What If I Don’t Feel Forgiven?

This excerpt is adapted from What Can I Do with My Guilt?
by R.C. Sproul

There is an important difference between guilt and guilt feelings. The distinction is between that which is objective and that which is subjective. Guilt is objective; it is determined by a real analysis of what a person has done with respect to law. When a person transgresses a law, that person incurs guilt. This is true in the ultimate sense with regard to the law of God. Whenever we break the law of God, we incur objective guilt. We may deny that the guilt is there. We may seek to excuse it or deal with it in other ways. Still, the reality is that we have the guilt.

However, guilt feelings may or may not correspond proportionately to one’s objective guilt. In fact, in most cases, if not all cases, they do not correspond proportionately. As painful as guilt feelings can be—and we’ve all experienced the rigors of unsettling guilt feelings—I don’t think any of us have ever experienced feelings of guilt in direct proportion to the actual guilt that we bear before God. I believe it is one of the mercies of God that He protects us from having to feel the full weight of the guilt that we actually have incurred in His sight.

Just as there are objective and subjective aspects of guilt, so there are objective and subjective aspects of forgiveness. First of all, forgiveness itself is objective. The only cure for real guilt is real forgiveness based on real repentance and real faith. However, we may have real and true forgiveness before God and yet not feel forgiven. Likewise, we may feel forgiven when we are not forgiven. That makes the issue of forgiveness very sticky.

We tend to trust our feelings to tell us what state we are in before God. Someone recently told me about a friend of hers who lives her Christian life on the basis of experience. I think that’s a very dangerous thing, because it’s like saying, “I determine truth by my subjective responses and feelings to it.” I would much prefer that her friend tried to live the Christian life on the basis of Scripture, because Scripture is objective truth that transcends the immediacy of a person’s experience.

Ultimately, the only source of real forgiveness is God. Thankfully, God is quick to forgive. In fact, one of the few absolute promises that God makes to us is that, if we confess our sins to Him, He will most seriously and surely forgive those sins (1 John 1:9).

Many years ago, I went to see my pastor to tell him about a struggle I was having with guilt. After I told him my problem, he opened the Bible to 1 John 1:8 and asked me to read this verse out loud. It says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In this verse, the apostle John is addressing the scenario we discussed earlier, in which a person who has real guilt attempts to deny or excuse it. John is saying that if we deny our guilt, we are simply fooling ourselves. We all sin. Therefore, we all contract guilt. If we refuse to accept that, we are engaged in perhaps the worst kind of deception, namely, self-deception.

But when I read that passage, my pastor said to me: “That’s not your problem, because you’ve just told me why you came here. You came to tell me that you had a problem with sin.” Continue reading

Keeping Short Accounts

Article by Nick Batzig (original source GA in 1989. I was 12 years old. One of the first things that I distinctly remember about that beautiful, little secluded Island was the fact that we could walk into a store, write our name on a ledger and walk out with just about whatever we wanted in the store. I remember my dad and mom talking about needing to pay off their account at the hardware store every month. The owners and my parents both wanted to keep “short accounts.” It was a peculiar and fascinating experience for a boy who moved there from a major city in which that would have never happened. The population of the Island was small enough at that time for store owners to feel as if they could offer that service. Needless to say, it didn’t last long. Within a year or two, you could no longer do so. It is somewhat tragic that this practice isn’t part of our culture anymore, because it serves as an illustration of an important aspect of our spiritual life. In the Christian life, we are–as the Puritans used to say–to “keep short accounts with God and men.”

So, what do short accounts look like in the Christian life? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Confess Your Sins. Believers are people who confess their sin. That is part and parcel of what it means to be a Christian. If a man or woman, boy or girl, never confesses their sin, they reveal that they do not believe that they are sinners in need of a Savior. A true believer is one who has learned, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to say, “Will you please forgive me?” This is true in the vertical dimension of our relationship with God, first and foremost; and, it is true in the horizontal relationships we have with others. If we don’t confess our sin, we evidence that we are not sincere in our profession of faith in Christ. We must first confess our sins to the Lord. We learn this from Psalm 51, where David prays, “Against You and You only have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4). Even though David had sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba, both of their families, his family and all of Israel, he viewed his sin, first and foremost, as that which he committed against the Lord. It was sin because he broke God’s law. We too must first go to the Lord and then to others. When we go to others, but not to the Lord, we functionally act like the man or woman who goes to the priest in the confessional but not to God in heaven.

