Why do we still feel guilt if we have been forgiven?

While justification is permanent, all-encompassing and effectual, we often still feel the pain of sin and are still instructed to ask for forgiveness, as in 1 John 1:9, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” Why do we still feel guilt if we have been forgiven?

The answer lies in your point of view. As far as God is concerned, you are forgiven. However as far as you are concerned, you just committed a new sin. When God forgave you He saw your whole life at once—everything you are and have yet to become. When God forgive you He forgave everything.

At this point we feel guilt for a couple of reasons. First, being made into new creatures we are given a new taste, a new hunger for God. We begin to love what God loves and hate what God hates. When we sin, we feel all sorts of emotions like anger, guilt, frustration, and sadness because we know what we have done has offended the God we love. For that reason we feel the need for forgiveness when we sin after becoming a Christian.

Second, we were not aware of all the sins that we were going to need forgiveness for when we accepted God’s forgiveness. While God has forgiven us for all our future sins, we need to experience that forgiveness for these different sins along the way. We need to discover the forgiveness that we have waiting for us in God’s grace. This is illustrated in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.

The son’s eyes were finally opened while feeding the pigs to how much of a scoundrel he had become. He knew he needed forgiveness but was sure he would not get it. He hoped only to be a slave in his father’s house. However when he “was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Forgiveness had been waiting for him. He had been forgiven while he was feeding the pigs. He was forgiven even while he “squandered his wealth in wild living.” But he did not know it. He had to discover it, he had to look for it.

Just think—it was not that he did not have it, but he still had to realize he had it. It was not that he couldn’t see forgiveness was in plain sight, but his eyes were shut to it! Even when his father threw all dignity to the wind by running to him while he was still far off, he did not see forgiveness coming. He still started stammering out that speech he had been rehearsing in his mind all the way home.

When we are told to continually ask for forgiveness, this is the meaning that is meant. Not that forgiveness will be denied if we don’t ask for it. There is no way you or I could possibly know and articulate all the things we do (or don’t do) any given minute that deserve to be punished by God let alone for any particular day. We need to ask to discover, realize, and experience the forgiveness that we have. We need God to open our eyes to see the gift we have already been given.

So God’s forgiveness is always new to us. It is not something we experience “once upon a time” but something we experience new every day. God’s grace, which we experience in forgiveness, is always fresh, always beneficial, always satisfying, and always deeper and more marvelous than it was before.


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