Guilt and Remorse vs Grace and Redemption

In the fall of 2005, God spoke to my heart part of His plan for my future.  It was a very specific answer to a prayer that I’d been praying for many years.  Two years later I grew weary of waiting on Him to bring it to fruition, and despite repeated warnings to the contrary, decided to try to make things happen on my own and in my own time, not only nullifying the vision but also casting a dark shadow that would have implications for the future I never anticipated.

That rebellion has been as a noose to my faith from time to time ever since, causing me to hold my life under near constant scrutiny in the fear of history repeating itself.  It is that fear that may have recently cost me a relationship with someone I love very much.

The question I’m struggling with now is – how do we accept God’s Grace for something that has happened in our past and allow Him to redeem it, without naively forgetting what has happened or allowing it to control our life?  As I prayed about that question earlier this evening, God laid several things on my heart.

The critical thing is, we have to allow ourselves to be humanRomans 3:23 tells us that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standard.  Romans 3:9-20 reminds us that none of us are righteous, that we have all turned away from God.  We all blow it.  We all fail.  We all sin.  All of us.  Every single one of us.  1 John 1:8 tells us that if we think that’s not the case, we deceive ourselves.  Even Paul, the power-hitter All-Star who wrote most of the New Testament, laments about his inability to be free from sin’s power in Romans 7:14-25, echoing his deep desire to do what’s right, but constantly finding himself doing the exact opposite and getting incredibly frustrated with himself for doing so.  And if even Paul struggled with junk like that in his life, how can we expect things to be different for us?

So, what are we supposed to do when we inevitably fail?

First, we have to seek forgiveness, accept forgiveness, allow ourselves to be forgiven, and forgive ourselves.  The first part is often the easiest.  I don’t know about you, but it’s a whole lot easier for me to ask for forgiveness than it is to accept the forgiveness I’ve been given.  And so, I tend to ask for forgiveness again and again and again.  There is a problem with doing that though.  When we ask for forgiveness, God is faithful to forgive us (1 John 1:9.)  In Psalm 103:12, we are told that God throws our sins as far as the east is from the west when we ask for forgiveness.  Think about it – that’s a really long way away.  Basically, the scripture is saying that God causes Himself to forget about that sin.  (That doesn’t necessarily negate the effects of our sin, but that’s for another post.)  Sometimes it can be really hard to accept His forgiveness when we sin, and even more difficult to forgive ourselves, especially if we hurt someone we care about.  The enemy loves to drag our past back up too and get us to “remember when…”  But, when we keep asking for forgiveness for the same thing over and over again, we are in essence lassoing that sin that was thrown really really really far away, reeling it back in, plopping it back down in front of God, and forcing Him to remember it again.  At that point, we’re saying that His forgiveness wasn’t sufficient to cover what we had done, which is a very big deal.  Whenever the guilt comes back, and the remorse returns, we need to claim the truth that we have been forgiven, that we are washed with the Blood of Christ, and that that sin has no power in our life anymore.  Doing this is an important part of putting on the armor of God – by placing the helmet of Truth on our head, we’re able to protect our thoughts and keep the enemy from dragging us down by reminding us of the past that has already been forgiven.

Next, we have to allow God to redeem what has happenedRomans 8:28 reminds us that God is able to use all the stuff that happens in our lives for good.  That means the good, happy, smiley face stuff, as well as the crummy, disheartening, turn-your-stomach junk.  Whether that means He uses it as a teaching moment in our lives, as a way to speak hope into the life of someone else, or whatever, God is able to take the broken, shattered pieces of our lives and turn them into something beautiful – if we will let Him.

We have to allow ourselves to heal.  Sometimes things that happen are tiny.  Sometimes, they are life-alteringly huge.  No matter how significant or insignificant something may be in our life, we have to allow ourselves the time necessary to properly heal from what has happened.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us that there is a season for everything, including healing.  Just because we’ve been forgiven of what’s happened doesn’t mean that things are immediately better – the implications of what has happened can take a tremendous toll on us emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  When that happens, we do a great disservice (and potentially a great deal of harm) to ourselves if we try to jump back up right away.  Just as a broken arm needs time to heal, so too does a broken heart or a wounded spirit.

Finally, we have to allow ourselves to move forward.  That doesn’t mean that we will jump up and pick things up right where we left off.  When a runner injures a knee or ankle, it will take time for them to return to their previous pace.  This is just a part of the healing process – if they were to try to immediately return to their previous level of exertion, not only would they risk re-injuring themselves, but they would risk causing the injury to be much worse, necessitating a much longer recovery process the second time around (if they were even able to return to running afterwards.)  It’s the same way when we’ve had a major event occur in our lives – we shouldn’t expect to be able to jump back up and pick up exactly where we left off – it may take time before we regain our stride.  At first we may feel wobbly and unsure of ourselves, especially if the failure was large.  But, the critical thing is that we do get back up.

In closing, I would like to offer the illustration that was laid on my heart by the Holy Spirit as I was jotting down notes and thoughts for this entry.  When a lightning strike sets a forest ablaze, it will result in a black, gaping wound on the earth for many years.  Life will return however, and the scars will fade over time.  Even though it results in much death and destruction, there is good in a forest fire.  The fire is able to clear out the dead wood and tangled growth that used to choke the understory, and the ultimate result is a purification and renewing of the forest.  A forest that has undergone a fire is much more resistant to a future fire, as the dry, combustible material scattered around on the ground has been consumed, leaving behind healthy, green plants in its wake.  Just as in a forest fire, the fires in our life are able to clear out the junk that’s been building up in our life over time, and to allow us to better run the race that God has set up for us (Hebrews 12:1.)