Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Forgiveness and YOU

The broken soul sat on my couch and cried. She told me of an interaction with a friend who had reminded her of a past transgression. "You've got to take responsibility for what you did. Quit acting like you are the victim and realize that there were others who were hurt by what you did!" The broken soul protested, "I don't know what I was supposed to say... I know I did wrong, but I thought things were getting better. I thought I was doing better. But all it took was that one thing to make me feel this big (she gestures with her thumb and index finger close together)! How long will it be until this doesn't hang over me any more?"

I stayed quiet, trying to think of how to reframe the interaction. I had no doubt that the broken soul was trying with everything she had, to make things right again. "Do you feel like you haven't been forgiven?" She shrugged. "Have you forgiven yourself?" She stares blankly at me. She says, "I don't know. What if they are right? I thought I was doing better, but I guess I'm not. I have prayed about it. I can't tell you the number of times I've prayed over and over that God would forgive me..."

My question for you, dear reader... how many times should one have to ask God to be forgiven? If we ask once, in faith, should we not expect to receive it? If we pester God with shows of deep remorse, it is more convincing? I mean, after all, He does know our hearts, right? So he should be able to see inside us whether we are really, really sorry for what we've done, no?

I'm interested in how Christians view forgiveness, both from God and from others and from themselves. In the Old Testament, there is the expectation that in order to receive forgiveness from sin, a sin offering is made. A sacrifice is offered and blood is spilled. The death of an unblemished animal was a required prerequisite in order to gain divine forgiveness. Jesus changed all that. The Son of God, himself an unblemished innocent, was offered up in sacrifice so that his blood would satisfy the requirement. It was done, once, for all. Christ's death changed it all... now forgiveness is freely offered to all.

So... with that in mind, let's talk about forgiveness. The way I see it, it is a package deal. When we accept the forgiveness offered by the blood of Christ, we enter into a holy covenant. Not only do we receive forgiveness, we also receive redemption, reconciliation and renewal. Forgiveness means we are no longer culpable for the guilt of our sin, nor the shame. Forgiveness means we are also gifted with a peace that transcends earthly understanding.

Now, I want to be certain to point out that receiving forgiveness does not erase consequences of sin, just guilt. If we really understand that God doesn't require us to ask for forgiveness in order to offer it, we would feel silly about asking again and again for what he has already given. The broken soul I mentioned earlier might feel differently toward her friend if she understood and accepted this forgiveness. I imagine the conversation would have gone differently if she had the peace that comes along with a removal of guilt and shame.

Friend: You need to stop whining about the bad stuff that YOU caused and admit that you did something wrong and quit denying it.
Broken Soul: (calmly) You are correct. What happened was a terrible thing and I have many regrets. I am dealing with the fallout of those actions right now and could use all the support I could get.
Friend: Well, 'the fallout' would never have happened if you hadn't done what you did!
Broken Soul: (unruffled) I hear what you're saying, and although I regret those things, I'm looking for ways to make things right nowadays. I am not doing those things anymore, and that should be evidence that I am trying to turn things around. Things won't ever by the same again, but I trust that, with God in charge, things can be okay again.

What a difference it would make if we could face that sort of criticism with peace instead of anxiety and guilt. My assertion is that instead of wondering whether God has forgiven us, we ought to consider whether we have forgiven ourselves.

Jesus tells the parable of unmerciful servant (Matt 18:21-35) where he acknowledges that we have difficulty with forgiveness. Peter asks a pretty Pharisaical question: how many times should we forgive someone who wrongs us? Jesus uses hyperbole to answer him: Seventy times seven! (Read: as many times as is needed). So we get a sense of how we ought to forgive each other from this passage. Elsewhere, we are told that our forgiveness of others is a prerequisite for God forgiving us (Mark 11:25). But the Bible doesn't really help us out much on the issue of how to forgive ourselves.

I believe that we can walk more closely to Him when we consider that when we are in relationship with Christ, forgiveness is a daily process. The sin I committed last week was atoned for on the cross. The sin I will commit next week was atoned for on the cross. Not that I continue to sin so that I can continue to receive forgiveness! (Romans 6:1-2) What I mean is that more than wanting me to live in the swamp of depression and guilt and shame because I constantly need to be forgiven, Jesus calls us to right living and repentance.

Me: So, let me recap: You've told me what you are doing to turn things around and be the person that God has called you to be. You've stopped the behavior you were guilty of and are actively trying to do right?
Broken soul: Yes, of course! I feel like I've been trying so hard.
Me: So, if God has forgiven you, and you are answering his call to repent (live differently than before, in accordance with the Spirit), why do you keep asking to be forgiven?
Broken Soul: (shrugs) I guess I don't trust God enough.
Me: Could it be that Satan is distracting you by causing you to be caught up in the guilt and shame that were actually removed long ago? Satan doesn't have to get us to keep sinning. Sometimes he just has to convince us that we aren't forgiven in the first place.

Questions to ponder:
*When does Christ's forgiveness kick in?

*What is impeding your ability to forgive yourself, as God forgives you?

* How should Christians respond to others who seek to pull us back into guilt and shame of a sin that has already been atoned for? With anxiety and self-doubt OR with peace and confidence in the power of the blood of Christ?

And now... may you experience the freedom and peace that accompanies true forgiveness through the blood of Christ Jesus.


1 comment:

McMillan Family said...

Great post Jeff. I've been focusing on forgiveness a lot lately... We've had several sermons on it, a personal testimony shared that really touched me and stirred up some old family issues, and I've been speaking to my pastor about that, plus I went on a Walk to Emmaus this past weekend (don't know if you're familiar with that?) and forgiveness was a major part of what I hoped to gain from the weekend. So how appropriately timed this post is? :) There are no coincidences, only God-incidences. Thanks for sharing.