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Archive for the ‘God’s Forgiveness’ Category

Father, Forgive Them: Why and How

(Adapted from Wounds That Heal by Stephen Seamands, Chapter 8)

Throughout His ministry, Jesus consistently stressed that as God has forgiven us, we in turn ought to forgive others. In the Lord’s Prayer, he taught us to say: Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12).

On another occasion, He commanded His disciples, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone” (Mark 11:25). When Peter inquired how many times He was obligated to forgive, Jesus insisted, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). He then told a story about an unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-34). Although his master had forgiven his immense debt, the servant refused to forgive a minor amount owed to him by a fellow servant. When the master found out what the servant had done, he had the servant thrown in jail. Jesus warned His disciples, “So, my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

Jesus not only consistently preached radically extending forgiveness to others, He also practiced it. And He practiced it when it was incomprehensibly difficult – as He was hanging on a cross. The victim of gross injustice, His body wracked with pain, the vicious taunts of His enemies ringing in His ears, He gathered His strength and cried out, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,”

The Christian imperative to forgive those who have inflicted pain on us is a call to imitate Jesus. However, we are not called to imitate Christ in our own strength. We discover that as we will to forgive, He imparts His strength to us.

The Process of Forgiveness

I cannot overemphasize the importance of forgiveness in the healing of human hurts. Forgiveness unlocks the door to healing, restoration, freedom and renewal. Until we open that door, we will remain stuck in the past, destined to carry the hurt and burden forever without hope of a restored heart or a renewed future. There is no greater blockage to a person’s receiving healing from God than that person’s refusal to forgive others. We will never find healing for our hurts until, like Jesus, we say, “Father, forgive them.”

What then does true forgiveness – Jesus called it forgiving “from the heart (Matthew 18:35) – involve?

1. Facing the facts. Forgiveness begins when we are ruthlessly honest about what was done to us. We don’t cover up what happened, explain it away, blame ourselves or make excuses for the other person. Squarely and realistically, we face the truth: “I was violated and sinned against. I was hurt. What they did was wrong.” Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and, nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the person who has done it. In facing the facts, it is important to be specific. General acknowledgments of wrong followed by sweeping generalizations of forgiveness won’t do. For many, the first step in forgiving will involve getting out of denial. Truth can be hard to bear, and at times, we will go to great lengths to avoid it. Forgiveness begins by acknowledging the nails in our hearts hammered in by the actions of others and looking at them intently.

2. Feeling the hurt. Forgiveness begins with facing the facts but then goes further. More than “just the facts,” we must connect with the feelings bound up with the facts – feelings like rejection, loneliness, fear, anger, shame and depression that still reverberate in us today. For many of us, the emotions of past hurts are so painful and threatening we have simply disconnected from them. And so we have to persistently ask, “What was I feeling when that happened to me?” Answering that question can be extremely difficult. No one wants to reexperience such unpleasant feelings. Better then to deny them, it seems, or sweep them under the rug. But we can’t reach the threshold of forgiveness until we recover, at least in some measure, the feelings bound up with the painful facts.

3. Confronting our hate. Forgiving involves letting go of hatred or resentment toward the persons who have wounded us. But again, before we can let go of something, we have to acknowledge it’s there. We must admit we resent those who wronged us, for a part of us hates them for what they did. Forgiveness is not blaming ourselves for what happened. We may not be completely innocent, but what our victimizers did was unjustifiable. They are to blame for our pain, and there is a part of us that hates them for it. Forgiveness requires the courage to confront our hatred.

4. Bearing the pain. When others have wronged us, there is a demanding voice within us that cries out, “What they did isn’t right. They ought to pay for what they’ve done.” This is a God-given voice. The desire to see justice in our own – and all – relationships has been planted in our hearts by God. So, when we forgive, do we ignore the divinely implanted desire for justice and set it aside? No. The sin, the injustice, must be taken seriously. But instead of achieving justice by insisting the guilty party pay for the wrong, we choose to pay ourselves. Though innocent, we choose to bear the pain of the injustice. In forgiveness, as the Scripture says, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). It triumphs, however, not by ignoring judgment, but by bearing it. Whenever we forgive, we bear pain. That’s why forgiveness is always costly.