2. Confess Your Sins Particularly. The Westminster Confession of Faith has an intriguing statement about this in its chapter on repentance, where we read, “Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly” (WCF 15.5). In short, we must never conclude that it is sufficient to confess that we are generally sinners or that we have generally sinned. When we confess our sin to God and men, we are to confess our sins specifically. We are to own the guilt of the particular sins that we have done. We are to examine our actions against the Law of God (i.e. the Ten Commandments) and confess the particular ways in which we have broken His law. My wife and I try to teach our boys to do this when they have sinned against one another. We teach them not to say, “I’m sorry.” Instead, we seek to teach them to say, “Will you please forgive me for doing x, y or z.” We also try to do so in our marriage. It is good for husbands to ask their wives to forgive them for sinful anger, for lack of gentleness, for lack of understanding, for pride, for laziness, for indifference, etc. Likewise, it is good for a wife to ask her husband to forgive her for all the ways that she has specifically failed to obey the Lord in her relation to him. Likewise, members of the church need to learn to confess particular sins to one another. When one member of the church has sinned against another, he or she needs to go to the offended party and seek out their forgiveness for what they have specifically done wrong. Sadly, this occurs quite infrequently in the family, in marriages and in the church.

3. Confess Your Sins Quickly. One of the sure signs that there is something out of alignment in your soul is that you do not go to the Lord and confess your sins as soon as you recognize that you have sinned against Him. Pride keeps us from uninhibited confession of sin. The same is true with regard to our relation to others. Like the disciples in the Garden, our flesh would rather sleep than engage in the spiritual work of prayer…especially when we have sinned. The Apostle Paul warned believers not to “let the sun go down” on sinful anger, because Satan will most certainly get a foothold in our relationships when we do so. We must learn to confess our sins quickly. Continue reading

What Does True Forgiveness Look Like?

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

In this excerpt from his teaching series The Parables of Jesus, R.C. Sproul reminds us what true forgiveness looks like.

Transcript

This begins (Matthew 18:15-22) by saying if your brother sins against you, go to him alone, privately—tell him about it. If the person repents, you’ve won your brother. If he refuses to repent then you go with one or two other witnesses. And if they still refuse to repent, then you go and bring the proceedings of the church. And if they still refuse to repent, then they are to be to you as a heathen. That is, this is the recipe for excommunication.

There is only one sin for which anybody is ever excommunicated in the body of Christ, and that sin is impenitence for the sin that brought you under discipline in the first place.

There are multitudes of sins that could cause the church to become involved seeking your repentance. But only if you persist in impenitence can it lead actually to being cut off from the body of Christ. So I mentioned that this is the context in which Peter raises the question, so that if somebody sins against Peter, and he goes and sees that person, and the person repents and Peter forgives him, then Peter is asking the question, “How many times do I have to do this? Seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven, but up to seventy times seven.” As many as it takes! In other words, when I forgive somebody who has sinned against me, what does it mean to forgive them? If I say “I forgive you,” that’s a very weighty pronouncement. When God forgives you, He holds that sin against you no more. And if you sin again against Him and He forgives you again, He doesn’t say, “That’s two…” because the first one has already been wiped away.

And that’s what we don’t do. Somebody sins against us, asks for our forgiveness, we give our forgiveness, they do it again and we say, “That’s two…” which reveals that we didn’t really forgive them the first time. Because if we really grant forgiveness, we are saying, “I remember this against you no more.”

Personal Revenge – Spurgeon

spurg7“Be not overcome of evil, but may God deliver us from the nature which makes it natural! It is just, no doubt, after a fashion, but from that sort of justice may our Redeemer rescue us! Again, it is admitted that the art of returning evil for evil is very, very easy. If, my dear Friend, you make it a rule that nobody shall ever insult you without having to pay for it, nor treat you with disrespect without meeting his match, you need not pray to God, in the morning, to help you to carry out your resolve. There will be no need to wrestle in prayer that you may be graciously enabled to take vengeance on your adversaries and stand up for your rights! You can do that decidedly better by trusting to yourself than by looking to God! Indeed, you dare not look to God about it at all. The devil will help you—and between your own passion and the Evil One, the thing may be very easily managed. There will be no reason for watchfulness. You need not be on your guard or keep your self in check. On the contrary, you may give to the very worst part of your nature the greatest possible license and go ahead according to the rage of your passionate spirit.

