How to Fully Receive God’s Forgiveness
By LESLIE LUDY
Regret. Shame. Unworthiness. Those were the emotions washing over me as I sat on my bed with my Bible in my lap. I had just read the words, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our [sins] from us” (Ps. 103:12). But that verse felt more like wishful thinking than reality. I knew that what the Bible said about God’s forgiveness was true — for everyone else who had repented of their sins. But they didn’t feel true for me.
I had been a Christian from a young age, but had truly consecrated my life to Christ about a year and a half earlier. I had seen God do wonderful things in my life since choosing to fully yield to Him. I felt His presence on a daily basis and His Word was coming alive to me more and more.
But every once in a while, I would be overcome with grief over my past sins. Though I had asked His forgiveness many times over, I didn’t feel forgiven — especially for the impurity that I had walked in for several years. Somehow, it seemed that I would always have those sins hovering over me — that they would hinder me from truly experiencing God’s best in that area of my life.
A passionate young Christian named Eric Ludy had come into my life. I deeply admired his walk with Christ. As our friendship progressed, I sensed that God might be scripting a love story between us — that perhaps Eric was the one God had chosen for me to spend my life with. But whenever that thought crossed my mind, it was followed by a sense of hopeless regret and unworthiness.
Surely I’m disqualified from God doing something amazing in this area of my life. I would think to myself. If I hadn’t made so many mistakes in the past, then maybe. But now — it’s too late. God wouldn’t choose to bless me with a beautiful love story after all that I’ve done wrong.
I closed my Bible and whispered a prayer. “Lord, I want to feel forgiven. I want to be set free from this constant shame that I carry around with me. Will You make Your forgiveness real to me?”
Suddenly, a clear statement seemed to resound through my heart. “I have forgiven you, now you must receive it.”
I sat thinking for several minutes. I had repented of my sins, but had I ever truly received the forgiveness He offered?
I had to admit that I hadn’t. In fact, I’d been pushing away God’s promise of forgiveness, convinced that I wasn’t qualified for it — that somehow God didn’t really want to forgive me and set me free from the past. In a strange way, I had almost believed that it was more spiritual to live in guilt over my past sins than to agree with God that my sins were removed from me completely — as far away as the east is from the west.
That day, I came to a simple yet profound conclusion about God’s forgiveness. I didn’t need to wait to feel forgiven. Rather, I needed to get in step with God and agree with His Word. Instead of pushing away the forgiveness that He offered, I needed to accept and receive it. He was asking me to reckon His forgiveness true in my life, no matter what my emotions tried to tell me.
I got on my knees and asked Him to forgive me for rejecting His forgiveness and for allowing shame, guilt, and regret to dictate my reality, rather than His unchanging, unfailing truth. I said, “Lord, I receive Your forgiveness. I choose to agree with Your Word. I have repented of these sins, and they are now covered by the blood of Jesus. You have removed them from me as far away as the east is from the west. You have washed me clean, whiter than snow. No matter what my emotions may tell me, that will be my reality from this day forward.”
It was a life-changing prayer.
It’s not that I was never again tempted to wallow in guilt or regret. But now, I had a new response. Instead of letting those emotions weigh me down and define my thoughts and actions, I reminded myself that God no longer saw those sins when He looked at me and that they had been cast into the depths of the sea. (See Micah 7:19.) And, as Corrie ten Boom said, God had posted by that sea a sign that said: “No fishing allowed!” In other words, I was not to dredge up past sins and dwell upon them. I was to turn my gaze to Christ and press on toward all that He had for me as a new creation in Christ.
At first, it took a focused effort to say no to the feelings of guilt and yes to the reality of God’s forgiveness. But the more I put this principle into practice, the more my emotions began to line up with God’s truth. As the months went by, I found that I no longer struggled with constant shame over past sins. Rather, I was able to truly celebrate the amazing work of forgiveness and redemption that God had done in my life. I was able to fully embrace the pure and beautiful love story God was writing for me, without letting emotional baggage from past sins put a damper on the relationship.
