Friday, February 15, 2019
Psalms 32:1 – 5 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit… I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
On Wednesday we studied a part of forgiveness that is hard for many to understand – the issue of whether or not we are required to forgive ourselves for us to feel forgiven. I want to explore that a little deeper.
When we say that we have been forgiven by God, but we have not been able to forgive ourselves, we are really struggling with the issue of guilt. Guilt is essential to bring us to Christ for forgiveness, but it is not to endure beyond the point of God’s forgiveness. Corrie Ten Boom, who had been a prisoner of the Nazis in World War II, said it this way – The purpose of being guilty is to bring us to Jesus. Once we are there, then its purpose is finished. If we continue to make ourselves guilty—to blame ourselves—then that is sin.
Martin Luther was one who struggled with his sins. For the longest time he could not accept the true forgiveness of God. Before his break with the Catholic church he went to confession every day and was so guilt-ridden by his sins he would almost have gone every hour. On most nights Luther slept well, but he even felt guilty about that, thinking, “Here am I, sinful as I am, having a good night’s sleep.” So he would confess that. One day the older priest to whom Luther went for confession said to him, “Martin, either find a new sin and commit it, or quit coming to see me!”
When we claim to be forgiven, and yet we allow the guilt of the sin for which we have been forgiven to captivate us and hold us in its grips, we have not truly accepted the forgiveness of God. We daily hang ourselves with the noose of guilt. We are like the monkey in this story from Brother Andrew’s book God’s Smuggler.
In his early days he had served in the Dutch army in Indonesia. In the late 1940s he bought a young ape, a gibbon, who took to him, and Andy treated him as a pet in the barracks. He hadn’t had the gibbon for many weeks before he noticed that when he touched it in some areas around the waist it seemed to hurt him. He examined the gibbon more closely and found a raised welt that went around his waist. He carefully laid the animal down on his bed and pulled back the matted hair from this welt until he could see what was causing the problem. He discovered that when the gibbon had been a baby someone had tied a piece of wire around his middle and had never taken it off. As the monkey grew larger the wire became embedded in his flesh.
Obviously, it must have caused him a great deal of discomfort. That evening Andrew began the operation, taking his razor and shaving off all of the monkey’s hair in a three-inch-wide swath around his middle. While the other boys in the barracks looked on, he cut ever so gently into the tender flesh until he exposed the wire. The gibbon lay there with the most amazing patience. Even when he obviously was hurting him the gibbon looked up with eyes that seemed to say, “I understand,” until at long last he was able to get down to the wire, cut it, and pull it away. Instantly, as soon as the operation was over, the gibbon jumped up, did a cartwheel, danced around, and pulled Andy’s hair in joyful glee – to the delight of all the boys in the barracks. “After that, my gibbon and I were inseparable. I think I identified with him as strongly as he with me. I think I saw in the wire that had bound him a kind of parallel to the chain of guilt still so tight around myself—and in his release, the thing I too longed for.”
Some of us are still in the bondage of our sin because we didn’t accept the fact that upon the confession of our sin to God He forgave the guilt of our sin. We return to the altar of repentance over and over again for the same issues because we have not trusted the loving forgetfulness of a faithful and forgiving Father. Garrison Keillor tells it this way as he spins another tale:
“Larry the Sad Boy … was saved 12 times in the Lutheran church, an all-time record. Between 1953 and 1961 he threw himself weeping and contrite on God’s throne of grace on 12 separate occasions—and this in a Lutheran church that wasn’t evangelical, had no altar call, no organist playing “Just as I Am Without One Plea” while a choir hummed and a guy with shiny hair took hold of your heartstrings and played you like a cheap guitar. This is the Lutheran church, not a bunch of hillbillies. These are Scandinavians, and they repent in the same way that they sin: discreetly, tastefully, at the proper time ….Twelve times! Even we fundamentalists got tired of him …. God did not mean for us to feel guilt all our lives. There comes a point when you should dry your tears and join the building committee and start grappling with the problems of the church furnace and … make church coffee and be of use, but Larry kept on repenting and repenting.”
God’s word does not say “burdened are we whose sins have been forgiven.” No, it says ”blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
If you are still carrying the guilt of repented sin, then you are being deceived. God has forgiven it. God has forgotten it. Your memory of it is your choice to listen to the deceiver. When he comes knocking at your memory’s door, let Jesus answer. The guilt of your sin has been removed. Begin living in the freedom God has given you.