Sometimes it’s crippling. The feeling that I’ve hurt someone I love. The knowledge that I’ve disobeyed God’s commands, and trampled upon Christ’s precious gift of grace.
I feel like I can’t possibly ask forgiveness from God. Surely He can’t possibly forgive me, after I’ve lost my temper at my husband for the tenth time this week.
Then I find myself unable to move on, crippled by my fear of failing yet again, and having to humble myself at His throne one more time. Surely He, in all His glory and majesty, cannot accept me…
I know I am not alone in this feeling. Many of us struggle with guilt. At times, it becomes hard to accept the fact that God has extended His forgiveness – especially when we have repeated a mistake – and we begin to feel that failure is constant and inevitable.
When I need reminding of the grace bestowed upon me and the attitude I should have towards it – I think of Paul.
Paul was a man who had a lot to regret.
- Before he came to Christ he was one that persecuted the church with a frightening zeal.
- He consented to the death of the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:57-8:1).
- In rage against this group of people, he went on to enter every house in Jerusalem, dragging men and women to prison (8:3).
- Not content with stopping there, he went obtained permission to go on to Damascus and bring any Christians there bound to Jerusalem (9:2).
It was at this point, while he was “yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (9:1), that he was met by the Lord as he journeyed on the road to Damascus. A bright light surrounded him and he fell to the ground. He heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? […] I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (9:3-6).
Can you even imagine?
Can you imagine how Paul would have felt, having been one who had been trying to follow the Lord all his life? Paul, who was one who worked hard to keep himself blameless:
“circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee […] touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5, 6).
Yet here he was, listening to the Lord tell him that he was persecuting him! What an impact this would have had on the religiously zealous Saul.
It is does us well to remember that when we sin we are not only hurting ourselves and those around us – but we also cause God pain. Upon remembering this, we should have the attitude of Paul, and go to the Lord in humility – ready to change our ways. Paul, trembling and astonished, asked of the Lord, “Lord, what would you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6).
But what then? Paul had been a zealous persecutor of the church (Philippians 3:6). How would it be possible for him to ever forgive himself and forget? How could such a one move on? How can we forgive ourselves of our past foolishness and attain a greater relationship with God?
Happily, Paul penned the answer for us:
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus… let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Philippians 3:13, 14; Hebrews 12:1 ESV)
Paul did not let his past failures define him – the same failures which were likely some of the some of the weights that he had to lay aside (Hebrews 12:1).
He did not look back. He did not wallow in self-loathing.
Just like Paul, we must learn from our mistakes, but not dwell on them. Dwelling on the past slows down growth. I believe Anne of Green Gables put it very nicely in expressing her joy that, “Tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it yet!”
While we have made mistakes (and we cannot change that) we do not have to make those same mistakes again. What a comfort! And if we do happen to make the same mistakes, God promises to forgive us if we are truly repentant (1 John 1:9-11). He is gracious, and He is merciful. He is full of mercy, and so ready to forgive us.
The question is, do you believe that He will forgive you? And can you forgive yourself?
If God forgave Paul, and Paul moved on – surely we can do the same. And we must do the same – because it is only through forgiving yourself and moving on can you truly start to make positive changes in your life.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
With that knowledge, go boldly. A gracious God is waiting to give you grace. Complete, full, cleansing, grace. He’s always ready with open arms for us, as the prodigal child.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
So how can you move on in your life?
- Acknowledge your faults, and confess them. As with any pursuit, this is the first step on the road to positive change. Come to terms with the fact you have made a mistake and seek to rectify that in every way possible, starting with your relationship with God.
- Know you have been forgiven and are covered by grace, washed in His blood. If we don’t feel we have been forgiven we can end up feeling like we can never do right – and we will often fulfil our own prophecy in that regard. Trust in His promises.
- Focus on the positive changes you are making – no matter how small. Find out what causes you to fail, and work on avoiding those things that will cause you to make the same mistake again. If a certain place tempts you, don’t go there. If a certain friend is a bad influence on you, cut ties. Nothing on earth is worth as much as your soul. Lay aside every weight (Hebrews 12:1-2).
- Focus on God. When you make a mistake, go boldly towards Him too seek grace- and continue the walk in His love to Heaven, with bold confidence.
The path isn’t always easy, and the path we take towards Heaven isn’t always in a straight line – we may make the same mistakes again. But the difference with us, as God’s children is that we have an avenue of forgiveness always waiting for us. With persistence and consistency we will get there. Trust in Him, and let Him guide you through His word each step of the way.