Prayer and humility of mind will, of course, be quite out of the question. Nor will there be any need for faith—you will not commit your case unto God and leave it there—you will fight your own battles, wipe off old scores as you go, and place your dependence on fierce speeches, on mighty fists, or on the law and the policeman. Christian Graces will be too much in your way for you to think of them! Gentleness, meekness, forbearance, forgiveness—you will bid good-bye to these and cultivate the virtues of a savage or of a bulldog. All this is wonderfully easy, though it may be that before long it will turn out to be difficult…

By many, to return evil for evil has been judged to be the more manly course. Years ago if a gentleman imagined himself to be insulted, it was necessary, according to the code of honor then in vogue, for him either to shed the blood of the offending person, or at least to expose himself to the like peril of his life. Thank God that murderous custom is now almost entirely gone from the face of the earth! The spirit of Christianity, has, by degrees, overcome this evil. But there still abides in the world the idea that to stand up for yourself, to just let people know what you are, never to knuckle down to anybody, but to defend your own cause and vindicate your honor has something extremely manly about it. And to yield, to submit, to be patient, to be meek, to be gentle is considered to be unworthy of a man of spirit. They call it showing the white feather and being cowardly, though to my mind, he is the bravest man who can bear the most.

Now, Christian, who is your model of a man? You do not hesitate for a second, I am sure. There is but one model of a Christian and that is the Man, Christ Jesus. Will you then remember that whatever is Christly is manly and whatever you think to be manly which is not Christ-like, is really unmanly, as judged by the highest style of man? The Lord Jesus draws near to a Samaritan village and they will not receive Him, though He was always kind to Samaritans. Good John, gentle John, becomes highly indignant, and cries, “Lord, will You that we command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them?” Jesus meekly answers, “You know not what manner of spirit you are of: for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”…

Beloved Brothers and Sisters, I beseech you by the mercies of God that you refrain from, forever, the method of seeking to overcome evil with evil, and that you follow the example of your Lord, taking His yoke upon you and learning of Him, for He is meek and lowly in mind.

Let us consider THE DIVINE METHOD OF OVERCOMING EVIL WITH GOOD. And here I freely admit, to commence with, that this is a very elevated mode of procedure. “Overcome evil with good! Ridiculous!” says one. “Utopian,” cries another. “It might do for Plato’s republic,” says a third, “but it will never do for ordinary, everyday life.” Well, I shall not blush to admit that this is a very high course of conduct and one which the mere worldling cannot be expected to follow—but of Christians we expect higher things! You have a high calling of God in Christ Jesus and you are, therefore, called to a high style of character by your glorious Leader, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Brothers and Sisters, if it is difficult, I commend it to you because it is so! What is there which is good which is not, also, difficult? Soldiers of Christ love those virtues most which cost them most. If it is hard to obtain, the jewel is all the more precious. Since there is sufficient Grace to enable us to become like our Lord, we will labor after this virtue, also, and obtain the great Grace which its cultivation requires. Notice that this text inculcates not merely passive nonresistance, though that is going a good way, but it teaches us active benevolence to enemies. “Overcome evil with good,” with direct and overt acts of kindness. That is, if any man has done you a wrong, do not only forgive it, but avenge it by doing him a favor!

Dr. Cotton Mather was never content till he had bestowed a benefit on every man who had, in any way, done him an injury. If anybody has slandered you, or treated you unkindly in any way, go out of your way to serve him. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.” You might say, “Well, I am sorry for him, but really, he is such a vagabond! I could not think of relieving him.” Yet according to this Scripture, he is the very man you are bound to feed! If he is thirsty, do not say, “I hope somebody will relieve him. I feel no animosity to the man, but I am not going out of my way to give him a drink.” According to your Lord’s command, he is the man to whom you must give drink! Go straightway to the well and fill your pitcher—and hasten to give him a drink at once, and without stint. You have not merely to forgive and forget, but you are bid to inflict upon the malicious mind the blessed sin-killing wound of your hearty and practical goodwill!

Give a blessing for a curse, a kiss for a blow, a favor for a wrong. “Oh,” you say, “this is high. I cannot attain unto it.” God is able to give you strength equal to this, also. “It is hard,” you say. Ah, but if you take Christ to be your Master, you must do what He tells you and, instead of shrinking because His command seems difficult to flesh and blood, you must cry, “Lord, increase my faith and give me more of Your Spirit.” To forgive to 70 times seven would not be hard to Christ, for He did it all His life. And it will not be hard for you if the same mind is in you which was also in Christ Jesus. It is to this that you are called! It is a sublime temper and it is exceedingly difficult and needs Divine Grace, needs watchfulness, needs living near to God—but for these reasons it is all the more worthy of a follower of Jesus and, therefore, we should aim at it with our whole heart.

