Living in the Freedom of Forgiveness

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery(Gal. 5:1). You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness(Rom. 6:18). But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Rom. 6:22). So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).

Most of us have heard along the way about the concept of being institutionalized. Probably one of the most familiar examples is related to people who have spent a lot of time in prison. They become so used to imprisonment, that they do not know how to adjust when they are released. It is said that many return to crime because they want the controlled and predictable environment that prison offers. This phenomenon seems so strange to us, and it is difficult to understand how this could be.

We have an example in the Word of God that has perplexed many Christians. It is the example of the Israelites after being freed from Egyptian captivity and led by Moses into the desert. As they were escaping, Moses said to them: Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still(Exodus 14:11). God also made a decree and law for them as they expressed their fears: He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you’ (Ex. 15:26). A month and fifteen days after coming out of Egypt (from Ex. 16:1b), the Israelites continued to struggle with God’s plan to bring them to the promised land: In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death’ (Ex. 16:2-3).

I have heard many Christians over the years express astonishment over the great difficulty the Israelites had in embracing the freedom that God had so graciously given them. He freed them from slavery. He responded to and provided for all their needs. He guided and protected them in every way. God was giving them a new life full of good things because He loved them so much.

Most of us have not been locked in a prison or taken from our land into foreign captivity, but we all have lived in slavery. Before we asked Jesus to become our Lord and Savior, we were all slaves to the oppression of sin. But Jesus died for us to be free! His blood washed away the debt of all of our sins. God has forgiven us for every sin we have committed~ past, present, and future. This is something to not only rejoice about, but to experience deep in our hearts as we live each day. But are we truly experiencing all that it means to be forgiven? Are there ways in which we may have difficulty in knowing what it is to truly be free? Are there ways in which we might even remain in captivity? The Israelites were physically released from slavery, but their hearts were still in bondage.

It is true that Christians continue to deal with temptation and sin after being saved. This is a part of our walk with God here on this earth. This is talked about in detail in The Power of Forgiveness. It is also true that there are many children of God who have patterns of sin in their life, who have still not experienced freedom by surrendering these areas to the Lord. But for this writing, we are talking about the difficulties that many, many Christians have in receiving the forgiveness freely given by God, and in that, not forgiving themselves for the sin that has already been paid for by Jesus.

Our churches are filled with people who are walking around smiling and doing those things Christians do, but whose hearts are filled with guilt, false guilt, and shame. They know what the Lord has said about His love, grace, and forgiveness~ they sing songs praising God for these gifts~ but so many are not experiencing the peace and joy of it in their hearts.

Do we really believe our sins are wiped clean~ blotted out of existence? Do we experience His love and grace when we make mistakes? Do we treat ourselves with love and grace when we sin? Do we really believe God looks upon us with love though we continue to sin~ and even AS we are sinning? YES~ as you are sinning! God is not afraid of our issues. He knows how to love us through them~ to the other side. It is His love that motivates us to repent in our hearts and turn from our ways~ not beating ourselves up and feeling guilty and ashamed. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.

So let’s talk about what guilt, false guilt, and shame really are. Guilt is a feeling given to us by God for a very specific purpose. It is a wonderful provision from God designed to protect us. When we are headed toward something that is not good for us; something that is not of the Lord, the feeling of guilt arises to catch our attention. The Lord is using this to convict our hearts~ to help us avoid taking the step we are about to take. In cases where we listen to this feeling, we are spared from doing something that would have been harmful. We can thank Him and praise Him for His loving help~

In cases where we do not listen, the guilt feeling will probably even increase. Most people think that this is to make them feel really bad about themselves. Not so! The Lord is using the feeling of guilt to help you come to Him. He wants you to confess and repent and experience His gracious forgiveness. He will then help you turn from your ways, and lovingly teach you what He wants you to learn.

There are many Christians who have a constant feeling of guilt inside. This could be because there is sin occurring and the Lord doesn’t want you to be able to ignore it. But many feel guilt when they have done nothing wrong. This is not guilt from the Lord, it is something else. Something that is oppressive, making it very difficult to live in the freedom the Lord has provided through His forgiveness.

