November 26, 2020

The Things That Won’t Go Away

They’re back.

My sins, that is.

Just in case you need to know, my name is Michael Spencer. I’m a Christian minister who has given 33+ years of my life to telling people…

My sins, O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sins not in part, but the whole
Were nailed to the cross and I bear them no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul…

and other similar things about sin and forgiveness.

Unlike some people in this business, I actually believe this stuff. Like the creed teaches me, I believe in “…the forgiveness of sins…” As a reformation type Christian, I’ve got it all worked out how my sins were atoned for, taken away, tossed into the depths of the sea, put behind God’s back and so on.

The problem is that while God has forgiven me and God has put my sins on Jesus and God has replaced my sins with the righteousness of his own Son, etc., etc., some of the persons I sinned against have taken a different route.

They’ve brought my sins back up. They’ve been holding on to them for years, filed away, still affecting them and now at a particularly point of clarity in their own journey, they’ve brought those sins back to me, put them on the table and announced we have a big, big problem here.

We have a song we often sing where I work, saying that Jesus died for our sins AND for the sins that were done to us. Because I’ve sinned against many other persons, I’ve always liked that verse. Apparently, too much; now I have to deal with my sins- several decades of them- and Jesus’ death, forgiveness, etc. is going to be of limited help. Those I have sinned against say that these sins matter and life is unalterably changed by them.

I’ve grieved over these sins, and I’ve asked forgiveness many times. But I haven’t successfully repented of all of them or abandoned all of them. Again and again, some of these sins have reappeared in my life. Prayer, accountability, counsel, more prayer, good theology, tears, more prayer…..none of it has killed off these sins entirely.

Jesus may have forgiven me, but my sins have followed me. Their footprints in the lives of those I’ve sinned against are still there, and they are calling me to an accounting.

I don’t know what to do about these sins.

I can’t honestly promise that I won’t sin again. I can say that with all my heart and all my efforts I will fight to never sin in these ways again, but these are sins that are deeply wound up in my personality, my upbringing and my physical/emotional make-up. Promising to never get angry again would be very unrealistic, and talking some pietistic trash would be deceptive. Somewhere out there, this sin will reappear.

I once knew this guy….well…I’ll let him talk…

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

What I’d like to ask that guy is this: Jesus may love you, but what about the people other than Jesus? The ones who can’t love you with those sins you don’t understand still on the record? What do we do for those who aren’t interested in imputation, but want accountability? Payment? Consequences? What about those who have been sinned against, but aren’t offering me the Gospel, but purgatory?

How do we take hold of the grace of God for ourselves but then deal with people who aren’t God and can’t be God? People who are going to hold us to the law for their own protection, and who won’t risk further dealings with me until guarantees of repayment and promises of no future sin are on the table?

Protestants are often faulted for having a view of “cheap grace.” Is this what “cheap grace” looks like? The forgiveness of the prodigal’s father on the one hand, and the real-world demands for repayment and improved behavior on the other?

Roman Catholics often refer to the Protestant Gospel as a “legal fiction.” Is this what they mean? A sinner enjoys forgiveness, but cannot adequately make amends, repayment or restoration for his sins against those he loves?

My sins have returned. God may have forgotten them. Other persons have not.

What do I do?


  1. What do they want you to do? Are they looking for penance, or revenge?

  2. As the Holy Spirit has revealed through a sinner named Paul, the believer’s sin is both an act of disobedience to his Father and a revelation of the abundant grace imputed to him via the atonement. Blessed is the man whose sins are not imputed unto him.

    We may disagree on things, but when it comes to our sins the Spirit declares it a dead heat, a tie. The only reason all of us do not have offended people knowcking on our door and declaring us as hypocrites is that all of us have used the unspoken and hidden sins of the mind and heart to provide insulation for our carnality.

    The sins I have committed were atoned for within the eternal sacrifice of God Himself, and when they continue to exist in the minds of men it only reveals the height of self righteousness and in fact the creative carnality of man’s mind. And just the act of rememberence is a coccon shaped sin containg other sins. In essence a man creates a sinful box in which to keep other men’s sins. Wow. To remember sins is at odds with the character of God who forgets, and yet we must forgive those carnal rememberers or we run the risk of continuing the chain and building another sinful box.

