The Hope of Forgiveness & Hope for Your Story
Below= Chapter 4 & 5:
The Hope of Forgiveness
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1, NIV)
“Oh what we could be if we stopped carrying the remains of who we were.” -Tyler Knott Gregson
God’s Holy Spirit’s great grace poured out through Peter to the group of people that crucified Christ and offered them salvation. Three thousand were saved. (Acts 2-4, summary)
If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, therefore, you are feared. (Psalm 130:3-4, NIV)
The voice of sin is loud, but the voice of forgiveness is louder. ~Dwight L. Moody
After many years, I told my dear Catholic father of our abortion, hoping to share the true Gospel with him and perhaps to find acceptance despite our failure.
But Dad told me God could not forgive me for my sin. At that moment the Holy Spirit rose in me and I boldly declared, “You are so right, Dad. If I was depending on my being forgiven by what I can do, but I am depending on Christ’s forgiveness based on what He did!”
No wonder I had tried so hard to be good. I wanted to be forgiven. When I needed hope I felt hopeless. When I wanted someone to give me the hope of forgiveness, I was met with words and told to do works that did not work. Dead end to the dead line.
I can’t blame others for my pain, because I couldn’t seem to forgive myself either. My religion was works-based; it was and still tries to be a burden and a hindrance. I believed the only pathway to relief from my pain was to do something good. I did not understand that forgiveness was freely available because of Jesus and the cross.
The Key to Hope
Before I understood forgiveness, I couldn’t tell my story.
How could I still think I had to earn forgiveness—as if there was some giant scale that I could balance out my sin by doing good? Sadly, my religion hindered me (as it was my foundational training, my circus-elephant shackling), until Christ revealed to me the freedom He had earned for me. I am forgiven because of Jesus. As I have more fully accepted Jesus’ forgiveness, I have begun living the true Gospel, forgiving myself by acknowledging the greatness of forgiveness earned and granted to me through Christ.
My early training was hard to completely overcome. The door to the prison of my mind was open but somehow my trained thinking, my circumstances, and other people kept shackling me and taking me back inside the prison, despite the open door and invitation of freedom to go outside it! The lies kept being reinforced. I needed more truth.
There was hope for me somewhere. What I didn’t know was that Christ and His forgiveness was the key.
So many times I thought, I am beyond forgiveness. I can never recover. I am not alone. There are many who believe these lies. Religion of works reinforced these lies. Christ’s life, work, truth, Gospel proves otherwise. Forgiveness is a gift that Christ died for me to gain.
Nothing could be better than to be forgiven completely and treated as if you are innocent—even though you are guilty of murder, or perhaps of something worse. To experience love’s rescue at the cost of the death of your rescuer. Christ’s murder on the cross reversed death’s hold, brought life, and opened the way to heaven for any who will believe. Jesus Christ is Lord and God raised Him from the dead. When you believe in Christ, God raises you—from the death of what you deserved to life both eternal and secure. What can be better than that? The offer for full redemption, full acceptance, and full eternal love is given unconditionally to anybody— whosoever will believe.
One verse that helped me is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32, KJV). Notice the phrase that explains why God has forgiven—“for Christ’s sake.” Because of Christ and all that He accomplished, I am forgiven by God. This truth is Gospel. To not forgive is to say that what Christ did is not enough to redeem it. To forgive is to agree Christ’s death is enough.
Today we have the surpassing grace of God and His incomparable forgiveness offered and yet so many refuse. The Son of God died at the hands of mankind and then mankind denies His death and its significance. In so doing, they cancel their grace card—their get-out-of-hell-free card. It costs God His Son and they say, “no thanks.”
Choosing to Reject
We aren’t the first to deal with hard questions. Billy Graham was asked if God will forgive murder. He wrote the answer in his column.
Dear Dr. Graham: I've been in jail for almost 20 years for killing a man during an armed robbery. The chaplain here says God will forgive me, but I can't make myself believe it. I know I don't deserve any mercy, either from the courts or from God. Isn't killing someone the unforgivable sin? -- W.W.
Dear W.W.: Murder is a terrible crime -- but no, it isn't the unforgivable sin. The only sin God cannot forgive is the sin of turning our backs on Him and refusing to accept His forgiveness.
After He has shown His friendship, loyalty, and unconditional love—sacrifice at the greatest cost—it is unimaginable to shun His gift, resist Him, reject and betray His goodness. To do so carries its own result of death forever—permanent eternal separation from God.
Worse than Murder
Let’s consider a question. Is there anything worse than crucifying Christ? The answer is yes, because to miss, reject, or not receive the gifts His death accomplished is to make His death “be in vain.” As if someone rescued you while you were dead in the water already having drowned—he or she goes in after you, gets you to shore, does CPR and uses his or her very last breath to bring you life and in so doing the rescuer dies. But you then commit suicide and curse the one who died to save you. It is not a perfect illustration. However, it shows the denial and cost of the rescue. Matthew 23:37 and 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 convey this concept in Scripture.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37, KJV).
