by: Stephanne Morris Marsh
How many of you (you don’t have to raise your hand or answer out loud) either struggle greatly with guilt over things you did in the past, or at times wonder if God could REALLY, truly, actually forgive you with no strings attached and never remember your sin again, or….lay awake some nights and think that surely, if people truly knew what you had done in the past or even in the very recent past, that you would be shamed, scorned or even shunned? I am going to share my story of finding Grace with you. Because I have found that I am not the only one that satan has deceived with his lies.
See, I could have answered yes to all of those questions not so long ago. My head knew all of the right answers. I was the daughter of missionaries and pastors for goodness sake! If anyone else brought up these doubts, I could quote the right scriptures and talk them out of their guilt and shame faster than you could pop up some Jiffy Pop Popcorn! Other people weren’t held to the same standards as me. They sinned before they knew Christ. I had known Jesus my whole life, and I sinned anyway. In my mind, that made me out of the reaches of Grace. Grace was extended to those that found Him and then followed Him without failing. I punished myself mentally for YEARS for things I had done. My mind had twisted what I knew as the Gospel truth to constantly remind myself that I was “held to a higher standard,” I sinned knowing I could later ask for forgiveness, and that made me the worst hypocrite of all. I would literally lay awake and think through what I had done and explain to myself why I was worse than others because of my “knowledge” and therefore, it probably didn’t count for me. I know that sounds insane, but I wrestled with this for years! Somehow, Stephanne Marsh was beyond the grace and mercy of God. That is a scary, lonely, dark and desolate place to be. In this dark place, satan convinced me that I was unworthy of the calling God had placed on my life. He convinced me that I was unworthy of my God given purpose, and that because I was such a sinner, I was unusable by God. This is one of satan’s biggest and most successful tactics in keeping us from pursuing our Godly purpose and calling. He convinces us that we aren’t worthy.
Luke 15:11-32 -The parable of the prodigal son. How many of you are familiar with this parable?
11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons.12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you,19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]’
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
Jesus told this parable, not as a historic account of something that had happened, rather he told this story as a way to explain to us in a way that we could understand, that had familiar concepts that we could relate to. He told this story to tell us that the FATHER’S love is always greater than any sin we can commit or have committed.
This is the truth that stares me in the face every time I read the parable of the prodigal son. I cannot do anything to EARN His love, nor can I do anything to LOSE His love. Thank the Lord, I am not that powerful. He knew that I was going to sin, yet he was so determined to get me back, that He came up with a whole elaborate plan that would cost Him His son. No matter what I have done, or how many times I have done it, He loves me so much, He is standing ready, waiting to pull me into His arms. The moment I ask for forgiveness, it is gone. Forgotten, as far as the East is from the West….and He remembers my sin no more.
Where I got stuck was in believing that I was outside of God’s ability to forgive, because I was worse than others, because I knew better. I then got stuck in a vicious cycle of self-hate, self-punishment, and self-loathing.
What made the difference? What finally convinced me that I was the same as everyone else and allowed me to get rid of my guilt and shame?
It is simple. I finally read His word with a starving heart, looking for the exceptions I had convinced myself were so real. One day, I woke up and I cried out to God. I said, “if you are really there, and you really love me like you say you do, then I need you to show me that I, too, can be forgiven. I need you to show me that you love me with the same love that I tell everyone else you have for them. I need you to show me, WHERE IT IS WRITTEN.” And He did.
I began reading the Bible, the verses that I knew so very well, but I read them with a starving hunger, to find something that would save the terrible wretch that was me. As I pawed through the Bible, and drank it in, I was astounded! I couldn’t believe it! See, I had been confusing conviction with condemnation. I believed the voices I was hearing at night were God and the Holy Spirit telling me why I was unworthy. I asked forgiveness for the same sins, over and over and over again for years! I knew the difference between the two, was able to point it out to others, yet I was unable to understand or see the difference myself.
What is condemnation?
Condemnation comes from Satan and is meant to tear you down. Condemnation continually points out what a failure you are, and how badly you’ve messed up. Condemnation is showing you the problem, but avoiding the solution.
Jesus did NOT come to condemn the world (John 12:47). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Satan on the other hand is KNOWN for accusing the brethren (Rev 12:10).
Why won’t you ever hear God telling you what a failure you are? Because Jesus said, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47) 47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it.
What is conviction?
Conviction is known in the Bible as Godly sorrow. God’s Word tells us that Godly sorrow is what leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4 4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?)
Condemnation tells you, “You are such a failure! Look at what you did!” while conviction tells you, “Come to me… and I will forgive you!”
Not only is God willing to forgive your sins, but He longs (deeply desires) to do so! Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.”
1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.”
Romans 2:4, “Or are you (so blind as to) trifle with and presume upon and despise in your mind and inner man to accept God’s will?”Amp or NLT – Don’t’ you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is meant to turn you from your sin?
Conviction shows you the answer to your problem. Conviction shows you the blood of Jesus that wipes away your sins!
What is the difference?
Conviction shows you the answer (the Blood of Jesus, which washes away sin), while condemnation shows you the problem (the sin, the past and your failures). Condemnation shows you the problem, but conviction shows you the answer.
