Lord, Only You Can Change Me

“Why? Why did I do it again?  Why do I fail You every time?” It seems that those words have filled my prayers more often than not.  I thought I was strong in one area, only to give in to temptation as soon as it tipped its cap my direction.  Frustration and tears were my constant companions during my time with God in the morning.  The condemning words of John 14:15 rang in my ears:  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”  Did I really love God at all?

The doubt that crept into my soul was not conviction, though at the time that is what I considered it to be.  My guilt over sin brought me to repentance, but the fact that I failed in those areas again caused me to wonder if I had really been sorry in the first place.  Yet I knew in my heart that I hated the sin — and that I had truly repented to God.  I would be fine… until the temptation came again and I gave in. 

Guilt leads to repentance, but my failure and consequential remorse never seemed to go away.  I was in a circle of fail-repent-doubt-fail that never seemed to end.  It wasn’t until I read the words of Hannah Whitall Smith, in her book The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life, that I understood where I was going wrong in my relationship with God. 

Hannah Smith wrote an entire chapter on ‘Failure’, and as I read it, I was astounded at what I read.  Failure will come, she said, and when it does, repent in earnest and then get up.  “But isn’t that impertinent?” I wondered to myself.  Hannah confronted that thought right away with an illustration:

If you were a mother, and you had a daughter who disobeyed you but came to you repentant of her deed, would you not forgive her?  Then when you had forgiven her earnest repentance, what would you think if sat on the sofa, still crying, because she didn’t believe you had really forgiven her?  Her lack of faith would be the cause of her own pain. 

The only way to conquer, Hannah wrote, is to “get up off your face” and walk in victory.  Christ has promised if you confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive you and cleanse you of all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).  In my quest to not be “impertinent” I was slapping the face of the God who forgave me when I asked.  In my hopes to avoid “ungratefulness” I doubted the sacrifice He made on the cross.

The root of my problem, then, was striving to change myself into the image of God. I was doing things on my own, even though it seemed that I was doing them for God.  I missed the entire point of repentance to God:  He will change me, if I believe Him.  That is true surrender.  That is a repentant heart.

Understanding Forgiveness

Many people refer to Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”  It is a wonderful promise!  Yet — what about when we feel condemned?  If there is no condemnation with Christ, how come we can feel that way?

I have put a lot of thought into this, and prayed about it, and searched my Bible about it.  Why were there times when I would feel as if I were separated from God?  Why did I feel like I was drowning in my own sinfulness, and that no matter how much I repented, I wasn’t getting out?  It took some time, but I came to understand the reason for those feelings.  I also came to understand how to conquer them.  They are conquered by knowing the character of your God.

I was never taught that God was judgmental or cruel.  I was taught that He was a loving God, but that He was also just and good.  But while I knew God, I didn’t really know God.  I knew what I was told about Him, but I didn’t read what He said about Himself.  Because of this, my idea of forgiveness was not what He Himself projected. 

There are certain sins I have a propensity toward, just like everyone else.  Everyone has a specific weakness that Satan works to our downfall.  Every time I would commit one of these sins, I would feel terribly guilty.  I would feel condemned.  Perhaps you have felt this before.  This, my friends, is to be expected if you are walking with Christ.  God’s perfect law convicts us of our sin, and through that conviction, we feel guilty.  For the Christian, this guilt leads to repentance.  And with each time I sinned, I would repent — sometimes in tears.  Guilt in and of itself is not wrong, because it leads us to repent to God so He may reinstate us to Him.

But sometimes the guilt wouldn’t go away.

This is where the trouble lies.  Or perhaps I should say, this is where the Trouble lies — because the root of this is Satan’s lie.  See, when we repent, Christ makes us the promise of forgiveness, if it is genuine repentance:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  ~1 John 1:9

That should be reassurance enough.  However,  in my case, I would get up from my knees still wondering if God had forgiven me.  “How could he forgive me for that sin again?”  Or I still felt in my heart the same condemnation that I felt before, even though I had repented. I decided that because I didn’t FEEL forgiven, I wasn’t.  What I didn’t understand is that God doesn’t deal in feelings — He deals in faith. 

Satan wants us to operate in a state of guilt after we are forgiven because it often leads to a repeat of the same sin.  While a measure of condemnation, genuine repentance, is necessary when we sin, to continue allowing it to reside in our hearts after we have asked God to take us back is to allow Satan to have a hold.  Often, I would wallow around in a self-deprecating pity party over the sin, thinking God couldn’t have forgiven me, and then I would commit the sin all over again because I had given up. 

God PROMISES that when we repent to Him, He will take us back. He will restore us, forgive us, and help us to move forward in His light.  My problem was with a verse I had read: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (Jn. 14:15).  I thought that since I had stumbled and fallen so many times in the same area, I didn’t love the Lord.  How could I?  I had sinned against Him over and over!  The truth is, we will fail, fall and stumble — but every time we are to get up, in faith, and trust that if we ask God will forgive.  This doesn’t mean we intentionally sin more, as Paul said in Romans 7; it just means that we make Him our complete source of righteousness.  Walking in this humility will naturally bring about the character we lacked before.

“Blessed is she whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered…” (Ps. 32:1)

“…God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear…” (1 Cor. 10:13)

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (Jn. 15:8)

“Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” (Job 5:17)

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  (Heb. 12:11)

Guilt leads us to repentance.  Repentance reunites us with the Living, loving Lord:

“…This is what the Lord says:  “When men fall down, do they not get up?  When a man turns away, does he not repent?” (Jer. 8:4)

Don’t wallow!  Get up in faith and genuine repentance and trust Christ to be your righteousness.  Yield to the power of Christ in you!  He is the God of the world, and the one who loves you.  He does not want you apart from Him — and if you ask in faith, believing what He says about Himself, He will reinstate you to Him.  Don’t go by feelings.  Feelings fluctuate and change.  Act in faith, and the emotions will follow — and you will know that only in Christ are you forgiven.

“He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge.”  (Ps. 144:2)