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)

The Power of Christ

I absolutely LOVE the movie Jesus.  Every Easter and Christmas we watch it as a family, at Christmas including the newer film The Nativity.  It makes me cry every time… and think, “How could I ever sin against someone who loves me that much?”

Well, we all know emotions won’t guarantee good works, and a few days after the movie temptation will rise again, and good feelings aren’t going to help me fight them.  As Paul said, “…I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom. 7:18-19)

I sought the answer to this problem in my Bible and in multiple other books.  I knew that the root of it was in making time for God, and cultivating the relationship I had with Him, but in the moment of temptation, what am I to do?

Then one Sunday at church, I was running our portable library — a bookshelf with wheels that has Christian books to borrow — and was flipping through When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy.  I have read this book many times — highly recommend it — but this Sunday I opened it to a page I had missed in my reading before. Eric was writing about sin in the life of a believer, and how to conquer it, and he summed it up in one sentence:

Yield to the power of Christ in you.

That was it.  It was like all the lights in heaven came on for me.  So basic — but so profound!  Christ lives in the Christian, but when she insists on her own way of doing things — even in confronting temptation — He has no influence over her behavior. 

My pastor said something several months ago that relates to this topic:

“Your life is only as big as your faith; your faith is only as big as your God.  If you spend all your time looking at yourself you will be discouraged, but if you look to God you will be encouraged.”                 ~ Pastor Mark Manzer, 11-18-06

Looking at our failure, wallowing and dwelling in it, is scorning the forgiveness we are given – if in fact, you have confessed and repented.  God wants us to move on after failure, to stand up and walk forward, remembering that next time you will not yield to the power of the flesh, but to the power of Christ in you.  So yield.  Submit… and watch His strength become evident.

 

Hardened

 “I’m sorry, I’m sorry… I shouldn’t be so emotional… I — I don’t know why I cry about these things… I should just suck it up and be tough.”  Katie wiped tears from her eyes as she said these words to me beside the coffee makers and sugar packets in the back room.  She was crying over the fact that her boyfriend, whom she is living with, didn’t care enough to even tell her where he was.  “I’m silly to cry — I know… I’ll stop, really I will.” She stifled a sob as she tried to control her emotions.  She had hardened herself for years, but she could only contain her anguished heart for so long.

In our world, girls and women are taught to be tough, to be strong, to be unflappable.  They are taught to fight, bite and lash out.  Selfishness and pride are considered high self-esteem and confidence.  The people who go far are the ones that beat the rest down.  “Survival of the fittest” is the mantra of our society.  Innocence and purity, humility and love — these are left behind.  Women become brash, crass and unashamed.  Their beauty becomes physical alone as the truest source of loveliness is crushed while still in the bud.

I read once that when a girl ceases to blush, she has lost the greatest beauty she will ever have.  For some reason, I never forgot that quote.  Sometimes, when I was embarrassed, I would run to a mirror to see if I was blushing — just to make sure!  But why would blushing be a virtue?  Because when a girl blushes, it reveals innocence and humility.  Usually a girl will blush when she is flattered, excited, and in some cases, shocked.  But when a girl ceases to blush, she has become hardened.

It is easy to become hardened to the ways of the world.  They sneak up on you bit by bit, and if you compromise on the littlest sins, they soon give way to the greater.  When I began my job, my ears were ringing from all the cussing I heard during the course of the day.  While my co-workers kindly refrained from taking the Lord’s name in vain in front of me, they did not stop repeating other words that are not glorifying to God.  Over time I came to expect their language, and while I never repeated it, it didn’t shock me so much anymore.  I ceased to blush.

The same thing happened in my speech class at my local college.  My teacher, a non-Christian, would occasionally tell rather crude jokes to the class.  At first I couldn’t believe he would dare say them, but because the class thought they were funny, he continued.  Every time he read them I could feel my face flaming.  But what if I no longer felt ashamed to hear his jokes?  What if I laughed at them with everyone else?  My heart and mind would move one step closer to excusing sin.

Becoming hardened happens quickly and without warning.  The question is — how do we as godly young women keep our hearts and minds pure, walk in innocence and light, and glorify our Savior and Lord?  The world is ready at every turn to corrupt, tempt and lead astray.  Some do not intend harm, but because they are not saved they are at the ready use of the Enemy for his purposes.  The walk with God is not always in green pastures, and beside still waters.  This I am discovering now.  So we must be vigilant.  We must be strong.  The answer to the question lies in the verse below:

“The Lord God will help me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.”  (Is. 50:7)

Do not be hardened to the sins of the world, so that you tolerate and accept them, but DO be hardened against sin.  He will help you!  Your face will be firm, and so will your heart, and you will not be ashamed to be innocent, pure and upright.  Just because the world is doing it never makes it right — and the Enemy desires nothing better than to have you follow in the path of the thousands of others who don’t want to stand out.  Instead, they harden their hearts to sin and eventually, fall into sin themselves.

“Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.  Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts.  Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your stautes.  My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.”  (Ps. 119:133-136)

When the world beats a path to your door, as it always does when it comes to sin, makes sure it is unable to get a foot across the threshold.  Keep your heart firm in faith, and your face free for blushing — because your innocence to sin is the most beautiful evidence for Christ that you possess.