Christ wept over Jerusalem. He knew the hearts of the people He came to save. He knew they were murderers; they had killed the prophets of God…yet He longed to bring them under His saving wing like a mother her babes—but they would not come. Their rejection broke Jesus’ heart. Knowing He would die a terrible death and pour out all He had for them, yet they would not receive His gifts or receive Him.
Consider the Judas trail of betrayal. Judas experienced the divinity of Christ, the magnitude of His majesty, and the essence of God over and over during the years he traveled with the Lord. He was shown the presence of the eternal, omnipotent King of kings, creator, sustainer, life-giving God. The fullness of the Godhead, the image of the invincible God, the exact representation of God’s being, the radiance of His glory, yet Judas chose to reject and betray.
Someone may say, I wasn’t alive at the time Jesus Christ was on earth, so why should I care about Jesus? The answer is hope—it is only through acceptance of His life, death, and resurrection that whatever you have done in life can be erased in God’s economy and you can be forgiven and received as though you have never sinned. Salvation is great news. And it means that you are forgiven even if you had an abortion or have been deep in sexual sin or have been a thief or a liar or extortionist or drug addict or alcoholic or a hellion…. Everything and anything can be forgiven by Jesus when repentance truly happens.
You can be made truly new—no longer the person you used to be. He doesn’t wait for us to clean up ourselves; He took our place in death so we could live abundantly and would have a way to heaven. For further evidence of God’s great grace, you may want to read Acts chapters 1-4 to see how Peter preached to the group of people that crucified Christ and offered them salvation. Three thousand were saved. Christ wants to forgive anyone and everyone, and does not want any to perish!
As I have struggled for courage, fortitude, and motivation to go forward, I have found significant help in the Scriptures—in the lives of Peter, Paul, and the woman at the well. Jesus dealt kindly, mercifully, and graciously with each of these. He forgave them much, and I knew He had forgiven me much.
I identify with Paul in my early life in following the rules and doing the right thing. I thought I was good and righteous in my works and thinking, and I thought that I pleased God and was right with God. But, like Paul, I did not have a saving relationship with Him at all.
I identify with Peter because too often I depend on my own abilities and try to prove myself and my loyalty. I have been prideful, self-righteous, and have denied Christ by hiding what I was and what Christ has done for me.
I identify with the Samaritan woman because after I endured occult abuse, I became so much of what I hated and much of what I knew God hated. I lived in sexual debauchery for a season. I broke the commandments. I felt my sins and I had great shame. I was an outcast and felt defiled—worthless.
I turned back to Jesus in full repentance yet I knew that if people in the church knew my story, I would fare no better than that Samaritan woman. The disciples did not want to talk to her or identify with her. Over the centuries, some things do not easily change.
In identifying with these three real people, I have prayed regularly to be “converted more completely,” to be turned to God and not to live for myself. I believe the Lord has taken me to hopeless places to teach me that in hopelessness and powerlessness, He offers me Christ and He brings forgiveness, strength, conversion, and transformation.
Hope for Healing
I read a blog about hope and healing for those who have had an abortion. The author expressed sorrow for allowing her boyfriend to convince her to abort their baby. She seemed to want closure, peace, and assurance. She warned readers, “Do not tell me that I killed my baby and will go to hell.” She wrote that she was not open to “Bible bashers,” and said she was well aware of what the Bible said.
The most glaring omission in her blog was what is actually in the Bible about forgiveness and grace and mercy.
Christ forgives sins—even abortion. God delights in mercy. Mercy can triumph. The numbers of men and women who are post-abortive are staggering in the United States alone. Statistically, it has been said that regret and guilt from abortion is the most common experience of our generation.
Christ’s cross is about love and forgiveness, not condemnation. It is heartbreaking that so many people who have personally experienced abortion don’t receive a full explanation of mercy and forgiveness. They are kept at a distance, judged, and even ostracized by some in the church. Further, that so many have been taught to think that God is against them, and shackled to belief that there is no remedy for the guilt, even though full remedy and full forgiveness is available at the cross of Jesus by His love!
Forgiveness for Murder
On another occasion, Billy Graham wrote about forgiveness.
I'm in prison because I got angry and killed someone, and I'm haunted by guilt. Someone told me that Jesus forgave a murderer once, but when I challenged him to prove it he couldn't find it in the Bible. I wish I could believe God will forgive me, but I can't.
“What you did was serious; in fact, almost nothing is more serious in the eyes of God (and of society) than deliberately taking an innocent person’s life. The Ten Commandments state it clearly: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
But there is only one sin that God cannot forgive — and that is the sin of refusing His forgiveness. Yes, you committed a great sin — but you would be committing an even greater sin if you rejected God’s forgiveness. And that is what He offers you! You may hate what you’ve done; you may even hate yourself for doing it. But God still loves you, and He yearns for you to come to Him and be with Him in Heaven through all eternity.
