by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
All Scripture is from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
Feeling like a failure, I am rotting in decay deep into the root of who I am. I need a root canal to remove the nerve.
God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay…I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you… Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin. Acts 13:34, 38
Most of my clients struggle mightily with the issue of guilt, remorse, and regret for so much wrong and evil they have perpetrated in their lives; and against so many people affected by their actions. The man who is really working to change his future in recovery finds himself battling the past and the present in order to even begin his journey into his future. He is a drug dealer, home invader, burglar, street thug, and in some cases, worse. The man that has returned to God through relationship with Jesus has this abscess protruding from his being; he calls it shame. Like rotting tooth decay, the only way to alleviate the disease caused by an overtly sinful lifestyle, he somehow needs to drill deep into the root of his problem to kill the nerve and drain the abscess. The abscess will not on its own drain. It swells out of control.
When it comes to his family, his loved ones see the worst in him again and again and again. He is drunk and high; he is verbally, physically, and emotionally abusive; he is psychologically dominating; he is up to what he is usually up to and then… BOOOOOM! He’s locked up for years. He is humbled by his circumstances, living in a bathroom with another smelly man he doesn’t know, separated by everyone he loves, and now sober in prison, fully aware and emotionally raw and exposed for who he is and what he has done.
The man is able to have articulate conversations with his new “friends”. He is typically angry, mostly at himself, but he is rational and usually considerate. He is sitting in a therapy group for a few hours everyday putting it out there and giving it away. When he is on the phone or in the visiting room with his loved ones… wife, girlfriend, mom, dad, grandma, and especially his kids… he is gracious and loving, kind and giving. He is at his best. As his therapist, one question I ask the man is, “Why is it that those you love only get to see you at your best when you are in jail? Why is it that your prison buddies get your best and not those you love and who love you?” That’s been the pattern. He’s at his best in jail, and then when he gets out and goes home, he returns to the hustle; right back into the mess. He is abusive and hostile to those he loves. Why not give them his best from home… why only at his best in prison?
Perhaps one of the reasons for his failures outside of prison is that psychologically and spiritually he continues to be imprisoned; imprisoned by guilt and shame that leads to all sorts of the other issues and addictions that can enslave a person. It is necessary to see life and the world through a new set of lenses, because if he could see the forest for the trees maybe he wouldn’t keep running head on into the trees. For now, his eyes are caked with mud. He wants what is right and best but he is blind and in search of a safe place to step. He feels like he is still rotting in decay deep into the root of who he is. He is caught up in what he has done, what has been done to him, and is believing the lie that what he has done defines who he is. He has discovered that his twisted values have defined his standard of morality and he is not at all comfortable with that. He wants to change what he believes so that his values are defined by a much higher standard of morality, rooted in truth and love and all that is right and good.
The man is troubled by his sense of identity as to who and what he is. His identity is based on what he has done as the villain, along with what he has endured growing up as the victim of abuse and hostility. There will need to be healing and deliverance, a time for mourning and grieving, some time for processing guilt and shame, and a period for amends and restoration. It will be a project and a miracle for this man to take on the identity as a child of God redeemed for each and every transgression. It won’t be easy to accept that the slate has been wiped clean and he gets to start anew, according to God’s purpose and plan for his life.
Then he (the thief) said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42-43
Even though his sins may on the surface appear to be more blatantly hostile and disobedient to the purposes of God than mine may appear to be, they are no less wrong, and no less evil compared to the moral standard of godliness. He doesn’t need grace—the undeserved favor of God—any more or less than I do; or than you do. Yet that is where grace comes in and is applied.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
If what Paul wrote to the Romans is true, then why don’t I feel at peace? Why I am so ashamed of myself? My unrighteousness affects and hurts other people as well as myself. As I come under conviction considering how severely I have hurt others, especially to those I love and who love me, it causes me pain. I am wrought with guilt and shame. I am compelled to make amends with those I have wronged and wounded. How do I say I am sorry for something I have repeated so often? I don’t think I can. Why would they receive my amends? Why would they forgive me? How can anyone forgive me? Most certainly, how can a just God forgive me? I do not deserve that anyone have mercy on me; especially not God if He truly loves those whom I have harmed repeatedly.