The ultimate example of the costliness of forgiveness is the cross of Christ. The Scripture says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross” (I Peter 2:24). He took on Himself the guilt, punishment and shame of our sins. We deserved to suffer for them but instead, God in Christ carried them in His own being. God did not overlook our sins or pretend they didn’t matter but bore the pain and the judgment Himself. Christ, the Judge, allowed Himself to be judged in our place. To a much lesser degree, whenever we forgive others, we do the same thing: we take the punishment they deserve, absorbing it ourselves. We bear the pain.

5. Releasing those who have wronged us. Although forgiveness does not set aside the demands of justice, it still seems to run cross-grain to our natural sense of fair play. In part, our anger and resentment is our way of regaining control of an unfair situation and getting back at the persons who have wronged us. It’s our attempt to even the score. But forgiving means releasing our offenders and turning them over to God. It’s saying, “I know what they’ve done and I feel the pain of it, but I choose not to be the one who determines what is justice for them.” When we forgive we relinquish the roles of judge, jury and executioner and turn them over to God. When we forgive, we relinquish control of the persons who have wronged us. We quit playing God in their lives. No longer will we determine what is just for them or make sure they get what they deserve. Thus, forgiveness is an act of faith. We turn the ones who have wronged us over to God. We entrust them to God, saying, “Vengeance is not mine, but Thine alone.” And like all faith acts, forgiveness contains an element of risk. What if God doesn’t get even with those who have wronged us? What if God chooses to extend mercy to them?

By giving the people who have wronged us over to God, we also give ourselves to God. Parts of ourselves we have been holding are now entrusted to Him. No wonder there is such healing power in forgiveness. When we release others and ourselves to God, we give up control, and then His Presence and Power are released to us. Bearing the pain and releasing those who have wronged us constitute the heart of forgiveness. But I want to emphasize that forgiveness doesn’t ignore or set aside the demands of justice. One might conclude that when we forgive, we refrain from any effort to hold those who have wronged us accountable for their behavior, leaving that totally up to God and to others. However, that simply is not true. Forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerating injustice. “Unfruitful works of darkness” should be exposed (Ephesians 5:11). Actions have consequences that evildoers must be forced to accept. When crimes have been committed, offenders should be turned over to the judicial system.

Bearing the pain and releasing those who have wronged us have to do with our attitudes toward those who have wronged us; seeking justice has to do with our actions toward them. These attitudes and actions are not opposed to each other. In fact, practicing forgiveness and promoting justice go hand in hand. Having made a decision to forgive, our concern in promoting justice is not to avenge ourselves or destroy our offenders but to protect ourselves and others in the community from future injury at the offender’s hands. Furthermore, by insisting that offenders be held accountable for their actions, we are actually extending grace to them by offering them an opportunity to face the truth about themselves, admit their wrongdoing and turn from their wicked ways.

6. Assuming responsibility for ourselves. As long as we blame others for our problems, we don’t have to take responsibility for ourselves; they’re on the hook. By releasing them, however, we let them off the hook. Now, we’re on the hook. We must take responsibility and can no longer make excuses for ourselves. Often people hesitate when challenged to forgive because instinctively they know that if they do, they will have no one to blame for their predicament. Unfortunately, we live in a culture of victimization that encourages us to play the blame game. For many of us, portraying oneself as a victim has become an attractive pastime. Forgiveness strikes a blow at the root of one’s victim status. We may have been a victim, but we’re not stuck there. By taking responsibility for ourselves, we declare that what happened doesn’t define who we are. We have an identity apart from our pain. That can be risky and frightening, of course. We may have grown to depend on our excuses and become comfortable with our victim identity. Losing an enemy whom we can resent and blame may disturb us more than losing a friend. We may be meeting needs by our holding on to our pain and resentment.

Yet how liberating it is when, by forgiving, we do accept responsibility for ourselves. The persons who have hurt us no longer exercise control over our lives. When we forgive we not only release them, we also release ourselves from them and set ourselves free to determine our destiny apart from our wounds.

7. Longing for reconciliation. The ultimate goal and purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation, or the restoration and renewal of broken relationships. Thus, forgiveness is not only about letting go of bitterness and revoking revenge. It is about the coming together of persons who have been alienated from each other. From a Christian perspective, forgiving simply so I can get my hurts healed and get on with my life doesn’t go far enough.