Jesus said, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36). The term “free indeed” literally means “truly, literally, no longer a slave.” The incredible thing about God’s forgiveness through Christ is that it is not partial — it is complete, absolute, and final. Our finite minds may not be able to grasp the reality of His overwhelming love, mercy, and forgiveness, but His Word makes it clear that these gifts are freely offered to all who will receive them. It’s not based on our own worthiness — but on His unfailing power and triumph on the Cross.
So many of us — though we have confessed and repented of our past sins — are not truly walking in the freedom that Christ purchased for us on the Cross. Our own emotions, or the enemy of our soul, often convince us that those sins will always haunt us, and always weigh us down. Many women have said to me, “I know that God can forgive me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” What that statement really means is, “I just can’t seem to agree with God that I am forgiven.”
In reality, God hasn’t asked us to “forgive ourselves.” He is the Forgiver — we are the receivers of His forgiveness. Our job isn’t to “let ourselves off the hook” for past sins. Rather, our job is to believe what He says. It sounds so simple, yet this is where many of us get tripped up. We try to punish ourselves for past sins, forgetting that Christ already bore our punishment on the Cross. When we repent and turn, He forgives us and sets us free from the past — and not just partially free — but free indeed!
If you have been weighed down with regret and guilt over past sins, yet you have repented and asked to be made new, then God wants to show you that your prison door is unlocked. You don’t need to stay in that prison anymore. All you need to do is rise up, push against the iron bars, and discover that they swing wide open. You have been set free by His blood. Now, you need to walk in that reality.
I’d like to share three key principles that can help you push those prison doors open and start walking in the amazing reality of God’s forgiveness — starting right now.
1) Understand True Repentance
Leonard Ravenhill once said that the biggest hindrance to revival today is modern evangelism. Today we often think of coming to Christ as saying a quick sinner’s prayer and trying to be a better person. But according to Scripture, in order to truly become a “new creation in Christ” we must first pass from death to life. (See John 5:24.) Old things must pass away. We must crucify our “old self” and let the life of Christ live and reign within our soul. Becoming “dead to self” and “alive to Christ” is what the Gospel is all about.
If you are unsure whether God has truly forgiven you, it’s possible that you haven’t had a clear understanding of true repentance, or the power of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). I would encourage you to spend time in the presence of God, let Him shine His searchlight into your soul, convict you of sin, wash you clean by the power of Jesus’ blood, and give you the enabling grace to repent and turn from your sin. (Note: A good way to gain a clearer grasp on the life-changing power of the Gospel, and the process of passing from death to life, is to listen to the message, The Position of Victory, available for free download at BraveheartedChristian.com.)* Remain in the presence of God until you have been made a new creation in Christ. Let Him overtake you from the inside out. Surrender your entire life into His hands, and let His power overtake you and equip you to live a life you could never live on your own.
Repentance is so much more than just saying you are sorry for past sins. It’s about living a completely different lifestyle and having a completely different attitude — through the power of Christ in you. Settle it in your heart that your life is no longer your own, you have been bought with a price — the precious blood of Christ. Remember that when you come to Christ, you are making a sacred covenant exchange; all that you are for all that He is. When your old self has died with Christ and you have become a new creation in Him, you have the power to repent and turn from your sin and live a life of righteousness that you could never live on your own. Now that’s Good News!
2) Take Back the Enemy’s Ground
If you have allowed habitual sin to remain in your life or have never truly repented of past sins, then it’s likely that the enemy has gained some territory in your inner life. If you have let sin control you, then the enemy has gained a “legal right” to harass you — wreaking havoc in your spiritual life and plaguing you with doubt, fear, anger, guilt, etc. When you repent of past sins and allow Christ to wash you clean, it’s crucial to take back the territory that you have previously given to the enemy.
