A visitor to “I Lift My Eyes Ministries” once wrote me.
“I am in a mainline denomination, and I’ve asked forgiveness for my sins many times, but I don’t feel that I can forgive myself. I am not sure that God wants to forgive me. How do I know that I am forgiven?”
I wrote in answer:
First of all, thank you for writing. You ask a good question. How do we know we are forgiven? Do we have to prove to God how sorry we are before we are forgiven? Here is some freedom for you. You don’t have to prove yourself to God; you only have to confess to Him.
1 John 1:9
If we confess* our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (KJV)
*Confess: To take complete ownership of specific thoughts, actions, words and behaviors. To admit to God and to admit to others as He leads that these specific actions, thoughts, behaviors and patterns have harmed others and have offended God.
2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
True repentance goes beyond saying you are sorry for your sins. Repentance requires a heart-felt desire to abandon that specific sin and never return to it. Repentance is a conscious choice to turn away from specific sinful thoughts, attitudes, behaviours and actions. The very moment we come to him in repentance we are given God’s empowering forgiveness and His grace to walk into lasting freedom from guilt and overwhelming shame.
Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection earned our forgiveness. Our slate is wiped clean. If God, at a later date, were to look over our criminal record, there would be no mention of any previously confessed sin. If we stumble and fall back into that specific sin, God’s offer of forgiveness is still valid. We only need to return to him once again. There is no limit to His forgiveness, and there is no limit to His grace.
In order to experience forgiveness, we need to realize just what we need forgiveness from. Many people generalize their confessionsto God, painting themselves with the harsh broad stroke of condemnation. “I am a terrible, terrible person. You must hate me, God.” When we come to God with a blanket statement of self-loathing, it is difficult for us to feel God’s forgiveness. God, in his mercy and wisdom, convicts us of specific sins. He is a masterful surgeon, using his sharp two-edged sword to go right to the meat of the matter. (Hebrews 4:12). In modern terms, God’s conviction is more accurate and exact than the most advanced surgical laser. He pinpoints very specific sins in our lives in the hope that we will come to him for forgiveness and take up his offer to walk with him into lasting freedom.
Upon our confession of sin, God instantaneously and completely frees us from any eternal consequence of our sin. However, we are often must face the earthly consequences of our sin. For example, those of us who have abused our bodies through wrong lifestyle choices may have health difficulties as a result of these abuses to our bodies. The good news is God can and does heal today. With his help and our determination to submit ourselves to the help he provides, we will walk in freedom. In order to maintain that freedom, we need to remain humble, seeking out the support of the medical community when necessary and to find fellow believers who will lovingly hold us accountable to follow through on our determination to walk in freedom.
Sometimes those whom we have sinned against may choose not to forgive us even though we have made amends with them to the best of our ability. At that point, we must make amends only as far as the person we have offended feels comfortable to allow. Restitution could require paying for the financial damage we have caused others. It could mean legal ramifications in the court system.
It is important to note that such consequences have nothing to do with the fact we are forgiven by God. Earthly consequences are not a sign of God’s long-term judgment and punishment over us. Jesus paid our debt, and in the eyes of God there is nothing between us and his loving arms. At the very instant of our confession < !– google_ad_section_end –>, we are given the opportunity to walk in the complete freedom provided to us through Christ’s sacrifice. God never refuses a repentant heart.
Psalm 51:16-17 (NRSV) For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
When we don’t forgive ourselves, we hold ourselves in chains that keep dragging us down back into the very sin we want to avoid. As we embrace God’s forgiveness, we give God the permission to snap that heavy chain, releasing us from the overbearing weight of guilt and self-loathing.
Forgiveness is not an emotion, it is a legal transaction. God knows you are guilty of your sin and He knows the only way for you to find forgiveness of sin was through the death of His Son. Jesus stands with you in the court of law and says. “I have taken the punishment for this sin on the cross, and I rose from the dead so this one can be set free.” (1 John 2:1-2, Hebrews 7:24) Jesus took our punishment. We do not need to wait for a warm fuzzy feeling to know we are forgiven. The cross serves as a stark reminder of the price God paid in order than he could pronounce forgiveness over his beloved children. Jesus paid the price; he took our place, and took our punishment.
It is said in some denominational traditions. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” As you are a part of that world, you have been given an invitation to live in that forgiveness. You have full access to that forgiveness, every day, every hour.
I hope you will find the following resources from our ministry site on the subject of forgiveness to be a help :
Your sister in Christ,
©2013 Katherine Walden