Of course, the nature and extent of reconciliation depend on a number of factors, the most important of which is the offender’s willingness to be reconciled with us and to take the costly action necessary for its accomplishment. In many instances we won’t be able to achieve the measure of reconciliation we desire. What do we do, for instance, when the offender refuses to be reconciled with us or persists in offensive behavior? On occasion we will have to settle for less than the best. Still, forgiveness ought to put within us a longing for reconciliation. At first we may grudgingly say, “I’ll forgive them, but I don’t want to have anything to do with them ever again.” And that may be a sufficient place to start. But as forgiveness does its work, it will change our attitude. We will begin to see our offenders through eyes of compassion. One day we will even find ourselves wishing good for them. Our longing for a reconciled relationship may so intensify that we grieve when it fails to work out.

The process of forgiving someone who has wronged us brings us once again to the Cross of Christ. As we stand at the cross, we must remember that initially forgiveness is more about a decision than an emotion. First and foremost, it is a matter of the will. We come to a place where we choose to forgive. We might be struggling with negative feelings toward those who have hurt us, and we may continue to do so for a considerable time. What is most important at first is our willingness. In forgiving, we send our will ahead by express; our emotions generally come later by slow freight.

But what if we are unwilling to forgive? The hurt is so great, the anger and resentment so intense that nothing within us wants to let go of it. Then we should pray, “Lord, make me willing to be made willing.” As a Puritan preacher once advised, “If you can’t come to God with a broken heart, come to God for one.” So if you can’t come to the cross with a willing heart to forgive, come there for one.

On the cross, if Jesus bore both the wrongs done to Him and the wrongs done to us, then when He cried, “Father, forgive them,” could it be he was offering forgiveness not only to those who had wronged Him but also to those who have wronged us? If that is true, then in effect, Jesus has already extended forgiveness to the persons for what they did to us. So if we can’t will to forgive them, we can pray, “Jesus, You live in me. Therefore speak the words in me and through me. Help me to join you in saying, ‘Father, forgive them.’ Even though I can’t speak them myself, I can at least allow You to speak them in me.

We obtain grace in His Presence to release resentment and revenge. As we wait at the cross, Jesus will speak the forgiving words in us. The healing of our hurts and the transformation of our feelings toward those who have wounded us can then really begin. But often this part of the forgiveness process happens slowly – layer by layer. Sometimes after making the decision to forgive, our negative feelings toward the person actually intensify. Repressed emotions surface. Anger may burn more hotly than ever. Or we find ourselves overwhelmed with sadness. Choosing to forgive may cause the pain to intensify. Now that the lid is off, we begin remembering hurtful incidents. Agonizing pictures flood our minds. Old wounds open up all over again. We seem to be going backward, getting worse rather than better.

At this point, we may be tempted to think, I haven’t really forgiven so-and-so. If I had, I wouldn’t be experiencing such intense pain and resentment. The truth is, forgiveness is both a crisis (a definite decision) and a process (releasing hurt and resentment and receiving healing at ever-deepening levels). We have made the decision to forgive, but we are still engaged in the process where many emotional twists and turns lurk along the way. So we don’t need to start over. We simply need to reaffirm our will to forgive, asking the Lord to deepen it. We must also continue to offer our hurtful and hateful feelings to God, praying, “Lord, heal the hurt and cleanse the hate.” As we do, we discover that God, who has begun this good work in us, is faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). But the healing and cleansing of our hearts is not a one-shot deal. In the crisis of a moment we can will to forgive, but working through our hurt and bitterness happens slowly. We may even find Jesus’ charge to forgive “not seven times, but, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22) applying to the same offense. At the cross, however, grace awaits to see it through, to finish the good work of forgiveness begun in us.

Do you need grace to begin the process of forgiving someone who has wronged and wounded you? Do you need grace to continue as you struggle with feelings of hurt and bitterness? Come to the Cross. It is the Place to remember how we have been forgiven. It is the Place to forgive. Listen to Jesus as He says, “Father, forgive them.” He not only is asking the Father for forgiveness for those who have wronged and hurt us, but He is also asking for forgiveness for you and me.

Is There a Sin God Cannot Forgive?

SOURCEDr. David Jeremiah

One of the questions I’m regularly asked is, “Pastor, can I commit a sin that God cannot forgive?”

Jesus addressed the topic in Mark 3:20-30. According to Jesus, there is one thing a person can do for which there is no forgiveness either in this age or in the age to come: blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit?

Let’s look directly at Jesus’ concluding statement in verses 28-30:

‘Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation,’ because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

This paragraph has often been misunderstood by Christians. To arrive at the correct interpretation, we have to begin with the last phrase, which explains why Jesus made this statement. He gave this teaching because His foes were accusing Him of having an unclean spirit (verse 22). Our Lord was telling them, in essence, “There is a sin that you are on the verge of committing. You should be very careful, because you’re about to do something for which there is no forgiveness.”

