Pieces Part 4: Feeling Forgiven

The Bible reveals that God can and does forgive us for our sins. But sometimes that feeling of actually being forgiven is elusive. 

Pieces Part 4: Feeling Forgiven

What did you do? Look what you have done? How could you do that?  Those questions cut to the heart when asked by some significant person in your life. Today I want to bring some thoughts concerning forgiveness, specifically the feeling of being forgiven by God.

When it comes to our faith in Christ, the scripture tells us that because of the atonement, it is possible to be forgiven for our sin.

1 John 2:12 (MSG)
Your sins are forgiven in Jesus' name.

Sometimes a disciple of Jesus can run into a roadblock. They can read that they are forgiven, they can intellectually grasp God’s forgiveness, but they don’t feel it. I want you to take away what you need to know in order to feel that God has forgiven you.

Before you can feel that God forgives you, need to know that you are the guilty party. You need to grasp what you need to be forgiven for. What you need to be forgiven for is being a sinner. Because of sin, things are not right between you and God; you and others; you and yourself.

What is sin? Sin is anything, by anything I mean thought, word or deed that prevents, damages or destroys a healthy relationship. By healthy, I mean as intended, the way it is designed to work. Sin creates estrangement, what was once good, is no longer good, the parts no longer related rightly. If you can think of a relationship that is not as good as it was, then you may consider yourself to be a sinner. That puts us all in the same proverbial boat, and the scripture proclaims: “…all have sinned…(Romans 3:23 (NIV). Because of this sin problem, the scripture reveals the human predicament. That predicament is our estrangement with God.

Romans 3:10-12 (NIV)
"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless…”

That no one is righteous means that there is no one who is as they were intended. As a result, we all are living lives of frustration trapped in a prison of wrongness in a broken world. We may not be able to put our finger on what exactly is wrong but we know, deep down, that things are not how they should be. We’ve been hurt, we are hurting and we tend to inflict hurt on one another. 

But it’s worse than the obvious, for the same scripture proclaims the destiny of the unrighteous, the sinner is in an eternal existence in wrongness, in separation and isolation:
Romans 6:23 (NIV)
“… the wages of sin is death…”

Death, though its speculation on my part, I believe that human beings were not meant to be subject to physical death. I like to imagine that we were created to be immortal, like Tolkien’s elves. Physical death is a sign to us that we are in a broken condition, that we are unrighteous, that we are sinners. Physical death is a prophetic word to us that there is also spiritual death. This spiritual death is symbolized in many ways, but one that is prominent is being exiled from the community, or as scripture puts it, cast into hell.

Matthew 10:28 (NIV)
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

This exile, this hell, manifests itself in what we can call our mortal lives. The life of a sinner is characterized in scripture by “trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions…” Galatians  5:19-21 (MSG)

To such a list I would add regrets, heartbreak, betrayal, lies, infidelity, violence, hatred, vengeance, oppression, injustice, and all the emotional and physical symptoms caused by all that negative energy inside you. By living this way we create hell on earth.

If you have experienced any of this, they all serve as signs that you are stuck in the human predicament, estranged from God. You are a sinner, and a sinner needs salvation, a sinner needs to be forgiven, a sinner needs to experience a reconciliation of relationship with God to begin to make the world right again.

 This is where the good news of the gospel comes into play.

1 Corinthians 15:3, Hebrews 2:17 (NIV), 1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins…that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

Because this has been done the scripture confides to us that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Acts 10:43 (NIV)

“…to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
John 1:12 (NIV)

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Romans 10:13 (NIV)

It is in your commitment to discipleship that you can experience God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, making of all things right between you and He. This is the real analysis of what the scripture reveals.  This is objective spiritual truth. When God forgives you He no longer holds what you have done against you. The part you play in all this is choosing to live in this truth by committing yourself to be a disciple of Jesus. When you do, the scripture declares that God has forgiven you of your sin.

This is the must be accomplished before you will feel God’s forgiveness. You must make the commitment to live in this truth.

Do you feel that God has forgiven you? Feelings, we move again into the subjective. Subjective means that our experience is unique to us. We all feel things differently.

When you hold what you’ve done against yourself, the feelings of God’s forgiveness remain elusive. When you can’t let go of what you’ve done when you hold something against yourselves you block your feelings of forgiveness. When you don’t feel being forgiven you tend to move away from God. The scripture recommends something else entirely. Let those feelings of not being forgiven drive you to God.

