Without forgiveness, we cannot free ourselves from the grip of the past.
Philip Yancey, Whats so amazing about Grace?
Recently, I read the above quote in Philip Yancey’s classic work on grace. The phrase came back into focus last Thursday in our small group Bible study. Towards the end of the discussion, my wife stated that she believes that one of the hardest persons we ever extend grace to is ourselves. She feels that we often struggle to forgive ourselves of past and even, present transgressions.
How about you?
On a day to day basis, beyond knowing that your sins are forgiven and heaven is your future destination, how free are you from the grip of sins (past and present)? Do you live daily reclaiming Christ’s forgiveness?
There are those among us who for some reason or another cannot forgive themselves. They read verses like those in I John 1.9 and somehow they fall on deaf ears. What do we say to them?
Might I remind us that a “sense of sin is the measure of a souls awareness of God.” In other words, its good to have a healthy awareness of our fallenness.
If you, like the apostle Paul, have never stopped marveling at the wonder of God’s grace since you first were freed from sin’s hold by God’s forgiveness on your life, then you are not in a bad place.
When we follow the Apostle Paul’s confession through his epistles we find a clear progression. In one of his first letters he wrote, “I am the least of the apostles,“ a few years later he said, “I am the least of the saints”. In one of Paul’s last letters he penned these words, “I’m the worst of sinners”.
A growing and realistic awareness of our sinful nature is not a bad thing. It keeps us in touch with the reality of the life we now possess in Christ.
However, to be paralyzed by unforgiveness is not a healthy sign nor one that will lead to genuine humility. It is like holding ourselves prisoner in an attempt to “do time” for our sin. We need to apply God’s scandalous grace to every wrong act that we commit or have committed.
Maybe what happens is that we still hold on to some hope that we can get it right, just this once. But, we forget, that like Paul,
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. Rom. 7.17-20
We just need to keep reminding ourselves that we are hopelessly unable to keep God’s perfect law. We are simply incapable of being perfect.
… realize that imperfection is the prerequisite for grace. Light only gets in through the cracks. (Philip Yancey, pg. 273).
When you struggle to believe that you can be forgiven remember this.
We creatures, we jolly beggars give glory to God by our dependence. Our wounds and defects are the very fissures through which grace might pass. It is our human destiny on earth to be imperfect, incomplete, weak and mortal and only by accepting that destiny can we escape the force of gravity and receive grace. Only then can we grow closer to God. (Yancey, pg. 273).
On the other hand, there are those who don’t seem to sense their own sinful behavior on a day-to-day basis. They’ve somehow grown desensitized to their own inadequacies, wrong actions, and thoughts.
Their challenge is not just “feeling guilty” over past sins, but admitting that to themselves and to God. As Yancey said in his book, “repentance is the flight home that leads to joyful celebration”. (Yancey, pg. 183)
Remember the story in Luke about the prodigal son? The embarrassingly large party his father threw for his son began with his return and his admission of guilt. He first had to come home. He held up empty hands in order to experience the amazing, undeserved grace and forgiveness of his father.
Like the prodigal, we too find that our heavenly Father is not out to crush us under a weight of sin, but ready to free us from the grip of the past and liberate us to live in His grace and presence. All He requires is a defenseless spirit that owns up to our sin.
Maybe, one of our struggles with the grip of the past is that we don’t always want to own up to our guilt. We spend more time justifying our wrongs:
- It was not so bad when I compare it to their sins. OR
- I only did it once this week, that’s not as bad as in the past... OR
- I only said what I did because of how they acted… OR
- I’m only human… OR
- No one’s perfect you know...
In order to receive grace and release oneself from the grip of wrongdoings, we have to come with open hands and admit our need. Again as Yancey so clearly points out. A man who admits no guilt can receive no forgiveness. (pg. 180).
Certainly, we don’t want to keep company with those who deny their wrongdoing or wrong behavior hiding behind a cloak of self-righteousness. So let´s live daily owning up to our sins, coming to the Father and to a joyful celebration.
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