We are at a conference, speaking to a group of women about God’s design for sexuality. As we scan the crowd, we see faces streaming with tears. They long to be free, free from the burden of guilt and shame they’ve carried for so long. They hear us proclaim that God created sexuality as a beautiful gift, but they have yet to experience its beauty.
As the conference ends, a line forms. Each woman waits her turn to talk, to pray, to confess. And each precious woman looks us in the eyes and says, “I know God forgives me. I know I’m forgiven. I know the verses and I believe them, but I’m still not free.”
These women have asked God for forgiveness for their sexual sin, but the truth of it had never filtered into their hearts. They are not alone. So many women say to us, “I can forgive others. I can accept God’s forgiveness, but I just can’t forgive myself. What I did was just too horrible.” And so they punish themselves to prove to God that they’re sorry for their sins. Some become fearful of men or don’t want anything to do with femininity. Or they interpret every rejection as a sign God is punishing them for sins past. Others shut off every sexual feeling and some hang on to guilt, even when God says to delight in sexual intimacy in marriage.
One friend, Lorraine, thought that by holding onto her guilt over her abortion, she was showing God her deep sorrow. Can you imagine the horror of coming face-to-face with the truth that you murdered your own baby? Her sin was so encompassing, so deep, it affected her on different levels. She says, “At the surface level, all I could think was, I hate sex; I have no sex drive. Why do I have to do this? At the next level, I thought, I had sex before I was married. I knew it was wrong and I’m a terrible person. At the deepest level, I told myself, I murdered my child. Christ had to die for my horrid sin. I failed God.”
Jesus extends forgiveness, not for us to tuck it away in a corner, but to revel in the freedom of it, even in the bedroom. Dear one, it is time to forgive yourself.
What Does It Mean to Forgive Yourself?
When a Christian speaks of forgiving herself, she is referring to something much deeper than letting go of her past. Our sins are too shameful to forget about and move on with life. They must be dealt with. We intuitively know that there has to be consequences. Jesus died so that every sin could be dealt with — abortion, anger, lust, sexual sin. There is no sin beyond the power of Christ’s blood shed for us on the cross.
While the world might encourage you to “stop being so hard on yourself,” a Christian’s understanding of being free from sin is much different. Our freedom is a gift, a debt that has been paid on our behalf. In repentance and confession, we receive the amazing gift that Jesus died to give us. We are called to live as new creatures, no longer saddled with the sin of the past.
If you ask a group of women, “What is your favorite chapter in the Bible?” many will say, “First Corinthians 13.” Our hearts respond to love being patient and kind, never jealous or boastful, never arrogant or rude. We want to be loved like this. As we read the “Love Chapter,” often we overlook one little verse, a very important verse: Love “keeps no record of wrongs” (verse 5). The Greek world that is translated as “no record” is logizomai, which means to reckon or impute. In Romans 4:8, this Greek world is translated this way: “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
Do you understand what this means? In God’s sight your sin no longer exists. He does not keep a record of your wrongs. Receiving forgiveness means acknowledging the reality that your sins have been paid for. God keeps no record of your wrongs, and he longs for you to tear up the mental or actual list you have of your sins.
Lorraine had to tear up her mental list of the record of her wrongs. She said no to the liar when she saw a child the age her child would have been. Instead of going to the list and hating herself, Lorraine thanked God her baby was with him. When tears flooded her cheeks in the dental chair as the drill brought back memories of the drill used in her abortion, she threw Satan’s jeers back in his face by declaring, “Jesus died for my sin. I am forgiven.”
Fighting the Accuser
There is a reason so many Christian women hang on to the guilt of their sin even though they know about God’s total forgiveness. There is someone who does not want you to be free; his name is Satan. He does not want God to have the glory shown through the miracle of forgiveness. He would much rather Christians walk in a cloud of shame instead of dancing in freedom and praise.
Not only is Satan called the father of lies, he is also called the accuser. His job description is to make you feel guilty. Revelations 12:10 tells us Satan accuses us before God day and night.
Embracing God’s forgiveness may be a theological concept, but it can also have practical implications for your daily life. Here are three steps you can take to find freedom from the enemy’s accusations.
Step 1: Recognize the Voice
When you have thoughts that bring condemnation, can you tell the difference between God’s conviction and Satan’s accusations? God convicts us of sin for the sake of leading us to freedom. Our enemy taunts for the purpose of keeping us in bondage.
One way to discern God’s voice is to distinguish between guilt and shame. Guilt is related to what we have done; shame speaks condemnation over who we are. When God convicts us, we may feel guilty for our sin, but along with that conviction is the invitation to confess our sin and to embrace the forgiveness Jesus offers. Satan’s accusations inevitably lead to shame — an overriding sense of helplessness and oppression.
God longs for you to know and receive his forgiveness for your past. Satan wants you to dwell on how bad you are. His flaming arrows (Ephesians 6:16) make you doubt God could or would completely forgive you. Satan will discourage you with thoughts like these: What you did was so bad. You can never be a true Christian with a past like yours. When you discern the condemning voice of your enemy, remember that God would never cover your with shame. His voice always offers freedom. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, here is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Step 2: Remember the Cross
Satan’s accusations feel powerful because in one sense, they ring true. As the Bible says, we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). If it were not for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we would be forever burdened with the condemnation of sin. Satan’s happy for you to wear one around your neck or hang one in your house, as long as you don’t remember that Jesus’ death on the cross forever cancelled sin! “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
When she remembered the cross, Lorraine refused to believe the enemy’s lies. She responded, “Satan, you are right. I am a murderer, but that isn’t how God sees me. I have been cleansed, forgiven, and clothed in the righteousness of my Savior.” When Satan accuses you of your past, remind him that your sins have been forgiven by God. You are FREE! You are FORGIVEN!
Satan’s happy for you to wear a cross around your neck or hang one in your house, as long as you don’t remember that Jesus’ death on the cross forever cancelled sin!
Step 3: Declare the Truth
When you feel the sting of accusation and guilt, what do you do? You pull out the enemy’s fiery dart and hurl it back at him! You refuse to believe his lies and you declare God’s truth out loud: “There is no condemnation for me because I’m in Christ Jesus” (paraphrase of Romans 8:1).
In the powerful passage about spiritual warfare, Ephesians 16, we are told to put on the armor of God and then to stand. In fact, we are encouraged “to stand” three times in those few verses (Ephesians 6:11,13,14). Holding the shield of faith in our left hand and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, in our right hand, we stand. And just as Jesus did when Satan tempted him (Matthew 4), we declare Scripture in response to Satan’s taunts: “Satan, you don’t want me to forgive other people or myself because you don’t want me to be free. You want me to be in bondage. You are not going to outsmart me. I am familiar with your evil schemes.”
When guilt whispers condemnation, what do you do? You worship your King, who forgave you and brought you out of darkness into his glorious light. And you sing his praises loudly! When you are refusing and resisting the fiery darts of the enemy, worship is a wall of protection around your soul. So worship, declaring the truth of God’s great love for you!
Forgiving yourself may bring about the breakthrough you have been looking for. Your fear of intimacy or determination to stay in control — are they rooted in bondage to the guilt of past sin? How would you life be different if you were truly free?
Love keeps no record of wrongs (1Corinthians 13:5). Do you believe this? Lorraine has said, “A time comes to let yourself off the hook.” The name of Lorraine’s hook was abortion. What is the name of yours? Will you name your hook and agree with God that it is time to rear up the record of your wrongs?
This article is taken from Surprised by the Healer: Embracing Hope for Your Broken Story by Linda Dillow and Dr. Juli Slattery (Moody Publishers, ©2016. Used with permission).