– C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

taken from: Overcome Evil with Good, Sermon No. 1317, Delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington Lord’s Day Morning, October 8, 1876

HT: Eric T. Young

Unconditional Forgiveness?

David Murray a terrorist attack, a drunk driving death – and the victims or their relatives, usually Christians, start “forgiving” the offenders within hours or days of the crime.

I understand the motive, and also the desire to present an attractive witness about Christian forgiveness to the world. But it’s not a faithful witness to God. It does not reflect how God forgives, which is to be our pattern and model. Here’s why:

God does not forgive those who do not want forgiveness.

Here’s how God forgives:

1. God is willing, ready, and eager to forgive everyone: That’s His beautiful nature, His compassionate character, and His constant desire.

2. God offers forgiveness to everyone: God offers to release those who have offended Him from their deserved punishment and alienation from Him. There’s a big difference between offering it and giving it. Offering it is unconditional; giving it is conditional.

3. God does not forgive everyone regardless of their response to His offer: Although He offers forgiveness to all, not all respond. Some don’t even think they’ve done anything needing forgiveness.

4. God’s forgiveness is conditional upon repentance (Luke 13:3; 17:3; Acts 2:38): God’s forgiveness is conditional upon the offender wanting forgiveness and wanting to turn from His offending ways.

5. Forgiveness through repentance produce reconciliation on both sides: Offering forgiveness reduces the temperature of the conflict; but only the giving of forgiveness, in response to repentance, ends it.

Having seen how God forgives, let’s remind ourselves of the basic biblical principle:

Our forgiveness is to be patterned upon God’s forgiveness (Eph. 4:32; Matt. 6:12, 14-15).

Therefore…

1. We must be willing, ready, and eager to forgive everyone: This is not easy and usually requires Gospel work to be done in our own hearts as we realize how much God has forgiven us.

2. We must offer forgiveness to everyone: This step and the previous step together are a kind of lesser forgiveness, sometimes called positional forgiveness. We are in a position where we are ready to forgive and we offer it freely. If this is what people are talking about when they say, “I forgive the person who raped and murdered my daughter,” then that’s fine. It’s more than fine; it’s amazing grace and can only be given by God. However, it’s not forgiveness in the fullest biblical sense and must not be confused with it.

3. We must not forgive everyone regardless of their response to our offer: Forgiving someone before they repent is un-godlike, avoids dealing with serious issues, and while it might offer some temporary and superficial relief, does not produce long-term satisfaction to the conscience nor reconciliation.

4. We must forgive upon the condition of repentance: According to Matthew 18:15-17, if a person sins we must reprove them. If they do not respond with repentance, we must take it to another level. If they repent at any stage, we must forgive them, even if it’s the 490th time they’ve done it (Matt. 18:22)

5. Forgiveness through repentance produces reconciliation on both sides.
Full forgiveness, sometimes called transactional forgiveness, is when all five steps occur, resulting in deep and lasting reconciliation. This is the kind of forgiveness that most glorifies God, most benefits the offender, and most satisfies the offended.

However, I don’t want to minimize the releasing power of steps 1 and 2. Some people say, “I can never forgive until Jim repents.” If so, you are going to carry around a huge and growing load of resentment as you pile up unresolved conflicts in your life.

But, if by God’s grace you are enabled to take these first two steps, to work through positional forgiveness, you will experience wonderful load-lightening relief. Here’s a sample prayer if you’re in this situation:

Sample Prayer
“Lord, Jim has done me great wrong, but won’t confess it or ask for forgiveness.

I can’t therefore forgive him without misrepresenting you or damaging his spiritual welfare.

However, I’m not going to carry this pain around to burden and burn my mind and heart for years. I’m handing this over to you, because you said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’

Lord, you know I don’t want your vengeance executed on Jim, but with this prayer I’m promising no more vengeance on my part. I hand that entirely over to you.

I promise to not dwell upon this incident, but rather I transfer it all over to you, and trust you to put right in your own time and way. You know I am ready to forgive Jim fully, freely, and forever, should it ever be asked for.

Please help Jim to understand your view of sin and to seek your forgiveness and mine. Amen”