How do I know this? One reason is because your acquaintance was right: Jesus Christ even forgave a murderer. Who was it? It was Saul of Tarsus — who became the Apostle Paul, the greatest Christian who ever lived! At one time Saul hated Christians, and was responsible for sending many of them to their death: “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death” (Acts 22:4).
But God forgave him and changed his life — and the same can happen to you. Don’t carry your burden of guilt any longer, but by faith turn to Jesus Christ and give it to Him. The ask Him to come into your life and cleanse you of all your sins — and He will.”
God forgave Moses, David, and Paul who had all murdered. Moses slew an Egyptian taskmaster in anger when he saw him beating an Israelite slave, but through God’s divine purpose, Moses became the leader of the entire Israelite people on their Exodus from Egypt. David arranged for a man to be killed because he did not want his adultery to be discovered, but God forgave him when he truly repented and sought forgiveness (see Psalm 32; Psalm 51). Saul of Tarsus was responsible for putting Christians in prison and arranging for their executions -- but God forgave him, and Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul, who touched the Roman Empire with the Gospel and wrote much of the New Testament.
God forgave each one and then worked mighty miracles in their lives. Though we may think murder is unforgivable, God’s love and forgiveness is greater than any sin. Jesus forgave those who crucified Him. His Gospel includes forgiveness of murder. Yes, God can forgive a murderer, because He already has.
God Wants to Forgive Us
But I also know God can forgive even a murderer because He wants to forgive us! You see, you and I were responsible for Jesus' death, because our sins caused Him to die. If you and I had not sinned, Jesus wouldn't have had to go to the cross—but we are sinners, and He died for us.
Why did He do that? He did it because God loves us, and He wants to forgive us so we can spend eternity with Him in heaven. Don't delay any longer, but give your life to Christ and accept His gift of forgiveness today. The Bible says, "Seek the Lord while he may be found. ... for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7, NASB).
A Further Truth of Forgiveness
Jesus tells me if I do not forgive, I cannot be forgiven. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12. Since my forgiveness is solely based on Christ, to not extend the same grace I have been given is to be an unmerciful servant (Matthew 18). I must forgive. Not only must I forgive others, but I must be forgiving toward myself.
We victims do not ever have to be okay with what happened to us. It is not okay what others have done, but we can be okay. We can turn to God in our pain. We can forgive through the access we have to God’s power through Christ. By choosing forgiveness we eventually become okay in our spirits and our souls. We can choose to love like we have never been hurt and forgive. That is the Jesus way. It helps me when I remember that nobody has ever done more to show me that I am unloved than Christ has done on the cross to show me I am loved. His example to us gives us no room to remain in unforgiveness. Love and forgiveness is what we are to live and then trust God for all the rest. To forgive is to give the judgment to God, for Him to deal with the person His way. It takes God to accomplish full forgiveness in us but we must be willing. It is a part of the secret of hope: where I am unable, Jesus is able.
Sometimes forgiving yourself and forgiving those closest to us is the hardest journey that continues daily until glory. When I began to really forgive as a lifestyle (not just an intellectual theology, but a living reality of my theology), the forgiveness began to show in practical daily life and through an increase of trust and respect for my husband. Forgiving myself and accepting myself also increased. A belief in the “us” I once knew began to be reborn. It’s been a process. A process toward victory.
The Victory of the Cross
I am convinced one of the greatest strategies of Satan is to try to convince us that the Gospel does not work—to send us back into trying to keep the Law. He attempts to diminish the cross and the forgiveness of sins based on Christ’s work, because Satan knows the arsenal of God’s power for man is at the cross. The greatest place of victory is the cross. The greatest reversals are possible there. Satan accuses, condemns, and perverts grace, bringing unbelief, stealing our faith, and attempting to weaken our understanding of the cross and its power and victory. He wants us to miss what Christ came to gain. Our only hope is in Christ and His grace. For we have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony and we are to live our lives to prove its truth. (Revelation 12:11).
Paul Was Forgiven
Paul explained this free, yet costly, grace in another verse from his letter. “To me, [though I am] the very least of all the saints (God’s people), this grace [which is undeserved] was graciously given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the good news of the incomprehensible riches of Christ [that spiritual wealth which no one can fully understand” (Ephesians 3:8, AMP).
Paul was an unlikely candidate to be an ambassador for Christ. In his early years, he studied under the most intellectual and respected rabbi of the day. He became an expert in the law and Jewish traditions and was elevated to the position of a chief Pharisee. He participated in the persecution of the people who followed Christ and ultimately became one of the chief persecutors with threats and imprisonment. But one day, Jesus appeared to Paul and commissioned him.
Get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you [to serve] as a minister and as a witness [to testify, with authority,] not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you, [choosing you for Myself and] rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their [spiritual] eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness and release from their sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified (set apart, made holy) by faith in me (Acts 26:16-18, AMP).