2 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV)
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Often we fail to feel forgiveness because we have not adequately repented of our sins. Repentance is more than just admitting guilt. Repentance moves us away from self-condemnation and self-hatred into the feelings of God’s love and acceptance, His forgiveness.

Repentance is more than the proper assessment of objective guilt. Not only do you need conviction of wrongful behavior you need contrition. Contrition is that Godly sorrow. Contrition involves fully denouncing the offensive behavior because you feel that it is wrong. You truly feel remorse for your actions. Your thinking changes. What was done must become one of those things that you simply will not do again.

If the behavior has already embedded itself into your lifestyle as a habit or attachment or addiction, your work is going to be that much more difficult. You will know that what you are doing is wrong but find yourself apparently powerless to stop the behavior. If you dealing with an ingrained behavior let me suggest to you a book by Caroline Leaf entitled Switch On Your Brain.  In it, you’ll find Dr. Leaf’s 21 day Brain Detox Plan that is going to help you break your entrenched behavior.

Contrition results in changing your mind about what is allowable for a person whom God has forgiven. I suggest that it is also good to prove to yourself that you are serious about never repeating an offensive behavior by getting yourself into a support group. In a good group, you will lovingly be held accountable and you will find wisdom in dealing with your problem. Celebrate Recovery has proven to be effective in creating support groups.  You may be able to break a habit on your own, but when it comes to attachments and addictions you need the help of others.

Repentance involves conviction of sin, denunciation of the offensive behavior and also reparation for the harm done. Reparation is an attempt to make right what you made wrong. You ask God to forgive you, that’s vertical, between you and God, but to feel that forgiveness sometimes you have to get the horizontal right. If you seek forgiveness for not returning my skill saw, but never return it, that’s not repentance, you can’t forgive yourself because you haven’t made what was wrong right.  Your act of repentance is not complete because you haven’t attempted to make things right with the person you offended.

1 John 4:20 (MSG)
If anyone boasts, "I love God," and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see?

If you have unfinished business with other people you may not feel God’s forgiveness until you have attempted to make things right with them.

Sometimes reparation involves taking up a cause to right a wrong. Your reparations may take the form of some sort of social activism. Like the addict that becomes a drug counselor. The former gang member becomes a big brother or big sister to help steer kids from falling into the same trap that they did. Reparation can be about working at getting it right this time.

One more action is required. This I think by far is the hardest. In order to feel God’s forgiveness of you, you must forgive those who have sinned against you.

Matthew 5:23-24 (MSG)
If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.

Mark 11:25 (MSG)
If you have anything against someone, forgive—only then will your heavenly Father be inclined to also wipe your slate clean of sins."

Luke 11:4 (NIV)
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

I have found that it is my own unforgiveness that prevents me from feeling God’s forgiveness. God no longer holds what I did against me, I must be like Him and cancel the debts that others owe me. By releasing others, I release myself. When I forgive others, I feel like I can and am forgiven.

Forgiving an offensive person is not easy. That old adage, forgive and forget, is not true. Forgiving does not mean forgetting.  Forgiving means no longer holding something against that other person, no longer demanding they make right what they did wrong. Forgiving opens the door for reconciliation but doesn’t require it. Sometimes it’s best to forgive and end the current relationship. You know you have forgiven when you hold no ill will towards someone. You may never want to see them again, but you aren’t interested in collecting from them what they owe you.

It’s through these acts of repentance that you come to the place where you no longer hold what you did against yourself. You know what you did was wrong, but you no longer condemn yourself for your deeds. You take the objective forgiveness revealed in scripture apply it to your own life and find yourself empowered to forgive yourself. God’s forgiveness of you becomes your forgiveness of yourself. That results in feeling forgiven.

The result of the feeling that God forgives you is freedom. You feel liberated from the past, from what was, and free to move into the future where you are empowered to not only do what is right but be rightly related to yourself.

1 Timothy 1:12-16 (MSG)
I'm so grateful to Christ Jesus for making me adequate to do this work. He went out on a limb, you know, in trusting me with this ministry. 13 The only credentials I brought to it were invective and witch hunts and arrogance. But I was treated mercifully because I didn't know what I was doing—didn't know Who I was doing it against! 14 Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus.

15 Here's a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I'm proof—Public Sinner Number One— 16 of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off—evidence of his endless patience—to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever. 


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