God's forgiveness does not depend on our confession, nor does His fellowship. Confession is a means for releasing us from the tension and bondage of a guilty conscience. When we pray, God, You are right. I have sinned against You. I am guilty of this act. I am guilty of that thought, we achieve release.
Our fellowship with God is not restored by confession (because it was never broken); rather, our sense of fellowship with God is restored. When we sin, we withdraw our fellowship from God; He does not withdraw His fellowship from us. Forgiveness is ours forever as believers. The moment we received Him as Savior, He became our life. But our capacity to enjoy forgiveness—our capacity to enjoy a clean conscience—is based on our willingness to acknowledge and confess that sin.
Let me illustrate. One night when I came home, instead of driving into the garage as is my habit, I pulled in the side parking area. As I was walking toward the back door. I noticed my almost-new Oldsmobile sitting there–with the front end bashed in. My daughter, Becky, had been driving the car. I decided not to mention it. When I entered the house, nothing was said. When we sat down to dinner, nothing was said. After a while, my son Andy said, "Becky, do you have anything you'd like to tell Dad?"
I noticed that Becky was quiet. She hadn't said much that night. She turned to me and said, "Dad, oh, I hate to tell you this." She was having a terrible time. "I want to tell you what happened. This fellow pulled in front of me and he stopped all of a sudden and I ran into him and I bashed up your car." And she started crying.
I didn't say a word until she was finished. Then, "Becky, it's okay. It's all right."
"You mean you're not mad?"
"Why should I be mad? You're not hurt. You can always have the car fixed up again. Even if it were your fault, Becky, it's okay."
Becky is my daughter. If she had totaled the car and we had not had insurance, she would have been just as forgiven. She's my daughter, and as my daughter she walks in total forgiveness by me–no matter what she does. Even so, Becky had to clear her conscience that night. She had to get it out of her system and tell me about it, or she would have spent a miserable night trying to sleep. And she had to forgive herself.
Isn't this what happens with us and God?
Forgiveness is never complete until, first, we have experienced the forgiveness of God, second, we can forgive others who have wronged us, and third, we are able to forgive ourselves.
People frequently say, "I know that God has forgiven me. And I'm sure that I have forgiven those who wronged me. But I still have no peace in my heart. Something is not quite right." Oftentimes this disquietude can be an unforgiving spirit directed toward ourselves. This unforgiving spirit is not directed toward God for what He has done, nor is it directed toward others for what they have done. There will be no peace in our hearts until we forgive ourselves for the wrongs that we have committed. But we must be willing to forgive ourselves.
Not long ago, a young woman, whom I shall call Patsy, came to see me. She was only sixteen, but she had become sexually involved with an eighteen-year-old when she was thirteen. This had continued for two years before he moved to another state. She called herself dirty and guilty. Distraught by his departure, overwhelmed by her sense of guilt, and reluctant to talk to her parents, she sought private counseling only to become emotionally involved with the thirty-year-old counselor on whom she had depended for help.
By the time Patsy came to see me, she was confused and desperate. She had thought about running away from home and had toyed with the idea of suicide. She didn't know what to do or where to turn. She said, "I know that I'm saved, but I'm so full of guilt I don't know what in the world to do. And if, somehow, I don't get an answer, I know I can't keep living."
"Have you asked the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive you?"
"I've asked Him hundreds of times to forgive me."
"Well, has He?" She didn't answer.
"Well, has He forgiven you?"
"I feel so dirty."
"But, did you ask Him to forgive you?"
"Oh, I've asked Him many times."
"How did He respond?"
"I just feel so dirty inside," she repeated.
Because of her testimony, I believe that Patsy was saved. But what she did was so sinful and wicked and vile in her eyes that she could not believe a holy God could forgive her for two years of sexual immorality with one man and almost another year of intimate involvement with another. Patsy said she just couldn't "feel" God's forgiveness . . .
An Ancient Example
Lest we think that forgiving ourselves is a modern dilemma, consider Peter and Paul, who had to face the problem of forgiving themselves–in a very intense fashion.
After Peter refuted that he even knew Christ, "the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered" (Luke 22:61 NKJV). How many times did Peter have to deal with that before he was able to forgive himself? He denied his Lord at a moment in His life when, if ever He needed a friend, it was then. This was the same Peter who said in effect,"Lord, all the rest of these may forsake You, but when everybody has forsaken You, You can count on the rock." Ironically, Peter was the very one He couldn't count on. Peter had to learn to forgive himself for that.
Then there was Paul before his conversion. His background, learning, and culture, his intensity and commitment to Jehovah God, and his faithfulness to Judaism all had been committed to removing Christianity—that growing, monstrous philosophy—from the face of this earth. He had been consumed with the task of eradicating from people's minds any remains of that person they called Jesus, and Paul had done everything he could to kill or destroy the Lord's church. Though our scriptural understanding of forgiveness is found most clearly in the writings of the apostle Paul, no doubt he, too, grappled with his own forgiveness.
Many of us are at–or have been at–that place in our lives. We struggle with forgiving ourselves for things we did in the past—some of those mistakes having occurred years and years ago . . . Yet, the ability or capacity to forgive ourselves is absolutely essential if any peace whatsoever is to be found. We often struggle with forgiving ourselves
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:10-14 NIV)
These verses inspired by the Holy Spirit are a beautiful assurance to us that God is a forgiving Father....
How We Can Forgive Ourselves
How do we forgive ourselves? Regardless of how long we have been in bondage, we can be free if we follow four biblical steps.
Step 1. Recognize the Problem
We must recognize and acknowledge that we have not forgiven ourselves. We must come to grips with the fact that we still hold ourselves in bondage. 'Father, I realize I haven't forgiven myself and am in bondage because of it.'
Step 2. Repent of Sin
We must repent of that sin for which we cannot forgive ourselves. We must tell God that we realize that our unwillingness to forgive ourselves is not in keeping with His Word. And we must thank Him for His forgiveness as we confess our sin to Him. 'I thank You, Father, for forgiving me for holding myself in bondage, for keeping myself from You, and for limiting Your use of me.'
Step 3. Reaffirm Trust
We must reaffirm our trust in the testimony of Scripture: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12 NKJV). 'Father, I reaffirm my trust and my faith the Word of God.'
Step 4. Confess Freedom and Choose to Receive It
We must confess our freedom and choose to receive it freely. 'Lord Jesus, on the basis of Your Word, by an act of my will, in faith, I here and now forgive myself because You have already forgiven me and I accept my forgiveness, and I choose from this moment to be freed of all which I have held against myself. Please confirm my freedom to me by the power and presence of Your Holy Spirit.'
If we are willing to follow these simple steps, not only will we be set free, but the healing process will be initiated. When we choose by an act of the will to accept what God has said as true, we accept God's acceptance of us. And we can tell Him that we have played back that accusing videotape for the last time. When Satan tries to punch the button again, he will find that he has been short-circuited by Jesus. We are free.
This material has been adapted from: The Gift Of Forgiveness
IN TOUCH MINISTRIES®, ITM, Inc.
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