Imagine. Jesus saved—and then called, appointed, and anointed—a persecutor, a murderer of those who followed Him. In his old life, Paul thought he was doing the right thing, but wasn’t. He missed Jesus until Jesus opened his eyes by revelation. From that moment forward, Paul’s life shows repentance, trust, and devotion to Christ. Jesus assigned Paul the mission of telling people that they may receive forgiveness and be released from their sins. Paul, who had terribly persecuted believers in his past, heralded Christ’s message and became one of God’s greatest witnesses.
The Lord had a job for Paul, and He has a job for us to do, too. No matter our past. If we repent of our sin and put our faith in Christ for forgiveness, we are redeemed. Christ indwells us. He has handpicked us to be a servant and witness for the power of God to salvation.
Our mission is to go and tell all the world what God has done for us, preach the Gospel, and make disciples.
Christ the Forgiver
I most want others to know through this brief writing what has taken great suffering, great sorrow, and great agony for me to learn through decades-long journey. I no longer want to live a foolish version of the Gospel. Living religiously fails miserably. Letting religious people define you could kill you. Waiting for others to affirm you is a setup for disappointing heartsickness.
Living for Christ works, yet it does not always feel like it works. We must believe the truth despite our feelings. Be prepared, because the enemy hits us with doubt, and he is relentless in trying to convince us that we have no hope, even though we have been forgiven. People who have had abortions are forgiven because of Christ’s blood. Forgiveness gives us a clean conscience and life. Anyone who has been sexually abused, occult abused, or religiously abused can be healed and live in peace and victory. Even when it doesn’t feel true, it’s true.
Forgiving our abusers and anyone involved in our pain helps us forgive ourselves. As we forgive others and ourselves, we begin to feel the forgiveness of Christ. But even if we don’t feel forgiven, we can know we are forgiven. Feelings can be deceiving. We must base our truth on fact, not on feelings. Feelings can eventually line up with the truth. It takes time.
On Twitter on July 16, 2016, Ravi Zacharias posted this: "None of the problems outside will be solved until the problem inside is solved."
But the war within can end. The conflict and shame, the accusation, the exploitation, the worthlessness, and the utter hopelessness can be resolved. No sin is too great for our great Savior, Christ Jesus. He sees all we have ever done, knows everything we have ever thought, and hears every word we have ever spoken—yet He loves us unconditionally. Jesus died to take away our sin. He takes it all away. We do not have to live with the shame or guilt anymore.
That is why I can write these things—because He has taken my sins away. Forgiveness does not mean that there are no consequences; yet even in them, there is hope. Forgiveness is the hard work of the Gospel and it takes faith in Christ to live it to the fullest of what it really is eternally. God has promised redemption and Romans 8:28 is an assurance and comfort. There is hope in His many promises. Hope in the inheritance, which He promises. Knowing Christ is eternal and abundant life. (Psalm 16; John 10.)
The Anointing that Breaks the Yoke
Eventually, my dad expressed a greater experience of the forgiveness of Christ. He shared with me how he had experienced God’s love in a more personal way than in his younger years, and said that he wished he had understood earlier in life what he now knew. He said it is such a better life knowing Jesus than just knowing about Him. Dad reassured me he was going to heaven based on the work of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of his sins.
I thank God for the anointing that breaks and broke the yoke. (Isaiah 10:27, KJV) The oppression of man’s work, the oppression of this world and the enemy is broken by the work of God by His Anointed Son Christ Jesus! Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34.) Forgiveness has been accomplished. Christ’s way is the only way of eternal forgiveness. It cost Christ His life for me to have full eternal forgiveness. I gladly give Christ my life to share the greatness of His forgiveness for the debt of the guilt and shame of sins being paid and His gifts of hope and inheritance.
I questioned God how to determine when to lay down in submission to His will and plan and when to stand up to unrighteousness with truth, grace and love. I had submitted to abortion in my marriage that first year and that was not what I should have done. Now I would not submit to denying the real truth but instead fight for the truth and apply forgiveness to myself and others and herald the Gospel.
The burden of unforgiveness was great. It was like carrying double my weight and my husband’s around on my back, like a backpack with straps extending around my neck that had been choking the life out of me! It was a prison of weight. Living forgiveness has granted release and the entrapment of being an unmerciful unforgiving one is finally gone! (Matthew 9:12; Matthew 18:21-35.) Christ has forgiven me (Luke 23:34). Gospel living is leaving our old selves, all our sins, at the cross. We have stopped “carrying the remains of who we were”! We are moving forward as new creations. We have love and forgiveness In Christ!