What was it?

It’s Not a Thoughtless Mistake

Let me take a moment and say the unpardonable sin isn’t something that someone commits randomly. The scribes who came from Jerusalem didn’t just do this on a whim. If you, follow the references to these scribes throughout the book of Mark, you’ll see there is a progression to their unbelief. They were initially curious about Jesus and His ministry. Then they had questions. In time, they grew indifferent; but then their indifference metastasized into a malicious attitude that became so hateful and vengeful that it ultimately nailed Jesus Christ to the cross.

In our story in Mark 3, there’s an interesting fact that’s only apparent in the Greek New Testament. According to verse 22, the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub.” The verb form for “said” is in the imperfect tense. It can be translated as, “They kept on saying.” It wasn’t just a matter of a sudden thoughtless word or an instant reaction. Their words represented a hardened attitude and an embittered and impenitent heart.

It’s a Progressive Rejection

When God convicts us of sin and presents us with the Gospel, it’s dangerous to neglect it, especially if our procrastination becomes chronic. After continued resistance we become so hard-hearted and sin-hardened that we grow calloused of soul. Our ears can’t receive the truth. Our minds shake off the conviction of the Spirit. We become cynical of conscience. And although the grace of God is still available to us, we push away from it.

These scribes had become Jesus-resistant because of the time-lapsed attitudes of their own evil hearts. It’s tragic, for these scribes had devoted their lives to copying the Word of God. Note the relationship between the words scribe and scribble. These men had copied and recopied the Old Testament. Every day they copied an ancient Scripture scroll by hand.

They had copied Isaiah 53, about the Suffering Servant. They had copied Psalm 22, about the death of the Messiah. They knew Micah 5 and the prophecy of our Lord’s birth. Yet their hearts had become so hardened they couldn’t receive His grace when it arrived in the person of Jesus.

It is possible to become hardened to spiritual truth by living in the middle of it. The scribes had come to the place where they were so familiar with religious things that when the Son of God showed up, they didn’t know who He was, and they accused Him of being from Satan.

It’s Denying the Deity of Christ

By ascribing the miracles of Jesus to Satan, the religious leaders were denying the deity of Jesus Christ. They were saying He could not be God. Yet by His miracles He was showing Himself to be nothing and no one less than God. Only God Himself could do what He had done. His followers believed in His deity.

It’s the Holy Spirit who witnesses to the deity of Christ in our world today. So if you refuse to accept the ministry of the Holy Spirit or you ascribe His ministry to Satan, you are denying Christ’s deity. You must believe in Jesus as the Son of God. You must accept the witness of the Holy Spirit and act upon the conviction He brings.

Have You Committed the Unpardonable Sin?

The thought of an unforgivable sin has haunted sensitive people in every Christian century, and maybe it has haunted you. I want to be clear in saying that if you’re bothered in your spirit that you may have committed a sin God will not forgive, the very fact that you have anxiety over that is evidence you’ve not committed the sin. If He is still working in your heart, it’s not possible to have committed the unpardonable sin. The very fact that you’re reading this article is a tremendous indication you’ve not committed the unforgivable sin described in the Gospel of Mark.

In its essence, the unforgivable sin is hardening your heart against God by repeatedly refusing to respond to His entreaties to your soul. By continuing to resist and reject the Lord, you build calluses on your soul until the conviction of the Spirit of God no longer registers in your heart. Over a period of time, you become hardened. You hear the Word of God, and it makes no impact on you. If you die in that condition, there’s no further forgiveness available. For those who reject Jesus Christ, there’s no forgiveness anywhere else, anytime, either in this world or the next. He died for you, and if you reject that, there’s no other sacrifice for sin.

So don’t worry that you’ve committed the unpardonable sin. But if you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, be concerned that you might. If you’ve resisted Christ and refused Him as your Savior, and if something happens and you die, you will have committed the unpardonable sin. You don’t get a second chance after death. Whatever we do concerning Christ, we do in this life. Don’t gamble that you will have time or that you can respond later. The Bible says, “Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

You can trust that Jesus is who He claims to be. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only way to God. He is Son of God and Son of Man, our Savior, the Word made flesh, the Firstborn from the dead. He is our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend. He is Christ the Lord, the Rock of Ages, the Sure Foundation, the Cornerstone. When He is your unforgettable Savior, you’ll never have to worry about the unforgivable sin.