O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage! Your arrows have struck deep, and your blows are crushing me. Because of your anger, my whole body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins. My guilt overwhelms me—it is a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins. I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart. You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh. My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind. My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease. Even my own family stands at a distance. The cry of King David, Psalm 38:1-11 (NLT)
One problem I might have is that even as God reaches out to me to help me to change, as broken as I am, I tend to resist Him in the way that I only want God to change me where I hurt. If I have an alcohol or drug problem I want for God to deliver me from drinking so much or from needing to use drugs. If I have an anger problem, I need him to help me not to act out or be abusive when I am angry. If I am sick I need God to help me feel better. If I have had my heart broken I will ask God to help me to move on. But God wants to do so much more. He created me and He loves me. He sent His Son to die for me so that all of the broken places in me that are dying will heal and be transformed into something new. God loves all of me, more of me than merely where it hurts.
“When I was a child I often had a toothache, and I knew if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least not until the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this: I did not doubt that she would give the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would make me go to the dentist the next morning. I could get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain, but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists. I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache.” —C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
In my article, “Under the Influence”, I wrote the following response to C.S. Lewis:
“When you live under the influence of Jesus Christ in your life He is like the dentist. When you are submitted to the transformed life under His influence, God will go beyond the place in your life that aches. He will “fiddle about with all sorts of other teeth” because He knows that these are places that need His touch or they will become even more infected until you cannot move because of the pain and difficulty. What God does is take the things that are old and dying, and transforms them into something new and full of life, beyond what you even know to want for yourself.”
Here’s the deal. I have been justified by faith in relationship with Jesus Christ, as have you if you believe. It is a done deal. Yes, the event of the sacrifice of Jesus, but He did not endure all that he did so that I would continue to wallow in guilt and shame. He went through all that He did so that I would live in peace and joy full of love in my heart.
The definition of justify is as follows:
- To demonstrate or prove to be just, right, or valid;
- To declare free of blame; absolve;
- To be free of the guilt and penalty attached to grievous sin.
So to be justified by faith in relationship with Christ is to be made right in relationship with Christ. To be justified by faith in relationship with Christ is to be absolved, declared free of blame in relationship with Christ. Jesus Christ has set you and me free of the guilt and penalty attached to grievous sin. This is our hope in relationship with Jesus. The Bible declares that through the sacrifice of His Son, God has declared us innocent of unrighteousness and so it is “just-if-I’d” never sinned at all, and “just-if-I” never sin again. I am justified by faith. Without faith I will continue in hopeless shame walking aimlessly in the guilt of my transgressions, according to me; not according to the Word of God.
Even King David understood this. This man deemed “a man after God’sown heart” struggled with sin, much of what anyone would consider to be evil and disgusting, including betrayal, adultery, other forms of sexual sin, and murder. Yet whenever David repented, he recognized that as a king, the only real consequence of his sin that really mattered was spiritual and eternal. He did harm to a lot of people but it was only sin against the One who judges sin.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.
David understood that no matter how egregious his sin, once he confessed his sin it was over. His intention was repentance, to turn away from his sin in pursuit of righteousness. When you read through the Psalms you even get the impression that David understood the grace coming through the promised Messiah, as if he had a deep and uniquely personal relationship with God the Son (who wouldn’t be called Jesus until He was revealed in the flesh as a human being). It can be difficult to understand how David could continue in his sin while he had such intimacy in relationship with God—that is until I consider that it isn’t so difficult for me to continue in my sin considering my relationship with God and that, for some reason strange to me, He has chosen to communicate truth to thousands of people through me, ever the hypocrite.
“The Lord rewarded me for doing right; he restored me because of my innocence… I am blameless before God; I have kept myself from sin. The Lord rewarded me for doing right. He has seen my innocence.” 2 Samuel 22:21, 24-25
Considering the hedonistic lifestyle of the king at the expense of so many people, including loved ones, David’s proclamation of innocence sounds arrogant, if not inaccurate. David even suggested that he had not violated any of God’s laws. The promise and hope of grace was so realized in the forgiven spirit of David that he believed in the promise that his sins had been removed as far as the east is from the west.