As I follow Christ’s example of forgiving those who have wounded me, God promises to work things out for good. (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28). My early victimization was unjust and undeserved and set me up for so much of my suffering and sin. I am forgiven for my sins. Now, I am encouraged that the Lord will use my sufferings and wounds and my living forgiveness to lead others to Christ for healing too. His way of healing us was completed at His death on the cross and His resurrection. The God of Hope became hopeless (suffered, died, was buried) for us to have hope. In my sufferings in my places of greatest hopelessness I now see God bringing forth hope for me, our family and others. My husband’s favorite Psalm is Psalm 103. Here are some of the reminders of the greatness of God’s forgiveness and grace:
Praise the Lord my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name
Praise the Lord my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins and heals you from diseases
who redeems your life from the pit, and crowns you with compassion.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
As far as the east is from the west; so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
(Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10-13, NIV)
LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of His people? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy (Micah 7:18). You have compassion on us, no matter what we have done! Please call to your people to come take shelter under your cover of forgiveness at the cross. LORD, we thank you that if we confess our sins, you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Help us to live in the fullness of what you purchased for us by accepting the forgiveness that cost you so much (Luke 23:34) and extending that forgiveness to others. In Christ’s saving name, amen.
Hope for Your Story
Then he turned my sorrow into joy! He took away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy so that I might sing glad praises to the Lord instead of lying in silence in the grave. O Lord my God, I will keep on thanking you forever! (Psalm 30:11-12, TLB)
Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story-- those he redeemed from the hand of the foe. (Psalm 107:2,)
Regardless of how put together they look, many …have broken stories…. God is the healer of emotional, relational, and sexual brokenness…. He has the power to redeem your pain and story too.
“How our lives bear the fruit of Christ’s spilled blood is important. The stories of our lives can serve to encourage and warn others. But telling the stories of our lives is heady business.” Rosaria Butterfield
As I recovered at home after surgery to correct a serious spinal injury a faithful pastor friend, whom I love like a brother, brought me a book titled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. That book opened up a whole new world of authentically following Christ.
As I read the honest assessment of Christianity and about the vulnerable position of the author, Rosaria Butterfield, I was stunned. She was forthright, even blunt, when telling her life story. Her first words, “When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian,” hit me like a train wreck. She had done what she could to advance radical leftist ideologies (pro-choice and pro-gay lifestyles), and she genuinely believed that she was helping to make the world a better place. Then she said that at 36 years of age, “Christ claimed me for himself, and the life that I had known and loved came to a humiliating end.”
She was more honest, forthright and courageous than I had been in more than 40 years as a believer. The enormity of my hypocrisy was searing and I burned with conviction. I had been living as a hypocrite, and she was living as Paul modeled.
I came face to face with the worst sins of my life. I was being called to come clean and tell of what great things Christ has done for me and share the Gospel with the world, to show my “leprosy” so that I could also demonstrate His healing.
I believe all Christians are called to have this experience! Paul did. Peter did. Anyone who hopes to have a great impact on the world will also. Because Christ died that others might be saved, we need to promote Christ and His saving grace. We are first to experience the greatness of our salvation so we will want to give out His great salvation message to the world.
I mentioned it before, and I will say it again here: God’s desire is that all our stories be redeemed. Getting there involves a series of choices. First the acceptance of Christ’s life for your salvation—and then the processing and acceptance of the forgiveness of God, that it’s really for you, personally, and that you can in fact forgive those who have hurt you. In this chapter, I want to start a discussion about the boldness that springs from redemption and leads to announcing and heralding the truth of Christ’s life in your life.
Owning Your Story
If you owed a trillion-dollar debt, you could never repay it. What if someone paid your debt in full, but the repayment caused that someone to die? You are rescued and redeemed, but they died. Would you tell the story? Of course, especially if it had the surprise and amazing ending where the person was supernaturally resurrected. That story is the story of Christ. You are surrounded by debtors and you have the key to the debt reversal agent. We herald the Gospel by telling our stories because He has rescued us, is ready to rescue others, and He is alive.
Regarding sharing my story, many friends have told me, “Don’t do it!” or given the impression of “If you do, don’t expect us to do it, too!” Some have said, “I could never be so open to let my children and others know what I have done.”
My husband and I talked about this. He said, “The Lord knows, and what matters is that we took our sin to Him and repented. By His grace and mercy, He has forgiven us. Confession to anybody else is a very distant second place.” Yet, we have come to realize that confessing our sins to others is the way to healing (James 5:16). It was not until we began doing this in earnest that the completion of our healing has come about, especially in our relationship.
We agree that giving testimony could help others know that they too can be fully forgiven, as we show them Gospel living through living out Revelation 12:11, Psalm 103, Psalm 51, and the rest of the Bible!
Confession: Good for the Soul
Confessing our sins, first to Christ and sometimes also to one to another (prayerfully, when led by the Holy Spirit), is a vital part of the Christian life. James 5:16, Scripture says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
And in 1 John we read, “If we say we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins, because we can trust God to do what is right. He will cleanse us from all the wrongs we have done” (1 John 1:8-9).