3 Things to Remember When It’s Hard to Forgive

SOURCE:   Lysa TerKeurst, author of Uninvited

Have you ever struggled to choose forgiveness over bitterness in the midst of feeling rejected, abandoned, or hurt?

Let me be the friend who takes you by the hand to say… I understand. Choosing to forgive is hard, especially when it feels like you or someone you care for has been treated unfairly.

But the truth is, it’s good (and biblical) for us to extend forgiveness. And when we release the offense into the hands of God, we can begin to make room for healing in our hearts.

Here are 3 things to remember when forgiving others is the last thing we want to do:

Forgiveness doesn’t justify them, it frees YOU!

Forgiving someone is making the decision to choose mercy and grace over bitterness and resentment. To love God is to cooperate with His grace. Luke 6:36 says,

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Since I’m so very aware of my own need for grace, I must be willing to freely give it away, too.

Each hole left from rejection must become an opportunity to create more and more space for grace in my heart. Forgiveness doesn’t validate them, and it doesn’t justify their hurtful actions.

Giving grace helps me. It sets me free.

What does giving grace look like in my life?

…do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. — Luke 6:27-28

Today I will:

Speak with honor in the midst of being dishonored.

Speak with peace in the midst of being threatened.

Speak of good things in the midst of a bad situation.

We have an enemy, but it’s not each other.

Truth proclaimed and lived out is a fiercely accurate weapon against evil.

How I feel:

I very much feel like my struggle is against them.

I have been deeply hurt by this struggle.

It’s hard to see that my struggle isn’t with them or caused by them.

However, truth tells me something different. Truth says I have an enemy… but it’s not the person I’m trying hard to forgive. They may very well be the cause of some hurt in my life, but they’re not my enemy.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. — Ephesians 6:12

Point your crosshairs at the real enemy and start firing off positive statements about this person who has caused pain in your life. List three things about them that are good. Then remember a fourth and fifth. Picture each of these positive statements wounding the devil and shaming him away from you.

Forgiveness releases an offense into the hands of God so that you can heal.

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean I’ll get my storybook ending. But it will bring peace and honor to a situation that would otherwise leave me bitter, defensive, and hurting. I have to trust God to get me through this forgiveness journey so that I can finally heal.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you. — Isaiah 26:3

Lift up your hurt and honest feelings to the Lord through prayer, whether it’s written or verbal. Here’s one to get you started:

Lord, I don’t know all the details entangled in this issue. But You know all. Therefore, You are the only one who can handle all. There are a lot of things my flesh is tempted to seek — fairness, my right to be right, proof of their wrongdoing, to make them see things from my vantage point — but at this point, the only thing healthy for me to seek is You. You alone. I’m going to be obedient to You and let You handle everything else. In Your Name, Amen.

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Original devotion written by Lysa TerKeurst for Devotionals Daily featuring Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely, copyright TerKeurst Foundation. 

Asking Forgiveness From My Kids … Again

SOURCE: FamilyLife Ministries

My kids need to grow up with the knowledge that I require a Savior just as much as they do.

I yelled at my kids tonight.

It started before the mouthwash spilled all over the floor, my jeans, and my new shirt.

That I have an issue with anger and emotional control is not something I’ve kept secret. But it’s still painfully destructive in my own home: “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down” (Proverbs 14:1).

So when my blood pressure had returned to an appropriate range and I determined the mouthwash only minimally soaked my front, I called all of my kids to our little loveseat. Some of them crawled out of bed. They piled around me like puppies. And I took the time—again, like I have to do so often—to apologize to them and ask for forgiveness.

Then, I led us in praying and repenting to God. It was duly needed for all of us.

I thanked my kids for forgiving me—also not so bad a quality to practice—and ended with tickling them into screaming laughter.

As I backed out of their room in the dark later, I yowled in pain after stepping on an electrical plug someone had left in the doorway. My second son was quick on the draw: “Still love me?” He collapsed in giggles.

None of this, I’m afraid, undoes what I did.

I wish I could take away my eruptive lack of self-control, or the way I morphed instantly into a drill sergeant. I wish I could subtract what I modeled for my kids. But what still remained in my power were two words: “I’m sorry.”

