against God impact you - you cannot get around this, it is a fact. In one-way or another any sin that violates God's moral code has a negative impact on you. And the biggest problem you are faced with, once you have committed a transgression against God or against another human being, is that there is no way to take it back or undo it! So, how can I be free from guilt (the emotion) when I am truly guilty (the judicial fact)?

Let me use myself as a personal example (that way you won't feel like I am pointing my finger at you!). I have lied. I have stolen. I have viewed pornography. I have committed adultery. I have endangered myself, my child, and others; by driving drunk or by passing out when I had responsibilities to be watching out for them. I have dishonored my God, my parents, my spouse and my child. I have done a thousand things that have violated God's Law and my own ideals for myself. I cannot undo those things. I am guilty of doing them. So how can I possibly be free from the guilt I have felt about having done these things? How can I possibly not feel guilty?

It has taken me a long time to learn the secret of being free from my guilt, and it has taken me so long because I did not truly understand the concept of "repentance" and "forgiveness." For a very long time I thought that repentance was when I felt "sorry" for what I had done and asked God, or someone that I had harmed as the result of my actions, to forgive me. Forgiveness then, was having them say that it was alright - that what I had done wasn't really all that big a deal, that everything was fine, that they would just forget about it and that I should just forget about it too. Wouldn't it be nice if it really worked that way? But it doesn't. People don't forget. I can't forget. And God certainly doesn't forget! The things I have done didn't magically go away simply because I said I was sorry. They are done, they are fact -I cannot change the fact - and since I cannot undo what I have already done I still feel guilty for the things I have done. Sound familiar? Ever felt this way yourself?

Let's see if we can resolve these things by finding out and clearly understanding what "repentance" and "forgiveness" really is.

Repentance: Straight off, you need to understand that repentance is NOT simply "sorrow" for doing something wrong. In fact, sorrow for what you have done is the LEAST important part of repentance. It will often accompany repentance but it is not the essential part of repentance. You can actually repent without being sorry. Don't believe me? Consider this:

The Greek words for "repent" and "repentance" carry the meaning of "changing one's mind" - to "think differently" - "to reconsider" - and implies that a "reformation" takes place as a result (that is, that you "turn around" and head in different direction). All of these things can be done without a lot of sorrow or grief.

Still think that repentance primarily means "sorrow"? Let me show you why it cannot simply mean sorrow. The Bible says: "it is God's kindness that is leading you to repentance" (Rom. 2:4 ISV). Now if repentance actually means "sorrow" for committing sin, then this text would read: "it is God's kindness that is leading you to sorrow"! That doesn't make a whole lot of sense does it? It may be true on one level - we usually feel bad about hurting someone who has been good to us - but God is far less interested in whether we feel "bad" or "sorry" for something, than He is in getting us to "think differently" and to "act differently" so that we don't keep on doing the things that hurt Him, or others, or ourselves. True repentance involves our seeing that there is a "better way" to do things and a willingness to be led in that way. It is really that simple. So stop beating yourself up and start paying attention to what God really intends for you. To learn more about Repentance, go to Repentance .

Please, get the idea out of your head that God is only interested in extracting "justice" from us. God is not interested in "punishing" you or me. In fact, the whole Gospel message is Good News! True, God wishes for us to change. But God's whole intent is that you should change for the better! And God has provided a means by which you can be changed for the better that actually provides for HIM taking the punishment and responsibility for your sins, instead of extracting these things from you. "For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world [you], but that the world [you] might be saved through him" (John 3:17 ISV). This is where forgiveness comes into play.

Forgiveness: What does "Forgiveness" mean to you? For a long time I believed that it meant that God simply wiped the slate clean and forgot about what I had done wrong. This was a "comfortable" way of looking at it because it meant that I was basically relieved of my responsibility for having done wrong. It meant that I if I did something wrong that I could simply go to God and tell Him I was sorry and everything was all right. This kind of thinking produced no change in me. I just kept on making the same mistakes over and over again, feeling worse and worse about them, and never getting any kind of victory over my behaviors. Think about it, if this is what forgiveness really means, then the New Earth won't be any better than the old one, and God's whole plan to "Save" the world is nothing more than a farce. There simply has to be more to forgiveness than forgetting about or ignoring my sins.

Forgiveness involves a great deal more than we generally credit to it. Forgiveness, Biblical Forgiveness, is NOT having your slate wiped clean and forgetting about it. Biblical forgiveness involves someone else bearing the cost of my sins and paying the penalty for them - without requiring retribution from me.