There are some people who have come to no longer experience guilt. These are not the people I am talking about, but are important to mention. There are two main reasons for absence of guilt when sin is present. One reason for this is when someone is strongly trying to deny a sinful lifestyle, pushing away the guilty feelings. In this case, the Lord will often provide circumstances to jar that person out of denial. The Lord helps them to experience the guilt that will help them face the sin and turn to the Him. A more extreme situation is when a person’s conscience has been seared. This person has ignored the Lord for a very long time, and turned far away from Him. Not only can this person not hear the Holy Spirit, their conscience isn’t even working anymore.

So we know that guilt provided by God is good. What is the guilt feeling then, that so many Christians are walking around with? This would be false guilt. False guilt is a very damaging emotion. It is one of the biggest factors in Christians not enjoying the freedom of forgiveness in their lives. Guilt from God is not a punishment, it is a help. False guilt is designed to make us pay. When a person is experiencing false guilt, it subdues the peace and joy available to us. It makes it very difficult to enjoy life. False guilt also tends to keep us at a distance from God and others, because we are feeling unlovable.

Often those with false guilt cannot even tell you what it is that is making them feel guilty. This often comes from childhood feelings, often from having a critical parent. In this case, there is a lingering feeling that they have done something wrong. Sometimes a person is having false guilt in response to actually doing something wrong. This feels more like condemnation than a loving prompt from the Lord. Because they think it is God’s rebuking instead of the enemy’s accusation, it reinforces the belief deep inside that punishment is what is just. Would that person think consciously that God’s forgiveness was not enough? Probably not! But nonetheless, this person believes they should suffer more for their wrong doing. This way of living has become so much a part of the person with false guilt, that they actually believe being hard on themselves will stop future sin. They may also believe that if they gave themselves love and grace they would be letting themselves off the hook~ excusing sin. So sadly, the enemy has brought great deception to the mind and heart of anyone living in false guilt~ attempting to steal away what the Lord has joyfully given.

Shame is also not a feeling from the Lord. Shame goes even deeper than false guilt. Where false guilt is about bad feelings related to behavior or choices, shame is about feeling that the core of who they are is disgraceful. When a person lives in shame, it is impossible to experience true freedom.

The Christian who has shame is often not aware of it, yet they go around feeling horrible about themselves. They believe they are unworthy of love. This person may understand forgiveness intellectually, but have a very difficult time feeling it in their hearts. To an even greater degree than false guilt, a person with shame tends to hide away from God and others. This does’t necessarily mean that they never pray to God or talk to people. In fact, as I said earlier, there are churches filled with people who seem to be functioning just fine. At the same time, however, they are keeping their hearts very well protected. Receiving love and forgiveness from God and others is very difficult and even painful. There is no room for grace when shame is present.

False guilt and shame often come in the form of a needling feeling that does’ seem to go away. It is only through the distractions of life is relief found. People living with false guilt and shame are constantly apologizing~ the person with false guilt for everything they do, just in case it’s wrong (often done with laughter). With shame the message in the person’s demeanor reflects that they are apologizing for being a burden. Those living under the oppression of false guilt and shame know very little of what new life in Christ is all about. There is such a dark cloud present that freedom is largely unknown to them.

Do you feel that you are living in the freedom of God’s forgiveness? If you are not in any way, the Lord has the way to the true joy and celebration of the life you have been given in Him. You can enjoy God. You can enjoy His love and grace. When you make a mistake, you can move on in peace and self-acceptance. When you sin you can thank God for His love and mercy~ and keep going. Sure He will help you learn and to grow from your experience~ these are lessons of love and grace. The Lord is gentle and kind~ never shaming or condemning. Experiencing His forgiveness means rejoicing in what He has given freely. There IS NO payment required. There is no debt owed. The Lord wants you to embrace this new life in Him. He wants you to receive and live in His forgiveness~ and there you will see His glory. As always, just ask Him for help. Everything is already in place. What Jesus did on the cross is finished. Let God soak these truths deep into your heart through His supernatural healing power. He WILL be faithful to bring the experience of freedom you have been thirsting and hungering for. The Son HAS set you free, so you ARE free indeed! Let yourself receive all the Lord has given you!