Condemnation shouts, “Your past! Your sins! You loser!” But conviction shouts, “The Blood of Jesus washes away sins! Come to Jesus and be forgiven of your sins! You can be forgiven! Your sins and past don’t have to be a part of you anymore!”
Romans 8:1 – So, now, there is no condemnation in those that belong to Christ Jesus.
Even though Romans 8:1 teaches us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, all of us still struggle greatly with guilt and condemnation. Because of our love for God, we want to do what is right, yet there will still be times when we will slip up, make mistakes, make wrong choices, and sin. If you realize you have sinned, you should quickly and thoroughly repent, be willing to turn away from the sin, and do what is right in God’s eyes with His help. Once you have repented and asked God to forgive you, you should not continue carrying the heavy burden of condemnation. Jesus delivered us form both iniquity and guilt. When we repent and ask God for forgiveness, He not only forgives, but he forgets and removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. Psalm 103:12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
and Hebrews 10:17-18 17 Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”[e] 18 And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.
Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for sin – no other sacrifice is or EVER will be needed. (Hebrews 10:11-12 11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand).
The guilt we feel when we sin is often our way of “sacrificing” to pay for the sins we have committed. We think that somehow, if we are miserable and don’t allow ourselves to enjoy life, that our feelings of condemnation help balance the scales of justice. This is a lie from the pit of hell. One I personally believed for too long!
Guilt is an invisible burden that wears us out and does no good at all. It actually prevents progress and renders us incapable of proper fellowship with God, because His word tells us that we are to approach Him with faith and with boldness, not with fear and guilt. God promises us that He is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from them if we repent and admit our sins. (1 John 1:9)
God never does anything halfway. Jesus’ work on the cross is finished. If you have admitted your sin, repented and turned away from it, then don’t believe your FEELINGS more than you believe God’s Word.
Grace is not limited to Old Testament stories or New Testament Parables. God’s grace is a present-day gift available to all of us, the sinner and the saint, the child who leaves and the child who stays, the one who runs to sin and the one who makes every effort to do the right thing.
Grace is the undeserved, unmerited favor of God. Grace gives you and me immediate access to a Holy God in our current state. Grace didn’t just appear on the scene at Calvary. Grace ALWAYS was. Grace was in the garden in Genesis. Grace gave Noah the opportunity to try to save some of humanity. Grace made it possible for Moses to go back up the mountain and get a new set of tablets when he destroyed the first tablets in his rage. Grace allowed King Solomon to take over the throne after King David’s family suffered the consequences of David’s sin.
If God knew that we would choose the wrong things, (Just like Adam and Eve and King David) why would he give us life? Why would he give us purpose, knowing full well that at some point we would all trip up and fail? The answer is as simple and as complicated as the question. Free will.
The father in the story of the prodigal son knew that if he gave his son enough time and space, he would eventually find his way back home. When the son finally returned, the father didn’t berate him for leaving, he didn’t force him to come in through the back door. The father did the unspeakable. He ran to meet his son and he covered him. That is the perfect picture of what our heavenly Father’s love looks like. His love reaches for you, wherever you are, and covers you. Grace isn’t waiting at the door. Grace runs up to meet you where you are and covers you completely. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.
We must hide HIS WORD and promises in our heart so that when satan comes at us, we can remind him of what God’s WORD says about us.
For a long time, I thought that Grace had been over-used, abused, taken advantage of. People had a license to do whatever they wanted because “everything was covered under Grace.” But what I have learned in this very personal journey is that true GRACE meets you where you are, but it never leaves you there. A true understanding and revelation of Grace causes us to live Godly lives, turning down sin and temptation of all sorts. A true revelation of grace not only forgives our sin, but also makes us want to turn from sin. Grace can be found in every book, every story of the Bible. Grace provides freedom and restoration. Grace shows us that even when we cross a boundary, we can always turn back. Jesus is always waiting.
Romans 12:2 talks about the “renewing of the mind.” This is one of the greatest instructions given to Christians, and one of the greatest things that can happen to us. To renew or change our minds is not only to think differently, but also to bring our thoughts into alignment with God’s thoughts.
When Jesus became sin, He became the thief who stole our sin and shame from us. Jesus also stole from satan. He stole satan’s ability to taunt us with our shame. Jesus stole our guilt, and in exchange, gave us new life, a life with purpose, a life that ultimately recognizes the glory of God and gives God the worship he deserves. Our purpose is to bring worship to God!
Lose the idea that grace is for a select few. Lose the idea that grace has to be earned. Lose the notion that grace is a concept only relevant in Bible times. Grace always is because God ALWAYS is! When you seek God’s face, you will find yourself looking right at the source of Grace.
The grace that the cross provided is actually the most scandalous thing that has happened in the entire history of the world. The death of Jesus to atone for our sins is actually the biggest heist ever carried out. The death of Jesus on the cross gave us the provision of grace, which has the power to rob us of all of our shame, if we just turn to and follow Him. When we truly realize the magnitude of God’s plan and what Jesus did, it compels us to change from the inside out, becoming more like Him with each passing day.