A young lady named Jennifer wrote the following letter to the Christian website, ChristianAnswers.Net: “I desperately need your help with a problem. I was saved four years ago, and I’ve tried to live a Christian life. I have messed up a lot, but every time I’ve asked God to forgive me. And then I’m happy again because I know He forgives.
But here lately it seems like I’m constantly feeling guilty about things I’ve done. I’ve even started feeling guilty about things I’m not even sure if I’ve done. I’ve asked God to forgive me if I did do something wrong, but I still feel guilty. I want the joy back that I first experienced when I first became a Christian. Why do I feel guilty?”
Can you relate to Jennifer? Even though you’ve asked Jesus to be your Savior and you try to live a Christian life, do you still wonder if he can truly forgive you for the things you’ve done?
Last week I talked about how harmful it is when we are so unconcerned with our sins that we won’t repent of them. It’s just as harmful – or perhaps even worse – when Christians spend their whole lives wondering if they’re really forgiven after they do repent.
If you struggle with this, please pay attention to how King David handled this issue. In 2 Samuel 11, as he walked on the roof of his palace, David saw a woman named Bathsheba bathing. He found out her husband, Uriah, was one of his soldiers who was off fighting the enemies of Israel. David had Bathsheba brought to his palace and he slept with her. She conceived a child. To try and cover up what he’d done, David had Uriah sent home from the battlefield, hoping he would spend the night with his wife. But Uriah didn’t do this. So, David had Uriah killed in battle. After Bathsheba’s time of mourning for her husband was over, David brought her into the palace where she became his wife and bore him a son.
Evidently David thought he’d resolved his problem. But he hadn’t. 1 Samuel 11:26b says, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”
The Lord send the Prophet Nathan to confront King David about the wicked things he had done. David immediately admitted that he’d sinned against the Lord. In 2 Sam. 12:13 – “Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
David was forgiven. But he would be held accountable for his actions. It was at this moment in his life that he wrote Psalm 51.
It says, “1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Look at what he’s saying here. “God, I know I’m a sinner. I’ve done things that you didn’t want me to do. You have the right to punish me. And you should. I’ve always been a sinner even though you expect better from me.”
But God, in your righteous anger, please:
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
And God, as you forgive me and restore me, please change me into the person you want me to be.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
Look at what he writes next:
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
He understands God doesn’t care how much he does for God if he doesn’t have a heart for God.
The way David concluded this psalm shows he understood the more he had a heart for God, the more God would bless him and the work God called him to do:
18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
I can’t help but think this psalm pleased God. David confessed his sins and called out to God for help. Even if this did please him, God still held David accountable for what he had done. In 2 Samuel 12:15, the Lord struck the child David and Bathsheba had with an illness. David spend the next few days fasting and lying in sackcloth on the ground. This showed true repentance on his part. He was in such agony that he wouldn’t even eat.
On the seventh day of his illness, the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him that his son was dead. They weren’t sure how David would react. When David found out his son had died, he did something unexpected. He got up, bathed and went into the house of the Lord where he worshipped. Then he requested some food and ate.
David’s actions are a model for how to deal with sin:
- Acknowledge and admit to it.
- Accept the punishment our sin brings.
- Accept the forgiveness we have in Jesus Christ.
- Move on.
Which one of these five points do you think is the hardest for most Christians? For those who don’t want to deal with their sins, it’s the first one. But for many Christians it’s the last point, especially if they were raised in legalism instead of grace.
Here’s how that looks. You were taught you need to accept Jesus as your Savior so your sins can be forgiven. And you did. Even though you were saved by grace, you were raised to live by the rules. There were certain things you had to do if you were a Christian.
Those rules were often used to modify your behavior. If you broke any of them, you may have been told things like, “God saw that” or “Jesus will punish you for doing that.”
While these statements are true, they’re not supposed to be the ending point. They should be followed up with statements such as “But God forgives you and so do I” or “We all mess up. What did you learn from this?” Often these last statements never came.
You grew up thinking that God is just sitting up there waiting for you to mess us, especially if you committed on of the “big” sins, such a sexual immorality or stealing. Eventually, like most of us, you committed one of the “big” sins and you think God can’t forgive that because you knew better. So, over the past several years or decades, the guilt is keeping you worn down and beat down.
Even if you weren’t raised this way, it’s still possible to develop this type of faith. It’s the type of faith I had when I was younger and spiritually immature.
If you’ve been living in legalism, I have good news. You don’t have to carry that burden anymore. If you’ve acknowledged your sin, repented of it, accepted whatever consequences your actions brought and are walking with Jesus, you’re not actually carrying it anymore. Jesus has already dealt with it.
Now, let it go.
David didn’t live in legalism. We’re not supposed to do that either. Last week in my call for us to repent of our sins, I said that God hates sin. The truth is he hates it so much that he sent his son to die for it. I John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
This verse reminds us that through Christ, we can move on from our sins, no matter what they were. Cry out the Lord and ask him to help you be like David. To know you’re no longer guilty. To know you’re forgiven in the Lord. And to move on.