We find healing and cleansing in the act of opening those dark corners of our stories. We let the light in, and it illuminates us and floods us with healing power. Confession is powerful.
Max Lucado says:
Confession isn’t telling God what he doesn’t know. That’s impossible. It’s not pointing fingers at others without pointing any at me. That may feel good, but it doesn’t promote healing. Confession is a radical reliance on grace—a trust in God’s goodness. The truth is, confessors find a freedom that deniers don’t! Tell God what you did. Again, it’s not that he doesn’t already know, but the two of you need to agree! Then let the pure water of grace flow over your mistakes!
The Hidden Heart of Hope
There is an added dimension to our testimony. We not only tell the Gospel, but we are also to show or live the Gospel. Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27) helps us conquer the enemy in the telling and the living of the Gospel. We have a new heart, a hidden hope, that we are to make known. We want our lives to show the power of the Gospel to conquer sin. Paul’s life is proof. Our lives are to be also. All who know Christ are to be conformed to His image. Our lives are to give testimony of God’s overcoming.
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death (Revelation 12:11, ESV).
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. (Psalm 71:15-16, ESV)
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32, ESV).
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).
Sharing our story is a matter of obedience.
It is hard to write my story. It costs me and it still hurts after all these years. It also hurts knowing the judgments and criticism and lack of love I have experienced since telling my story in the church. It was a return to the way I felt as a child when I could not be okay in other people’s eyes. People did not understand, nor did they seem to value me enough to try. I still feel that painful wounding today. The approval and acceptance of other people has been too important to me. But I have pushed on, making it a question of “Do we believe the Gospel or not?” I have challenged many to hear me out and extend the Gospel to me. I had to first receive and believe Christ myself to do this!
One of the hardest, if not the hardest thing in life for me was to finally admit the truth to myself and stop hiding. To face myself and my sin and then to tell others what I have done and who I have been; understanding the heart of God toward me so that I can live the Gospel to myself in authenticity, has been an almost impossible task. It has shown me my need of Jesus’ work and covenant.
The second hardest issue for me was to acknowledge and process what was done to me and by whom and to forgive them and myself fully. Forgiveness is hard—both accepting it and extending it. It brought me to the end of my abilities. My efforts failed me and I found myself continually repenting of my inability to do what needed done and calling out for mercy.
I came to understand that this is real Christianity. My powerlessness and hopelessness forced me to depend on Christ to do what needed done in me. (This is the secret! Exchanging my powerlessness for God’s power; dependence on God to do what I could not do!) I could not accomplish it. (The secret again. My inability, my hopelessness for His ability, His Hope; it took faith and faith pleases God.) My job was to admit the trash, the garbage of sin: my hate and unforgiveness for myself and my husband and others, especially when I felt I wanted to die, or was full of anger and unbelief. I told God repeatedly of my struggles, my pain, why I felt what I felt and I cried out for mercy and worked to believe God for all that I needed. I did not do it perfectly by any means, but God’s grace was with me, despite me, and God gave me what I needed. The Gospel lived out in my life: losing my life to gain Christ.
Now I have come to love the Lord and depend on Him and feel His unconditional love for me. I want to obey God and I have set man’s approval into God’s hands. My husband and I have faced our decision and we know Christ has forgiven us. We have forgiven each other. So I press on with boldness to do as He leads and as His Word instructs me. I relate to this quote by Francis Frangipane: “To inoculate me from the praise of man, He baptized me in the criticism of man, until I died to the control (opinions) of man.”
The Circles of Story
Youth for Christ (YFC) uses a picture of three intersecting circles in a triangle, almost like the Olympic rings, to represent the importance of “three stories.” This symbol is meant to help us remember that “God’s Story, My Story, and Their Story” all connect and intertwine. This is a way of seeing how our relationships with God and others can be connected and grow—a perspective on how to live our hope. The three story elements are evident, repeatedly, in Paul’s life and writings. Though sometimes it is long and detailed, and sometimes it is short and to the point, each time Paul clearly tells Christ’s story, his personal story, and then relates those stories to the unsaved person. He is a good model to follow as we learn to tell our story. Paul even suggested that we follow his example. “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” (Philippians 3:17, KJV).
In Matthew Henry’s commentary, he explains,
“He warns them against following the examples of seducers and evil teachers. (See Philippians 3:18-19.) Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. Observe. There are many called by Christ’s name who are enemies to Christ’s cross, and the design and intention of it. Their walk is a surer evidence what they are than their profession. By their fruits you shall know them, Matt. 7:20….”
The Adventure of Hope
What a grand privilege to live boldly in this adventure of hope. Paul couldn’t walk away from an opportunity to share. Paul had seen Christ and His Kingdom. He embraced Christ and lived with passion and turned the world upside down.