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
1 John 1:9 (NLT)
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. For Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are.
Psalm 103:11-14 (NLT)
Apparently, David had deep insight into the truth about justification in his relationship with God, and as I suggested, deeply engaged with the Spirit of the Son of God. According to God’s Word, the hope of the promise good for David—that he was set free and no longer subject to decay unto death, is just as good, relevant, and applicable for you and for me.
We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “You are my son; today I have become your father.” God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.” So it is also stated elsewhere: “You will not let your holy one see decay.” Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. Acts 13:32-39
If I am no longer subject to decay as consequence of my sin (it’s no longer mine since Jesus took ownership of it), why would I think and behave as though I am decaying? If the root of the nerve from sin in my life has already been deadened by the merciful grace of God, why would I be thinking that I still need a root canal to deaden the nerve? That is what I do when I resist the reality of the mercy of God because what I have done is so awful that I have determined that even God can not possibly forgive me since I have disqualified myself from being loved by Him.
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:5-8
What is left for you and for me is to let go of what is no longer ours to begin with. Jesus took our sin and disposed of it through His sacrifice… before we were born to commit sin in the first place. To hold on to my guilt is actually a matter of pride. It is selfish, not humble, to continue to wallow in the mire of guilt. What feeds into feeling guilty is the weight of still sinning. That is the power of justification. We are already forgiven for sin we have yet to commit. It isn’t a license to sin, but it is a kind of insurance policy, if you will.
Jesus found him… and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” John 5:14
When in a relationship with Jesus Christ, while I may continue to sin, I am under conviction and will confess my sin with the intention of repenting of it. Why do I say ‘intention’? I suppose it’s an admission that my repentant mindset and behavior isn’t as consistent as I wish it was. The problem with the man Jesus healed in John chapter five (the man couldn’t walk) is that he may have been engaging in sinful behavior with a heart that was hostile to the will of God, in betrayal against having relationship with Him. What God wants with us is relationship. In relationship with God we will appreciate the loving kindness that affords us grace and mercy. If that were the case with the man who’d been healed of paralysis, perhaps he would have shown more appreciation for what Christ had done for him.
The same can be said for experiencing God’s forgiveness. The incarcerated men I work with experience something powerful as the stream of God’s forgiveness courses through their being. Their issue with guilt doesn’t resist it because by then they are overcome by love. It is a force by then that the hardest of criminals can’t help but immerse themselves into the love they have longed for all of their lives. These men seem to appreciate the forgiveness of their Savior so much more acutely and deeply than I seem to.
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-47
Whether a prisoner like my clients, a murderous adulterer like David, or someone like you or me, we have been forgiven the same. We have all been justified by faith no matter our sin. Since some feel emotionally like a greater weight has been lifted, they will perhaps have a greater sense of gratitude. The person rescued from certain death might be more grateful than the person spared a little harm, even though the harm would have led to something fatal. That feeling of gratitude, whether intense or casual tends to mask the fact that we have all actually been rescued from certain death because of Christ’s sacrifice.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
Romans 6:1-2, 6-7
The promise is that having been justified by faith, I can now live by faith that I have been acquitted of a lifetime of sinful thinking and behavior. I have sinned against God and God alone. He sent His son to take possession—ownership—of my sin and then through great sacrifice disposed of it. God looks upon me and sees Jesus resurrected, innocent and blameless, holy and made perfect. It’s not even up to me except to accept his mercy as oh so real and true. What is up to me is to have faith in the facts. I choose to embrace this truth. As I come to believe more fully in God as my higher power restoring me, surrendered daily to living out His purpose for me, then I can begin to reach out to those I have harmed and begin the process of reconciliation and hopefully restoration.
What about you? Let go, today, of what isn’t yours. Accept that you are no longer subject to decay. In Christ, you’re not breaking down, you’re being regenerated and built up. That is freedom that comes through the reality of experiencing the empowerment of a justified life.
He (Abraham) did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Romans 4:20-25