Their sin doesn’t justify mine

A family that practices repentance keep short accounts with each other, apologizing quickly and sincerely. The point of apologizing to my kids even when they’re in trouble isn’t at all to detract them from their sin. They need to grow up with my willing confession as the norm, to give them the knowledge that Mom requires a Savior as much as they do. An awareness of the log in my eye—even when my children or spouse are the offenders—is biblically commanded (Matthew 7:1-5).

So take it a step further, even, than those two critical words. Deliberately ask for forgiveness, and then humbly and verbally extend forgiveness: “I want you to know that I completely forgive you, and that I believe God forgives you, too.”

I guess it can sound a little hokey when we’re not used to using such language in our homes, but that’s my point. Should it be?

Call me an idealist, but I’d like this replication of Christ’s words to become the norm, a chance to apply the gospel to myself and to my loved ones daily.

4 Signs You Might be Legalistic

SOURCE:  BLAISE FORET /relevantmagazine.com

And how to escape the trap of trying to earn God’s love.

The Christian blogosphere and bookstores are filled with constant encouragements to be passionate for Jesus and “on fire” for God.

But in the midst of all of the encouragement to dive deep into a more passionate spirituality, many in our generation have found themselves burnt out by pressing in and getting bound up by legalism.

Every reformation throughout Church history focused on bringing people into a more effortless spirituality—where they find that the work of Christ more powerful and more effective than our own personal efforts. This doesn’t mean we do nothing as Christians, but it does mean we would do well to stop striving, slow down and find a renewed focus on the simplicity of the Gospel.

This very thing, in fact, is one of the hardest spiritual disciplines to accomplish. The Book of Hebrews says it clearly, “They failed to enter into my rest—because they would not believe.” It wasn’t a spiritual work that they lacked—but a spiritual rest. And that rest could have easily been gained through simple trust.

Things haven’t changed much. We, just like the ancient believers, have a hard time with simple trust and often find ourselves caught in the clutches of legalism. After years of following Jesus, I found myself stuck in legalism. Trust me, I know: the struggle is real. But, like most things, one of the first steps of becoming free from legalism is to realize that you’re stuck in it.

Here are a few signs that might help you identify whether or not you have been sabotaged by legalism:

1. Your Spiritual Disciplines Define Your Spirituality

Sure, there is something to having a disciplined life. In fact, it’s hard to get anything done if you don’t have discipline in your life.

But often, we base our worth and God’s love for us on whether or not we have spent time reading our Bible today, prayed for everyone on our prayer list, and attended the early service at Church this week.

But what if God’s view of us wasn’t based on our performance? What if He wasn’t keeping track of our rights and wrongs like we are, but is actually just looking at our hearts and our simple trust in Christ’s work on our behalf?

So of course, read your Bible and pray often, but not so that God will love you, but so that you’ll be reminded how much He already does.

2. You Separate Your Spiritual Life from Your Natural Life

Do you feel like you are doing something spiritual when you pray but something carnal when you watch a movie or hang out with friends? If so, you might be slipping back into legalism.

As Christians, we often find ourselves viewing Church activity as exclusively spiritual instead of seeing all things as spiritual. The Apostle Paul has this amazing quote in Colossians when he says, “All things are from Him and to Him and in Him.” I see this verse as an echo of David’s psalm when he says, “Where can I go from your presence and where can I escape from Your Spirit?” David says again, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it belongs to Him.” That means that there are no moments that are not spiritual moments. That’s why Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink do it unto the Lord.”

I see it like this: No matter what you are doing, do it as a spiritual activity, knowing full well that God is with you and loves you deeply in that very moment.

The way I see it, Jesus enjoys the fact that you hang out with friends. He loves it when you just have fun doing normal life. God finds pleasure in your natural talents just as much as He does in your spiritual gifting.

When we can find the presence and peace of God in all situations from the E-minor chorus of a worship night at church to the loud, off-key screams of the mom in front of us at a kid’s t-ball game, then we might be finding freedom from legalism into the liberty of the Gospel.

3. You Only Hang Out with “Saved” People

For so many Christians, being in church quickly becomes our only place of community and friendship. In our efforts to follow Jesus we often take the “no turning back, no turning back” approach to hanging out with non-believers.

Unfortunately, we find ourselves living as separatists (i.e. Pharisees) and judging those who have yet to have our level of spiritual awakening. Sure, it can be a challenge to have a deep connection with those who disagree with us on a fundamental level, but it doesn’t mean that we have to become judgmental and ostracize ourselves from them.

