“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Since none of us deserves the Lord’s forgiveness, He shows abundant mercy when He pardons our sin. But His forgiving us is not the only way He shows us mercy when it comes to our guilt. In our study of guilt and forgiveness, we have spoken frequently of the reality of our guilt feelings, that when our consciences are rightly shaped by Scripture, our transgressions of God’s law provoke in us a subjective sense of guilt that can be quite burdensome. Yet given that our sin against God is sin against an infinite person, the debt and guilt we incur is infinite as well. We are finite creatures, and to feel the full weight of our sin would destroy us. We can infer this from instances such as that recorded in Isaiah 6:1–7 where Isaiah, surely one of the holiest men of ancient Israel, was undone by the glimpse that God gave him of his transgressions. If Isaiah was undone by just a taste of his guilt, then surely we would be crushed if we were to see the full extent of our sin. So, God shows mercy to us by not allowing us to see the depth of our wickedness but by showing us enough of our guilt to move us to repentance.
Considering subjective issues related to our guilt and forgiveness, we must also note that as with subjective feelings of guilt, there are also subjective feelings of forgiveness. Moreover, these subjective feelings of forgiveness may not match the objective reality of our forgiven state. We know with our minds that God promises to forgive everyone who repents and trusts in Jesus Christ alone for salvation (John 3:16). However, often we find it difficult to actually feel forgiven by the Lord. There can be a disconnect between our minds and our hearts, where we do not feel forgiven even after we have confessed and forsaken our sin.
To guard against this disconnect, it will be helpful to remember that the truth of our forgiveness does not depend on whether we feel forgiven. Guilt is an objective reality in that we have either transgressed the objective standard of God’s law or we have not. Similarly, guilt is an objective standard in that God has either forgiven us for breaking His law or He has not. If we have confessed and repented for our sins, then God has pardoned us even if we still feel guilty. As Jesus tells us in today’s passage, anyone whom the Son sets free from the guilt of sin is actually free and forgiven of his sin (John 8:36). For us not to believe this is to call His promises into question, so if we have repented, let us believe that we have been forgiven.
To question our forgiveness when we have confessed our sin to God and turned from it, ironically, is to incur more sin. It is a sin to disbelieve God, and that is what we do when we hold onto our guilt after we have confessed our sin. If you have confessed your sin and you still feel guilty, know that God in Christ forgives you, and strive to believe you are forgiven this day.