I’ve enjoyed R.C. Sproul’s Does Prayer Change Things? that is available for free on the Kindle app (you don’t need to own a Kindle). As always, Sproul makes profound points in brief and understandable ways.
Here he tackles a common issue, namely that of confessing to God and asking forgiveness but not forgiving ourselves (or not accepting forgiveness, however you want to look at it). I’ve experienced this myself and seen it with others, especially when doing Kairos Prison Ministry. We do a lot of forgiveness exercises — forgiving others and asking forgiveness — but as you can imagine these guys have a lot to feel badly about.
We have God’s promise that when we confess our sins to Him, He will forgive us. Unfortunately, we don’t always believe that promise. Confession requires humility on two levels. The first level is the actual admission of guilt; the second level is the humble acceptance of pardon.
A woman distraught about a guilt problem once came to me and said: “I’ve asked God to forgive me of this sin over and over, but I still feel guilty. What can I do?” The situation did not involve the multiple repetition of the same sin, but the multiple confession of a sin committed once.
“You must pray again and ask God to forgive you,” I replied.
A look of frustrated impatience came into her eyes. “But I’ve done that!” she exclaimed. “I’ve asked God over and over again to forgive me. What good will it do to ask Him again?” In my reply, I applied the proverbial firm force of the board to the head of the mule: “I’m not suggesting that you ask God to forgive you for that sin. I’m asking you to seek forgiveness for your arrogance.”
The woman was incredulous. “Arrogance? What arrogance?” She was assuming that her repeated entreaties for pardon were proof positive of her humility. She was so contrite over her sin that she felt she had to repent for it forever. She thought her sin was too great to be pardoned by one dose of repentance. Let others get by on grace; she was going to suffer for her sin no matter how gracious God was. Pride had fixed a barrier to this woman’s acceptance of forgiveness. When God promises us that He will forgive us, we insult His integrity when we refuse to accept it. To forgive ourselves after God has forgiven us is a duty as well as a privilege.
That is some serious good news, and a great reminder that God’s standards are infinitely higher than mine, and that I should immediately accept his forgiveness and move on. Otherwise, among other things, I am ungratefully refusing his extravagant gift of grace.