Jesus was often accused of being the friend of sinners. When was the last time you were accused of that?

4. You Live in Constant Condemnation for Your Mistakes

If you messed up today, well, welcome to the club. But your mistakes never have and never will define you. Sure, you can call yourself a failure, but God calls you a success. God doesn’t make failures. You can call yourself a sinner, but God calls you a Saint. Christ didn’t do a partial job when He died and rose again. He fully made you a Saint. That’s why Paul addresses Christians in the Epistles as Saints—regardless of the mistakes they have made.

Your feelings don’t define you. Christ’s work defines you.

C.S. Lewis once said, “You are what you believe.”

If you believe that your identity is “sinner,” you will live tied up and bound by sin. But if you believe what God says about you, then you might start seeing a difference in your attitudes and actions.

And even if you do sin, it doesn’t have to dictate your day. Repent, change your mind, and move forward. God’s not waiting on you to make it right before you can come to Him.

God wants friendship with you no matter where you are in your journey, so don’t let a legalistic mindset stop you from coming to Him as the clean, forgiven and loved child that you are. God’s not holding your mistakes over your head, so you don’t have to either.

You Don’t Have to Live with Guilt

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance” (Proverbs 28:13 TLB).

God is always ready to give you another chance.

That’s a bedrock piece of Christianity. We’ve all been irresponsible. We’ve all screwed up. The Bible tells us, “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT).

God doesn’t want you living with a heavy guilt trip about all the irresponsibility in your life. Guilt destroys your confidence, damages your relationships, keeps you stuck in the past, and even hurts your health. I read a report a few years back that said 70 percent of people in the hospital could leave if they knew how to resolve their guilt.

God wants far better for your life than that. You don’t want to live with guilt.

And here’s an important truth to always hang on to: You don’t have to.

God wants you to live with a sense of promise and hope. God can even bring good out of the stupid decisions that you’ve made in your life if you’ll give those failures to him.

How do you do that?

Admit to God you’ve made a mistake. It doesn’t surprise him. And it won’t change his perception of you. I hope you’ll take this step today. When you do, here’s what you can expect from God:

  1. God forgives instantly. The very moment you admit your sin to God, he forgives you.
  2. God forgives freely. You don’t need to earn it, and you’ll never deserve it.
  3. God forgives completely. He wipes your sin absolutely clean.

If you’re mired in guilt and shame, you’ll likely perpetuate whatever problem you have. You’ll tell yourself that you blew it, so you’re bad. Since you’re bad, you believe you’ll blow it again. It’s a nasty cycle from which we often can’t seem to escape — at least not on our own.

You need a power beyond yourself.

You need a Savior.

You need Jesus.

“What forgiveness of sin is” by Thomas Watson

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege

“The nature of forgiveness will more clearly appear by opening some Scripture-phrases.

1. To forgive sin, is to take away iniquity. ‘Why dost thou not take away my iniquity?’ (Job 7:21). It is a metaphor taken from a man that carries an heavy burden ready to sink him, and another comes, and lifts off this burden. So when the heavy burden of sin is on us, God in pardoning, lifts off this burden from the conscience, and lays it upon Christ: ‘The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all’ (Isa. 53:6).

2. To forgive sin, is to cover sin. ‘Thou hast covered all their sin,’ (Ps. 32:1). This was typified by the mercy-seat covering the ark, to show God’s covering of sin through Christ. God doth not cover sin in the Antinomian sense, so as He sees it not, but He doth so cover it, as He will not impute it.

3. To forgive sin, is to blot it out. ‘I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions,’ (Isa. 43:25). The Hebrew word, to lot out, alludes to a creditor, who, when his debtor hath paid him, blots out the debt, and gives him an acquittance. So God, when He forgives sin, blots out the debt, He draws the red lines of Christ’s blood over our sins, and so crosseth the debt-book.

4. To forgive sin, is for God to scatter our sins as a cloud. ‘I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions,’ (Isa. 44:22). Sin is the cloud interposed, God dispels the cloud, and breaks forth with the light of His countenance.

5. To forgive sin, is for God to cast our sins into the depths of the sea. ‘Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea,” (Micah 7:19). This implies God’s burying them out of sight, that they shall not rise up in judgment against us. God will throw them in, not as cork that riseth again, but as lead that sinks to the bottom.”

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–Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer  (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1662/1999), 214-215.

Thomas Watson (c. 1620 – 1686) was an EnglishNonconformistPuritan preacher and author.

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