Betsy came to me crying one day. As we began to discuss her problem, she explained that she had committed adultery three times in her life. The last time she had been caught, her husband had divorced her. She had been single again for little over a year. “I know that the Bible says God has forgiven me for all my sins, but I cannot overcome the guilt I feel,” she explained. “Every time I date somebody, if I believe he is a sincerely good man, I find myself thinking that I can’t allow myself to become serious with him because he deserves someone better than me.”
Although Betsy knew that God had forgiven her, she had not forgiven herself. Consequently she was wallowing in the misery of self-condemnation. Many Christians struggle with nagging guilt over their sins. They know intellectually that they have been forgiven, but the truth hasn’t reached their emotions. They underestimate the gentle grace of God. Brennan Manning wrote:
If Jesus appeared at your dining room table tonight with knowledge of everything you are and are not, total comprehension of your life story and every skeleton hidden in your closet; if He laid out the real state of your present discipleship with the hidden agenda, the mixed motives, and the dark desires buried in your psyche, you would feel His acceptance and forgiveness.
It’s true – Jesus isn’t mad at you! I used to think that He must be angry, after all, I would sometimes keep committing the same sin over and over again. Wouldn’t my repeated failure eventually wear out His patience? The answer is an emphatic – no! Remember that God saw every sin you would ever commit as He looked at your spot on the time line of life. He placed all of them into Christ and forgave them all. Don’t believe that your failures can bankrupt God’s grace. You can’t out-sin the grace of God!
“Won’t teaching people that God’s grace has pardoned all of their sins encourage them to commit sins?” many have asked. Absolutely not. To the contrary, the grace of God will teach us to deny ungodliness and to live holy lives (See Titus 2:11). A legalist is afraid of this kind of excessive grace because he has never experienced the freedom to know what sins he might commit if given the chance. The concern that unmeasured grace will lead people to sin isn’t new. Paul faced the same kind of questions in his day. In Romans 6:1-3, after having addressed the matter of justification by grace through faith, he poses the question he knows is on everybody’s mind:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
Why won’t the believer who knows that all of his sins for a lifetime have been forgiven go out and live a lifestyle of constant sins? It is because he died to the sin-life and no longer has the desire for it anymore. This doesn’t mean he won’t sometimes sin, but when he does lapse into sin it will change nothing in his relationship to God. He will soon discover that he doesn’t want to live there.
As I shared the truth of God’s complete forgiveness with Betsy, I saw her begin to change in the months ahead. I saw her recently and she told me, “Steve, I am free! What a relief to know that all of my sins have been removed by the cross. For the first time in years, I am really enjoying my relationship with Christ because I don’t feel condemned by Him.”
Are you living under the weight of self-condemnation for past sins in your own life? God has forgiven you. Are your standards higher than His? An unwillingness to forgive ourselves implies that we believe the cross of Christ was not sufficient. Release your guilt by choosing to believe that you are forgiven! God knew every sin you would ever commit throughout your whole lifetime on the day He saved you, yet He still saved you.
Condemnation in the believers life never comes from God (See Romans 8:1). Don’t align yourself with the lies of the enemy that you stand guilty. Your guilt has been removed by the cross, and not only the guilt you had before you became a Christian either. Your guilt for a lifetime is gone! Christians stand completely justified before God.
You are guiltless and free! It’s no wonder Jesus called our life in Him the abundant life. Stop worrying about your past. It no longer exists because of the cross. Now, abide in Jesus and “live it up!”