Let God reveal to you any area in which Satan has gotten a hold in your life. Once you repent and are made new in that area, tell the enemy that he must go, and spiritually take back any ground that he has claimed. Then, if he tries to harass you with guilt, shame, remorse, or temptation toward those old habits, remind him that this territory now belongs to God and stand firmly upon promises such as: “Greater is He who is in [me], than he who is in the world.” (See 1 John 4:4.) Don’t allow the enemy to push you around or weigh you down with past sins that have already been covered by the blood of Jesus. When you are in Christ and Christ is in you, you have the power to resist the enemy, and when you do, he must flee. (See James 4:7.)
3) Agree with God
Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (ESV).
When it comes to receiving God’s forgiveness we all too often try to lean on our own understanding rather than standing firmly on the promises of God. Our own mind and emotions — or even “common sense” — may tell us that we can never truly be free from our past sins. But what does God’s Word say about it?
He says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
He says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
He says, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7).
He says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12).
The only way to truly walk in the amazing reality of God’s forgiveness is to stop listening to our own human perspective and start agreeing with God. His Word reminds us, “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). In other words, the only opinion that truly matters is His.
One of the best ways to start agreeing with God that your past sins are truly forgiven is to memorize some of the key Scriptures on forgiveness and meditate on them often, especially when you are tempted to give in to guilt, shame, remorse, and doubt. If we ask God for the enabling grace to say no to guilt and doubt and yes to the promises in His Word, He will give us everything that we need to agree with Him.
When Paul and Barnabas were preaching the Gospel to the Jews in the book of Acts, their hearers rejected the truth. They preferred their own opinions to the reality of Jesus Christ. In Acts 13:46, Paul and Barnabas said to them, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”
What an amazing opportunity these Jews missed because they rejected God’s Word and, in so doing, judged themselves unworthy of His gift of salvation. May we not make the same mistake — rejecting God’s mercy and judging ourselves unworthy of His forgiveness!
It’s important to be aware of the fact that the enemy will often bait us toward self-pity over our past sins. Sometimes, though God’s forgiveness is sitting right in front of us, we choose to reject it because we enjoy the sympathy and attention we receive from other Christians who feel sorry for our struggle. Avoid this dangerous pitfall. God has not destined you to wallow in doubt, guilt, shame, and self-pity for the remainder of your Christian life. Rather, He desires you to be spiritually strong, so that you can be poured out for others and shine His light to this world. Agreeing with Him that you are truly forgiven is the first step in answering that call.
I would encourage you to read missionary stories and be reminded of how great the ocean of God’s love really is. Stories about head-hunters and cannibals receiving Christ and being made new, stories of gang-members and prostitutes turning from their sin and being washed clean, stories of cruel Nazi prison guards being set free from their hatred and sin, stories of murderers and slave traders being given a fresh start. As Corrie ten Boom would say, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” History is filled with examples of the power of God’s forgiveness. It can be a tremendous boost to your faith to read about how He has worked to redeem and transform even some of the most seemingly “hopeless” sinners this world has ever seen.
One of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture of someone truly receiving God’s forgiveness is the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet and wiped her tears away with her hair. Simon the Pharisee, who was sitting nearby, thought to himself, “If this Man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner” (Luk. 7:39 NIV).
But Jesus did know who was touching Him and what kind of woman she was. And rather than condemn her, He praised her for her incredible demonstration of love and thankfulness. He said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luk. 7:47). This woman was not wallowing in her past sin and guilt. Rather, she was overcome by the amazing, astounding, incredible, life-changing reality of Christ’s forgiveness.
It’s popular in many churches today to “celebrate our brokenness” — to fixate on our sin and shortcomings and weaknesses. But that’s not what this woman did. Rather, she celebrated Christ and focused only on His amazing love and mercy. She honored Him by fully accepting and embracing His forgiveness. And her response to His mercy was overwhelming love and gratitude for the One who had washed her clean and made her new.
Let’s follow this woman’s example and bring our sin to the feet of Jesus, acknowledge what He has done for us, and pour out our love and gratitude upon Him as she did. By His grace, may we choose to, “Stand fast … in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
When the Son sets us free, we are free indeed!