Do you ever struggle with the lie that God doesn’t love you? Or that God might love you less because of something you’ve done? Do you ever have moments of doubt that his love for you is infinitely strong, abundant, and unending? We all do, surely. I know I do. Or maybe you’ve recently fallen into sin, and now you’re feeling despair, hopelessness, condemnation, and fear. “How could God possibly want me after I did that?” you ask.
The struggle with self-forgiveness is really a struggle to believe the message of amazing love displayed in the gospel. It’s assuming a position of doubt about God’s desire to bring us back to himself and moving away from him instead of toward him. It’s a rejection of the cross’s aim to bring God and man together.
Even though the Bible tells us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), we continue to condemn ourselves, imagining that our sin is just too much for such a holy God.
When fighting the lie of merit-based love, follow this simple mental process of preaching the gospel to yourself:
- Think about the worst thing you’ve ever done: Consider the guilt and shame you’ve felt about that. Consider the damage you’ve caused yourself and the destruction you’ve brought on others. Feel the horror, the pain, the remorse, the foolishness. Just put that mentally before you and leave it sitting there a moment.
- Consider now the cross: Son of God. Perfect Lamb. Spotless, without blemish. No sin; just beauty, perfection, glory. Innocent. Silently led to the slaughter. No struggle; wholly willing. Beaten, bloodied, nailed, pierced. Hanging on the cross under the weight of sin, drinking the cup of God’s wrath until it is bone-dry. Nobody takes his life from him, but he lays it down willingly.
- Remember that God’s wrath for your sin was placed on Christ: Think of your sin from #1 above, that worst thing ever. That sin—specifically and particularly—was taken on by Jesus. All the guilt and shame, all the collateral damage. He suffered for all the suffering you caused yourself and others. Most importantly, every bit of wrath from the Father deserved for that sin, Jesus absorbed into himself as our propitiation.
- Marvel at the motivation of his sacrifice: God through Christ did this to “reconcile us to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:18). “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God knew every sin I would ever commit. He knew every rebellious reaction, traitorous thought, selfish desire, manipulative move, untrue word. He knew the shame, the pain, and horror. And what did he do? Turn away? Run? Shun? Kill me?
No. The Father gave the Son. The Son laid down his life. “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10). My sin moved the Father to so love me that he gave his only begotten Son for me, so that by believing in him I might never perish but have eternal life. When I sinned, God came to get me and bring me back to himself, and it cost him the life of his Son.
So when I feel condemnation for my sin, what will I do? Will I hide in my shame? Will I try to cover up my pain? Will I deny the destruction? Will I sit in the guilt and lament damnation? Will I move toward God or away from him?
God moved toward me because of my sin—from heaven to earth, from life to death, from wrath to love. Believing the gospel means that I move toward him because of my sin, as well. There we meet, that holy God and this sinful man, at the cross of Jesus Christ.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.