"How do I handle the guilt of having lived in adultery for twenty years?" a woman asked me.
First, I led her to the Lord. Then I assured her that the past was forgotten, just as if she had never sinned. The blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). The moment we receive Him, we start a new life. Our past is never remembered again.
God has promised, "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:12). It is often said that God casts our sins into the sea of His forgetfulness and puts up a sign: "No fishing allowed."
However, Satan can use guilt feelings to rob us of our joy and effectiveness for Christ. Often he brings to our remembrance the past with all its ugliness. To overcome this assault, we must have full assurance that we have been forgiven of our sin (the promise of 1 John 1:9). Then we must dwell with Christ in daily communion, constantly aware of His glory and the joy of knowing that He wants to use us in spite of our past.
Having received forgiveness in Christ, we must next forgive ourselves for our failures. This is what I believe the apostle Paul was thinking when he wrote, "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before" (Phil. 3:13).
I picture Paul sitting down one day and, in a state of despair, declaring, "I am the worst of sinners." Then the Holy Spirit whispers, "Forget those things which are behind. You did your best. You did all that you could do, and God knows all about it, so forget all the things which are behind you. Press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of Christ" (see Phil. 3:13, 14).
The Holy Spirit makes the same statement to us today. Do all that you can now and leave the rest with the Lord. Look toward the future.
Our thought processes can work to our advantage or to our disadvantage. I believe that "Gird up the loins of your mind" (1 Pet. 1:13) means don't allow yourself to look back, especially on failure and on the sins for which you have been forgiven. Think on those things that edify the soul. Philippians 4:8 expresses beautifully the kinds of thoughts that should fill the minds of Christians: things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report.
It is very hard for me to reflect on my life. I have found it much healthier to look ahead, reflecting only long enough to say "Thank you, Lord." I never wallow in guilt, even for two minutes. I will not allow my mind to do that.
I learned to control my thoughts at a very young age. After singing in church one night, I was angry with myself because I thought I had done a bad job. My brother Bob asked, "Did you do your best?"
"Yes, I did," I answered.
He simply said, "Well?"
"Thank you, Bob," I replied.
That lesson stuck with me. During the first year of our ministry, I fought those angry feelings when I didn't do a good job. The Holy Spirit seemed to speak to me as Bob had done.
"Did you do your best?"
I realized that although I might not do a superb job every night, I could do my best... and that's all that is required.
Each of us struggles with personal failure. Remember Paul's frustration in Romans 7? The things he wanted to do, he didn't do. The things he didn't want to do, he ended up doing. That is also true in my life. I echo his cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 7:24, 25).
You may feel guilty over a son or daughter who has strayed away from God. Don't condemn yourself by asking, "Where did I go wrong?" Did you do your best in rearing him or her for Christ? Then claim the promise of Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Don't spend the rest of your days in regret. Rather, seek God's guidance in helping your child now. Forget the past and let your love and concern show through your prayers to the God who cares. Hands off -- God is at work!
We will never be perfect in this life, but it's good to know we have been forgiven -- not only for our past sins, but also for our daily shortcomings and the weaknesses that will cause us to fall short of the glory of God throughout life on earth.
Think of it! We are forgiven... past, present, and future! "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1).
No condemnation! And no guilt!