Summary: Many people say they understand that God forgave their sins committed before they became believers, but they feel guilty about sins they committed after they were Christians. This study helps you understand God’s forgiveness and how you can be encouraged by it.
Summary: This study helps you understand God’s forgiveness and how you can be encouraged by it.
Doug Britton Books
Practical • Biblical • Cross-Cultural
Enjoy freedom from guilt, shame, and regret
Jesus wants you and me to experience a joyful life. But sometimes that seems impossible because of our guilt over things we have done or said. We may “know” that God forgives our sins, but deep inside, we don’t feel forgiven, or we think what we have done is so bad that we can’t be forgiven.
God doesn’t want us to take sin lightly. In fact he tells us to flee temptation (2 Timothy 2:22).
But he also doesn’t want us to live with guilt, shame, or regret. Instead, he wants us to walk in the joy of a clean slate, one that comes from truly grasping what it means to be forgiven by God.
The key for most of us is to truly accept God’s forgiveness, If you commit a sin, confess it to God, thank him for forgiving you, and learn from your mistakes. Try to do better next time, but don’t dwell on your past.
Remember that when Jesus died and was resurrected, he paid the penalty for your sins.
He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:25)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Ephesians 1:7)
Make it personal
1. Have regrets, guilt, or shame kept you from living a joyful life with Christ? Explain your answer.
Related: God’s love for you
“But I sinned after I was saved.”
Many people say they understand that God forgave their sins committed before they became believers, but they feel guilty about sins they committed after they were Christians. They often wonder if they really are Christians, or they think they are terrible people.
The reality is that everyone sins from time-to-time in their thoughts, words, or deeds. Read what John wrote to fellow Christians:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all un-righteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if any-body does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:8-2:2)
James made the same point when he wrote:
We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check (James 3:2).
Realize that the early Christians also sinned
Many people think the early Christians were perfect—that they didn’t sin the same way we do. That’s not true.
As you read the New Testament, keep your eyes open for their faults, and you will see that the early Christians had the same faults as you. For example, sometimes they were disobedient, selfish, and hypocritical. They also argued.
- Hypocrisy: Read about Peter in Galatians 2:11-13.
- Giving in to peer pressure: Study Barnabas in Galatians 2:13.
- Arguing: Study Philippians 4:2.
- Selfishness: Read about the churches in Philippians 4:15 and Paul’s followers in Philippians 2:20-21.
- Disobedience: Peter said, “Surely not, Lord,” to God in Acts 10:14.
Make it personal
2. How can reading about the failures of early church encourage you?
3. Do you think these verses mean God says it’s okay to sin? Explain your answer.
Related: Defeating Temptation
Related: Guard your thought life
Find freedom from perfectionism
I would like to do everything I do perfectly, but I can’t. There are too many things I want to do or think I should do to excel in all of them. Plus, from time-to-time I sin in thought, word, or deed.
I have had accept the fact that I am imperfect and that I make mistakes. I also have had to accept the fact that sometimes I sin and need to ask God to forgive me. This keeps me humble, and it reminds me that I need his help.
I’m not excusing sin or endorsing sloppy living. I’m just saying that I know I will come up short from time to time.
You too are imperfect. Everyone is. Don’t go through life kicking yourself for your failures. Instead, learn to enjoy God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
Learn from your failures and move forward. Follow Paul’s example:
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
What do you think?
4. Do you think perfectionism can lead to discouragement or depression? Explain your answer.
Realize that you are in a growth process
When you accepted Christ as your Savior, you started your Christian walk as a baby in Christ. Babies are not able to walk, feed themselves, or change their diapers. Babies need help. And they make lots of mistakes as they grow.
The same is true of us. As we grow, it’s inevitable that we will stumble from time-to-time.
… The new self … is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:10)
What do you think?
5. How can knowing that Christianity is a growth process help you overcome discouragement or depression?
Four steps to enjoying God’s forgiveness
Finding God’s forgiveness is a simple process. Read the following steps with an open heart. Remember, God wants you to escape guilt and enjoy his forgiveness.
1. Confess your sin to God.
Some people treat sin casually, choosing to disobey God’s word and acting as if God doesn’t care about in. God does care. When you sin, you need to be honest with God and confess your sin.
Then 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. (Psalm 32:5)
He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
2. Ask for God’s forgiveness.
Asking for forgiveness can show a humble and repentant heart. A parent likes to hear his or her child say, “Please forgive me.” So does God.
Don’t give up because of repeated sins. If you keep committing the same sins, you may feel like a hypocrite and think God won’t forgive you. But look at what Jesus told his disciples:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
Since Jesus asked his followers to forgive continuously, we know that it is in his character to forgive again and again. Knowing this, we are encouraged not to give up if we keep committing the same sin. Instead, we keep coming to him, asking for forgiveness, and asking for help to do better.
3. Thank God for his forgiveness.
God does not want you to wallow in your past sins, continuing to feel awful. He loves to answer when we pray, “I’m sorry, God. Please forgive me.” His answer is, “I forgive you.”
Imagine you were the parent of a four-year old child and that you disciplined him or her for doing something wrong. Now imagine that the next day you saw your child sitting on a chair, looking depressed, and you asked what was wrong. Your child responded, “I’m a bad person.”
You would reassure your child, wouldn’t you? You might say something such as, “No you’re not, honey. I’ve forgiven you. Now go out and play.”
What would you think if this scene was repeated many times over the next few weeks? It probably would break your heart. You would want your child to experience your forgiveness and enjoy life.
Likewise, once we confess our sins, God wants us to experience his forgiveness and move beyond feeling guilty.
When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. (Psalm 65:3)
I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25)
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
Here are some more encouraging verses about God’s forgiveness: 1 Kings 8:33-34, Psalm 85:2-3, Psalm 103:11-13, Psalm 130:4, Isaiah 1:18, Isaiah 55:6-7, Ezekiel 33:14-16, and James 5:15-16.
4. Deal with the consequences of your sin.
Although God forgives you, there may be consequences from your sin you need to humbly deal with. This might include getting fired, being separated from your spouse, or going to court.
Make restitution to others if needed. Take care of any physical or legal consequences. If you wounded others, take as much time as necessary to earn their trust.
Make it personal
6. How well do you practice the previous four steps to forgiveness? Explain your answer.
7. How will you remind yourself to take these steps the next time you sin?
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Make it personal
1. Have guilt, regret, or shame been a major issue in your life? If so, describe how they affect you.
2. Would you like to experience freedom from guilt, regret, or shame? Explain your answer.
3. How can knowing that leaders in the early church sinned after becoming believers encourage you?
4. How can trying to be perfect in everything you do lead to discouragement or depression?
5. How does knowing you are in a growth process encourage you?
6. What are the four steps to God’s forgiveness?
7. How will you put these steps into practice?
Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life.
Copyright © 2019 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.)
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