When Paul met Jesus, he became an obedient believer on the spot. He started living his new life immediately, preaching about radically turning to God. He spoke and wrote his clear testimony in Jerusalem and most of the known world. His written words have reached millions for centuries. We are to follow his example. If God handpicked a religious zealot, murderer, and persecutor of believers, God is also willing to save anyone and work through them—including me. We must go out with this Good News. We have the secret of hope for the world.
After Christ had restored him, Peter led the Pentecost revival where 3000 repented and received forgiveness and new life. Some of these people were present at Christ’s crucifixion. They called for and participated in the murder of Messiah. Christ forgave them and saved them. Forgiving murder is the Gospel. Christ forgave them of betraying and crucifying Him. He asked His Father to forgive them and us, and the Father grants forgiveness for the sake of His Son’s great sacrifice.
Peter understood that he was no different than those who murdered Christ. He had faced himself, his failures, his sins, his worst moments of life, and had lived to be reunited in grace by Christ. The greatness of the gift of salvation and the experience of grace compelled Peter to want salvation and grace for all. Peter proclaimed the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit and not in his own strength. Peter was converted from self-works to Holy Spirit life through his restoration by Christ. I believe Christ longs to bring each of us to this place of conversion. Conversion results in grace empowerment where we will show our love for Christ and feed His sheep by His Spirit, with His truth and love bringing others to the cross where redemption waits for them.
In Acts 2, we read how Peter spoke and preached Christ to the same people who called for Christ’s crucifixion. His sermon was powerful and brought conviction to the people there.
Bob Deffinbaugh wrote,
“Let us remember that this sermon was delivered by a divinely-energized Peter, who now boldly warns those who several weeks earlier had taken part in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. He warns them that the day of divine judgment is near, and yet he gives hope because there is still an opportunity for repentance, salvation, and divine blessing. Let us listen well to these words, bearing in mind that thousands came to faith through this sermon.”
The Greatest Hope
Peter’s message was about hope. They had crucified the Messiah, but there was hope of mercy and compassion—through repentance. God is merciful and delights to show mercy—and forgiveness. How loving, how gracious and merciful. How Jesus. How full of hope is the salvation message!
Lehman Strauss, a pastor and teacher of Old Testament history, wrote,
“Let us begin at the cross where God begins with it, not with the bloodiness and brutality of the crucifixion, but in the glorious, infinite heights of the foreknowledge of God. Sinners are not saved because their emotions are aroused through hearing about the cruelty of the crucifixion. We are saved by the voluntary, vicarious death of the eternal Son of God, who knew that He was coming to die in our place. ‘Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’” (Matthew 20:28).
Here we see the miracle of hope.
Peter is a hero to me. He and his story give me hope in my hopeless places. He knew hopelessness in himself and gained hope in Christ.
I have known failure and hopelessness in myself and my performance. Perhaps you have too. I have not wanted to fail Christ and have prided myself in my works and performances, yet in the end I have denied Christ repeatedly for being ashamed to boast on His work on my behalf in giving testimony of His forgiveness through my story. No more. I will boast of Christ. God can surely use the ugliest sins of my life to bring Him glory. There is no room for pride, only awe. The secret of the Lord is with me because I fear God, and He has shown me His covenant. Praise His name.
Do you see this? God used Peter’s story to bring me hope. And He can do the same with your story for other people.
Most of us would love to have our worst moments and our most shameful sins and guilt erased instead of exposed. We would love to be given a complete re-do. Imagine that all the degrading things you have ever said or done could be eliminated from the record of God. Seems impossible.
But what is impossible with man is possible with God. Not only can we be forgiven, but God will use our bad for good in God’s Kingdom—as promised in Romans 8:28. We cannot earn or produce our re-do. Christ’s forgiveness and His promised new life give new opportunities even though we have failed.
Christ died so you might be forgiven, freed, saved, not condemned—and your story will be nestled in His story so others can come to know Christ. He wants us to have the re-do. Christ came for us to be saved—reborn. This re-do begins with repentance, Jesus’ call to each of us and the first words of His earthly ministry were “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:17). Following begins with repentance, which means a 180-degree turn: we were going our own way, but now we are choosing His way. Repentance is a gift of immeasurable richness and is necessary for salvation and for our onward journey to be more like Christ. It is death to sin, to our lust and fleshly nature, and saying yes to His will. We receive forgiveness through repentance and then choose to cooperate with His Spirit for true revival.
In that revival, God chooses to use the ugliest parts of our story for His glory.
Peter’s Story: What Can We Learn?
Peter’s story is a great example of a re-do. He had denied Christ and defiantly gone his own way. But when he repented, he turned again, to strengthen his brethren, as Jesus said he would (Luke 22:32). Jesus restored Peter, gracing him with compassion, humility, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. Peter’s life was re-framed for God’s Kingdom and He shone Christ’s Light. He was released from his failure to proclaim the Gospel. Peter was converted by the experience of grace and the Spirit’s work in him empowered his works. (Ephesians 2:10).
