“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).
Just as our feelings of guilt may not correspond with the objective reality of our guilt, so too is it possible for our feelings of forgiveness not to correspond with the objective truth that Christians have been forgiven. As we conclude our brief study of guilt and forgiveness today, we will focus on the significance of our feeling forgiven, since it is such an important part of human experience.
First, it is possible to feel forgiven without necessarily having received authentic forgiveness. Many non-Christians can go for long periods of time thinking and feeling that God has absolved them even though they have not heeded the teaching of today’s passage to confess their sins and trust in the person and work of Christ alone
(1 John 1:8–9). As such, their feelings do not match reality.
Secondly, believers are also apt to experience a disconnect between their objective forgiveness and their feelings of pardon, albeit in a manner different than the non-believer. We tend to doubt God’s promise of forgiveness whenever we do not feel forgiven. Pastors see Christians every day who have become spiritually paralyzed because they do not feel like God has pardoned their sin.
Unfortunately, too many believers seek to live the Christian life based on their feelings alone. But Scripture is clear that we are forgiven if we have confessed our sins authentically (v. 9). Even if at times feelings of forgiveness are not there, we must trust that the Lord is faithful to His promise to forgive us through Christ Jesus when we seek His face (Heb. 10:19–22).
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin (John 16:7–11), and He often does so by giving us over to guilt feelings. However, persistent feelings of guilt after a person has repented and turned to Christ is evidence of the Devil, not the Spirit. Satan accuses the brethren (Rev. 12:7–12), tempting us to think that we have not been forgiven in order to devour us (1 Peter 5:8) and paralyze our ministry. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit comes to build up and heal (Rom. 15:13). His conviction will prod us to seek refuge in Jesus and will not saddle believers with doubts that God keeps His promise to forgive us.
Godly fear makes us work out our salvation by seeking forgiveness in Jesus and living out His pardon in the fruits of a holy life and ministry to others (Phil. 2:12–13). Ungodly fear arrogantly assumes that God’s free forgiveness through faith in Christ alone is not good enough for us and that we must make up for our own sin. If you have trusted in Jesus alone, resist the accuser and do not let doubts about your forgiveness make you unable to minister to others.
Passages for Further Study
Pss. 34:18; 130
1 John 5:13–15
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