Today's post is by my friend Bev Moore.
Jill thought for a long time about God’s forgiveness. She had spent so many years dealing with feelings of condemnation and guilt. What she was experiencing now seemed like a dream—something too good to be true. She was nervous that something was going to go wrong, or that maybe God was waiting to heap on the guilt the next time she messed up.
Many of our counselees can identify with Jill. When they are introduced to the gospel—that they can be forgiven by God’s grace—it’s almost more than they can believe. But by God’s grace they do believe! Yet sometimes they feel uneasy but they’re not quite sure why.
One thing that really helped Jill was reading how Jesus demonstrated His love for a woman who desperately needed His forgiveness. It wasn’t hard for Jill to identify with the woman in this story. Jill got to see the love and compassion Jesus freely gave to someone like her.
It’s the beautiful story found in Luke 7:36-50 where Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. While there a woman who had lived a sinful life came to the house with an alabaster jar of perfume and she wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. She kissed His feet and anointed them with the perfume. Simon was repulsed by what he saw and couldn’t believe Jesus could allow Himself to be touched by this “sinner.”
Jesus knew what Simon was thinking and told him a story involving a moneylender and two men that owed him money and how the moneylender forgave both debts. Jesus asked Simon which man he thought would love the moneylender more. Simon knew that the man with the bigger debt canceled would love the moneylender more. Here is how the rest of this scene played out:
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:43-50)
What a striking contrast between two people—a Pharisee, who placed his faith in his own self-righteousness and goodness, who erroneously believed he had a very small debt he owed to God, and believed he could earn God’s favor by keeping the rules. And a woman who knew she had a huge debt she owed to God and she could never even begin to repay Him, but who put her faith in Jesus. This woman was well aware of her guilt and her need for forgiveness. She knew she had to come to Jesus for the forgiveness she desperately wanted and needed.
For some, believing that God will forgive every sin is difficult to accept as true. Why? Here are several reasons to consider:
• We doubt that God will ever accept us after what we’ve done. We think that our sin is too big or too awful for God to forgive.
• We continually repeat our sin, feeling trapped in a never-ending cycle of defeat and despair.
• We fail to grasp the holiness of God and His hatred of sin so we fail to see our sin as a direct offense against God.
• We attempt to establish our own standard of righteousness and feel defeated and unforgiveable when our performance doesn’t measure up to our satisfaction.
• We fail to grasp the depth of God’s forgiving grace through the sacrifice of His Son’s life.
Jill was grateful for God’s forgiveness, but wrestled with this thought: “I just can’t forgive myself for the things I’ve done.” Very often we feel regret, shame, and condemnation for the things we’ve done that have caused us and others pain and heartache. It feels like we need to forgive ourselves, but it’s a misconception that we have wronged ourselves. Our sin is against God (and possibly others), and it’s His forgiveness that we need. We may feel the need to forgive ourselves so that we can feel better about ourselves, but nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to do this. Forgiveness was purchased for us at the cross because ultimately our sin is against God.
In order to get past the regret we have regarding our sin, we have to keep our heart and mind focused on the cross and what Jesus did for us there. When the devil wants to remind us of battles lost and tries to rub our noses in our failures, we can confidently say to him, “I am worse than you think, but I have a GREAT BIG GOD who is bigger than all my sin. He has washed me and made me whiter than snow through the blood of Jesus Christ!”
But what if I don’t feel forgiven? Forgiveness is a fact, just like guilt is a fact. I don’t always feel guilt when I am guilty, nor will I always feel forgiven when I confess my sin to God and He forgives me. There may be residual regret and possibly painful consequences that are reminders of our sin. But we have to focus on the truth of God’s Word: if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we base our forgiveness on feelings, what does that say about what Christ has done for us? Could we be saying that not only did He have to die for our sin, but now He has to give us the feelings we desire in order to believe and/or feel we are forgiven? Are we saying that what He has already done was not enough? We can certainly spend a lot of time trying to feel good about ourselves, but that should not be the goal. We are to humbly live by faith in the truth, not faith in our feelings!
We have to help our counselees focus on God’s Word and pray that the Holy Spirit will renew their minds with the truth so that they can walk in the light and in the precious freedom of God’s forgiveness.
Bev Moore (M.A.B.C.) is on the counseling staff at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN. She is married to George and they have two grown sons. She co-authored In the Aftermath: Past the Pain of Childhood Sexual Abuse.