Go Tell the World
Jesus gave the Great Commission, telling us to go to the world. (See Matthew 28.) My story and your story have the power to open the eyes of others. When we tell our story, we reveal the differences between dark and light, and we can help people to choose light—Christ. If I tell about my past life of darkness and sin, it is not for shock value nor do I tell it to glorify the darkness. My story simply shows that I was a sinner, but because Christ entered my life, I am forgiven, and I am reborn. Christ brought light, life, and hope. Telling our story presents Christ’s offer of forgiveness to all who will believe.
In his devotional We Are Butterflies, Neil Anderson helped me to see that healing is not found only in receiving forgiveness for sin, but in the living from the new heart and life position as Christ’s bride. Paul wrote, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Yes, to know Christ is eternal life but to live for and with Him as King and us in relationship to Him as His Bride, His Beloved is our hope, confidence and joy” (Philippians 2:13).
Our behavior, thinking, and self-perception is changed by our relationship and position in Christ. Anderson says, “we are not redeemed caterpillars; we are butterflies. Why would you want to crawl in some false humility when you are called to mount up with wings as eagles?” He continues, “Humility is not putting yourself down when God is trying to build you up. Self-abasement has the appearance of wisdom, but it has no value against fleshly indulgence according to Colossians 2:23. Humility is confidence properly placed. We need to be like Paul and ‘put no confidence in the flesh’ Philippians 3:3.” He admonishes us to put our confidence in God and reminds us that God is at work in us as Philippians 2:13 promises.”
Riches Beyond Compare
A certain Civil War veteran lived like a vagabond, yet he was well known for talking about President Lincoln as his friend. Despite his banged-up, beggar-like life, he incessantly spoke of the beloved president as his friend. People were skeptical of his relationship with the president because of his status in life. Someone asked him to prove he knew President Lincoln. The man took out a much-folded paper from his old wallet. Apparently he could not read, so he had never read what his paper said, but a bystander declared that the paper he carried with him was a generous Lincoln-signed federal pension. He no longer had to walk around like a poor beggar! President Lincoln had made him rich with all kinds of provisions for a great life!
Christ has made Christians rich with a new life, yet the enemy has often hindered or deceived us to feel or live like paupers—like the elephant, chained to nothing. We are to live and discover the riches Christ secured for us.
The key to victory is faith, taking God at His Word and acting on what He says. We have access to Christ and His promises, and we must use God’s truths to capitalize on what Christ has already done. As we read our Bibles, what the word of God actually says, we see that we are not paupers. Instead we can cash in on His great salvation, and boldly tell of the riches that overcame our previous poverty.
“In Christ, we have every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3).
“We are complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10).
These declarations mean that we can know and appropriate His blessings. We are not to live in the mindset of the kingdom of the shackle any longer.
Unmasking the Elephant
It is a stop-in-your-tracks moment when you realize most of your life has been a lie, and to discover that you didn’t know the level of deception you were living under. It is a turn-around moment when you realize how much power those lies had over you. Now I wonder how it took me so long to come to this realization. Was I indoctrinated so thoroughly and effectively that I did not know truth from lies? Yes. Did I know the power of a lie? No, I did not. Are there others who are living just as I was living? I think so.
Christ calls us to live real in our redemption by first knowing truth and then by facing our pasts in honesty. When we apply the truth of the Gospel to our lives, we are able to share my story to show God’s story of hope and the splendor of grace in the work of Christ on my behalf.
We can live the life of hope.
This is unmasking the elephant: being honest with the secrets and shame that have kept us shackled. Can it expose us to the censure and condemnation of other people? Yes. But the true purpose of being forthright with our stories, even though it requires great boldness and at times can cause us great pain, is to bring healing and provide the opportunity for God to glorify Himself through His work in the darkest parts of our lives. Then, and only then, will we walk in true freedom. Then, and only then, will we live in the fullness of the riches Christ’s cross bought for us and for others!
Because the Lord works all things together for good for us who love Him, we have assurance that whatever we have done, whatever we were victims of, can be used to bring about good. The terrible events of my first 21 years of life are turning into good pictures of God’s redemption. Because I am so convinced of God’s Work on my behalf—His purchasing my redemption—I am able to share my story. God exchanges the horrible for the wonderful and amazing through Jesus. Where else can you take your rags and receive riches? Your lies are exchanged for His truth at His cross.
Dear LORD, it hurts to reveal our secrets; to own up to the ways we have fallen short. But, Father, we recognize that our stories do not end with our failure; they end with the hope of a new heart, forgiveness, and exchanging our weakness for your strength and eternal life. In you, we have a re-do. In you, we are no longer paupers, but children of a King, who have access to riches beyond compare. Let us allow you the opportunity to glorify yourself through our stories by unmasking our elephants and opening ourselves to your healing, allowing you to use the story you are writing in us as a tool to bring others to you. In Christ’s precious name, amen.