Glorify Jesus by Accepting His Blood-Bought Forgiveness

An Open Letter to My Guilt-Ridden Friend in Christ

My friend, I truly have lost count of the number of times I have heard someone say the exact same thing (almost to the very word and order) that you expressed to me last week: “I know God has forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” Having struggled with this very same problem myself, and for many years, I was hoping maybe you would find some of these thoughts helpful. They have certainly helped me in the past, and they continue to pull me out of the muck even to the present day.

First of all, one of the fastest ways I know of to put the lies of the enemy to a quick and pitiless death is to agree with him. When Satan, the accuser of all Christian souls, whispers in your ear that “you are not worthy” of Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf, be really quick to accept his verdict: “Yes, you are right, I am not at all worthy of the great and glorious gift that has been freely given to me. When it comes to how badly I have rebelled and sinned against God, you don’t even know the half of it!” Acknowledging your own unworthiness – and the sin that still lingers in your heart – is a great way to glorify Jesus and make His sacrifice on your behalf shine just a bit more brightly into the darkness still present in your life.

Both painted circa 1595-1600; "Amusements of the Prodigal Son" (top) and "Return of the Prodigal Son" (bottom) by Palma il Giovane.

Both painted circa 1595-1600; “Amusements of the Prodigal Son” (top) and “Return of the Prodigal Son” (bottom) by Palma il Giovane.

Secondly, it helps me to remind myself that refusing to forgive myself is actually an act of pride. While we would never say so in as many words, the fact is that not forgiving ourselves is yet another way in which we have chosen to rebel against the grace and mercy of Jesus. By not forgiving ourselves, we have actually pitched our tent on the idea that our personal standards are somehow “higher” than those of God Himself. Our inner voice tells us that we are somehow uniquely sinful, so terribly bad that the forgiveness we are being offered by Jesus must be some sort of “Heavenly clerical error,” no doubt a mistake, probably intended for someone else. Again, though, we tiny humans are “talking back” to God and His purposes for our lives; this is not a posture we want to maintain for even one second longer. In short, an unwillingness to forgive ourselves should be put in the category of “Time to Repent Again” as quickly as possible.

Third, it helps me to remember that I cannot distribute what I myself have not already accepted. If I fail to fully receive the forgiveness and freedom being offered to me by Jesus, then it follows that I will be far less willing to “dispense” unmerited forgiveness to others. The energy we need to forgive dirty rotten scoundrels who very obviously don’t deserve it flows through the life blood of every Christian precisely because we have tossed aside our own (flawed and hopelessly-self-focused) set of Worthiness Measuring Tools and gratefully taken into our hearts an assurance that God is powerful enough to forgive all of our sins; past, present and future. Now I have precisely what I need to forgive that other wretched bum who just cut me off in traffic.

Fourth, a Christian who feels as though he or she needs to “pay back God” for all of the things he or she has done wrong places a huge, crushing burden on their shoulders that, frankly, makes that person a drag to be around. Once again, the enemy of your soul has sought to corrupt the freedom given to you by God so that you feel hopeless and oppressed by an ongoing inability to live righteously and “follow the rules.” Is there a place for throwing off sinful behaviors that continue to show up in your life? Oh yes, absolutely! (John 14:15; Romans 3:23-24; 1 John 1:9) Does your salvation and freedom from guilt depend upon your ability to “get it right this time” and live flawlessly? No…and thank God that it does not! You cannot possibly live as a joy-filled and peace-enjoying son or daughter of the living God if you won’t accept and internalize the Truth (with a capital T) that you have indeed been forgiven and once-and-for-all transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into God’s Kingdom of light and life (Colossians 1:13).

Lastly, I would strongly suggest that you begin to keep a running list of everyone to whom you may need to make amends for the mistakes of your past. This list is something for you to take to God; it is not necessarily a list upon which you need to act, but rather an accounting before God of your sins against others. Actually making flesh-and-blood amends with others can be a very tricky (and sometimes dangerous) business; no one should embark upon the hard work of apologizing to others face-to-face without help from a spiritually-mature adviser. The reason? Well…sometimes we seek to make amends with others as a way of making ourselves feel better; this is a sure sign that we ought to hold off on doing so, at least for a season. When you can legitimately approach another human being with the goal of setting the other person free from the wreckage you have brought into his or her life, then you might just be ready to move on it. But again, seek counsel from someone you know that lives out of biblical faithfulness.

My friend, my greatest hope for you is that you will take some time this week to step back from the busy-ness of life and pause to consider a few things that might help you begin to get a grasp on “how wide, how long, how high, and how deep” the love of God is for you (Ephesians 3:14-21) and how your new life in Christ is being crippled by an ongoing unwillingness to fully accept His forgiveness. Some “starter questions” you might ask of God and yourself during a time of prayer include:

  • Why is it that only people who have come to Jesus seem to worry so much about being forgiven? Unbelievers don’t seem nearly as tortured over this issue as I do!
  • At what point will I believe that I am “worthy” of Jesus? Is that point likely to occur in my lifetime…or is it entirely imaginary?
  • Which names and whose faces consistently come to mind as I consider whether I can ever forgive myself? (Jot these down.)
  • Do I really think that God made some sort of “mistake” by sending Jesus to rescue me?
  • In what other ways am I allowing Satan to rob me of joy and mold me into another sad, bummed-out believer?

Above all else, friend, please keep in mind that the forgiveness you enjoy is not, primarily, about you. (Seems strange, I know…) Whenever the grace and daily mercies of God cause you to look at yourself and how well (or poorly) you are doing, you can bet that the enemy is at your elbow in that moment, seeking above all else to avert your gaze from Jesus Himself. Have you done terrible things? Of course you have! Is Jesus “enough” for you to be at peace with God? Yes, 100%, absolutely.

Grace and peace to you in the struggle. I am always here for you if you want to talk more.

Matthew 21:28-32 (ESV)
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

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