The Struggle with Grace and Forgiveness

“There’s no way God could forgive me. The Bible teaches that `no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him’ (1 John 3:6). Well, then, am I even `saved’?” As a pastor, I’ve heard many iterations of this struggle with grace and forgiveness, and there are even times when I’ve said a few of my own.


God’s grace seems too good to be true. Let’s face it. If you do something wrong, you must face the consequences. You drive too fast; you’re flirting with the consequence of getting a speeding ticket. You cheat on your spouse; you will inevitably face the consequence of a broken marriage and family. You yell at your kids all the time and withdraw from them emotionally; you will have to deal with the consequence of angry children who withdraw from you.


When we sin against God (including the aforementioned sins against others), we have to face the consequence of “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). 


Unless.


Unless God provides His grace through His Son, Jesus Christ, and our sin is removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). But this seems too mythical, too simple, and too illogical, doesn’t it? We all know there are consequences to wrong choices, and grace seems to give me a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” and I definitely don’t deserve that. After all, look at what I’ve done (or what you’ve done).


When God’s grace shows up in a world of cause-effect, we are tempted to reject God outright as mythical or illogical, or we struggle with lingering guilt and shame as God’s grace seems too simple, so therefore it can’t be really true.


Or can it?


The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, means that reconciliation is available to all who simply say, “I’m a mess, and I need help. I turn to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of my faith, to bring me back to right relationship with Him.” The Gospel leads us to grace; grace leads us to reconciliation; reconciliation leads us to a joyful life of surrender.


“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Many of us know this intellectually, but we have a hard time rewiring our minds from a cause-effect reality to a Grace reality. The former focuses on what we have done wrong that leads to the effect of judgment and condemnation. The latter focuses on what God has done to lead to forgiveness and reconciliation.


This is why we need to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), have our minds dwell on whatever is true (Philippians 4:8), and remain in community where we “encourage one another all the more as we see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). We need to stop wearing the grey overcoat of having sinned and dress in the bright clothes of forgiveness (Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor, 205). 


Grace is not cheap; Jesus paid for it with His life. But grace is free to all who come to Him (Romans 6:23b).


“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). You are not condemned. So, stop condemning yourself and live a life of joyful surrender to the One who paid it all. 


“`Has no one condemned you?’ `No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said,

`Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more’” (John 8:11).