If you stole 100 million dollars from me, spent it all, ended up broke and then came to me and asked for my "forgiveness" - you would, in effect be asking me accept my loss and not hold you accountable for it. You might try to make some arrangements to make reconciliation, but if I "forgave you" that would mean that I would not require you to pay me back. I would be the one who suffered the loss (at your hands) but I would not require you to reimburse me. The fact is that you could not possibly reimburse me, and asking you to do so would be requiring something from you that you could not do. The 100 million that you took from me, in essence, becomes my "gift" to you. In the case of our sins against God we are in this exact position.

The thing that we have taken from Him, as the result of our sins, is the Life of His Son, Jesus. The just wages of our sin is our death (Rom. 6:23). But when we come to God and ask Him to forgive us, He agrees to incur the loss and not only "gifts" us freedom from the wages (or punishment) of our sins but piles on top of that the gift of eternal life. Whether we accept this gift or not is totally up to us.

Sins have inevitable consequences. They harm others, they harm me, and they most assuredly harm God. If they are not stopped somehow this vicious cycle simply continues. So if God is going to get me to truly repent (change my behavior), He has got to do three things. First, He has got to provide a way for my past sins to be removed - meaning that He must provide a way for the consequences and penalties of my sins to be paid without MY having to pay them (God cannot simply wipe them from the record for that would not be Just). Second, He has got to get me to see the errors of my ways and want to change them. Third, He has got to provide a way for me to keep from sinning.

To "For-give" means to "give-for". This is why you cannot earn your forgiveness or merit it in any way. Acts of penitence, self-abrogation and self-denial can do nothing towards commending God's forgiveness of you. Forgiveness is the sole responsibility of the person "giving" it. It is their "gift" to you. It is God's gift to you!

Oh, how often I have come to God asking Him to forgive me, for the same sin! How often I have begged and pleaded with God to forgive me, when He has already done it! Oh, how much time we waste trying to convince God that He should forgive us, when He already has!

How do I know that God has forgiven me (and you)? What proof do I have? I need only look at the Cross and see Jesus, God's only begotten Son, hanging there dead in my place. This is the proof that God has given me that He loves me and has forgiven me. And it is your proof too. "For God so loved the world [that is, God so loved you], that He gave [gave for you] His only begotten Son, that whoever [anyone who will] believes in Him [accepts Christ as God's gift to you] shall not perish [shall not be held guilty and under the curse of death], but have eternal life [have Life NOW, free from all the guilt and penalties your sins have caused - a Life NOW, free from the burden of the cares and mistakes of this world - a Life NOW, not as a child of this world, but as the adopted child of God. A child who is NOW entitled to Life existing above sin and guilt]" (John 3:16). Such is the Love that God has for you! So GREAT is His Love for you that He has forgiven you [given for you] even before you have asked: "God demonstrates his love for us by the fact that Christ died for us while we were still sinners" (Rom. 5:8 ISV). This is a love that surpasses our human understanding, yet this is the love that God has for you! [If you would like to know more about why Christ had to die in order for you and me to be forgiven, click on this link: Why Jesus Had to Die , or for a more in-depth study of "Forgiveness" go to More on Forgiveness .

But if I am already forgiven, why do I need to go to Him and confess my sins and ask for His forgiveness? I must confess my sins to Him because it is not until I realize my condition and predicament - not until I accept my responsibility for my own actions - that I will be ready to come to Him for the solution. I must realize what it has cost God to provide forgiveness for me, or I will not appreciate the gift. And I must "ask" Him for His gift of forgiveness; first, as a way of acknowledging the gift itself; and second, as a way of expressing my need and acceptance of the gift. A "gift" must be received before it, in reality, becomes mine. But the gift has already been given and is freely offered to each of us. And this is why we may "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16 NASB) - and return free from our guilt and empowered to live a new life free from guilt and sin.

It doesn't matter what you may have done or how often you may have done it. Go to God, admit what you have done, ask for His forgiveness [accept His gift] and get up with a grateful and confident heart [at peace], and determine to allow Christ to live in you "For it is God who is producing in you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases him" (Phil. 2:13 ISV). And "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

Your forgiveness, and mine, is as sure and as real as the blood pumping through your veins right now. You don't need to hang on to your guilt. You may be free from it the very moment that you acknowledge both His willingness to take your guilt, and the reality of His having already taken it: "All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him" (Isa. 53:6). Give Him your guilt [it's the only thing that you can really give Him] and accept what God has given you, His for-given-ness.

I am free from my guilt today, and you can be also. It is yours, today, if you will only accept it.

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