    Let everyone know I am free from all men, says Paul, past, present, and future. The truth sets free, it does not imprison. And the sins I have committed are blood gone and any sins I will commit are blood washed as well. It does us well to remember all our past sins were future as Jesus paid for them.

  3. PA Merritt says

    This may look like hit-and-run, but…
    are we talking sins here, or the consequences of your sins?

  4. Penance.

  5. I suspect Roman Catholics go through the same thing. I just don’t see Catholics saying, “I can’t be mad at you anymore, now that you’ve said all those Hail Marys and visited Lourdes.” Could be wrong. The “legal fiction” part is about God calling you righteous when you don’t really deserve to be called that.


    I don’t have the answer. I’m like half your age or so and don’t have family, so I haven’t racked up decades of offending anyone. But at the same time, the idea that consequences never go away isn’t that hard for me. It reminds me of a quote from George Clooney’s character in O Brother: “Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nosed.” I’ll bet criminals saved through prison ministries aren’t always forgiven by their victims.

    I dunno, no answers, but I never really expected Jesus to just fix everything, or even much of anything, in this world.

  6. Dear Michael,

    You have just described my life as well. And if I’m correct, everyone’s life.
    As you pointed out with the quotes from your friend St.Paul, sin definitely does a number on us all of our days.

    My pastor calls sin, “the gift that keeps on giving”. The pain (in many cases) just doesn’t seem to go away.

    What to do?

    I believe we do the best we can to make amends with those that we’ve hurt. We return to the promise of our baptism (daily – we live in baptism)
    We repent. We worship and we live.

    As far as God is concerned we are totally righteous. As far as the mess we’ve made down here for ourselves and others, we’ll have to use our God given faculties to deal with it.

    There are no easy answers. Anyone that tells you there are is delusional and not living in the real world.

    Hang in there Michael.

    – Steve

  7. While I haven’t had the years for this sort of thing to fester, I’ve recently experienced some of these same struggles. I don’t really know what to do either, other than pray. Repent to those who have been affected, seek to make amends; but ultimately, you can do nothing but ask them to truly, Christianly forgive you. If they don’t, I think you just have to continue forward and let it be, grieving and mourning the consequences of your sin along the way but living in the freedom of the gospel even when others refuse to offer it to you.

    But all that seems like empty platitudes. It pretty much sucks. I’ll pray for you.

  8. Pray in the name of JESUS. and read the HOLY BIBLE.
    For in doing so you will encourage your own soul.Remember fear not the one who can destroy or kill;but are unable to to kill the soul:
    BUT rather fear him ({GOD}) which is able to destroy both body soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
    only words of encouragement…
    to the soldier in you…….
    endure hardness as a good soldier of JESUS CHRIST..
    Just think you have sinned..JESUS committed no sin and was crucified so you might live and live more abundantly….no matter what you say or they say the price has already been paid for our sins. Walk and live in that truth in the name of JESUS…
    OK I have said enough- thank you for provoking me to love and increase my own faith as I write to you…
    peace and love
    with many prayers

  9. When you find out, tell me. I need to know too.

  10. We all have things in the past that haunt us, I guess e do everything in our power to right the wrongs we have done. This is probably part of our faith, restoration. The Lord said to fix things with your brother before offering your gift at the altar, Zacheus paid back the taxes he overcharged, etc. Then again there is only so much one can do (like Paul had so much baggage from his past)..

    Other than this we just hope that God makes something good out of the mess we have created (as He often does, when we disobey sometimes the wrong path we take is transformed by God into something that would serve His greater glory).

  11. BTW – That picture on the front of the blog actually looks like someone with something to hide as he sits in the interrogation room at the local New Testament Sanhedrin. And just before he is sentenced to death, he pulls out the Bible and is ultimately released. 🙂

  12. I lead a small group that focuses on the basics of Christian theology. Being in Utah, I’ve got a couple of former Mormons who join us…and really make things interesting (in a good way). They describe that most Mormons look at Christian salvation as too easy, often resulting in a life that takes advantage of God’s forgiveness. Last week we looked into the Scriptures to study salvation. One group member shared that, to a Mormaon, the phrase “born again” described a person who claimed salvation and then simply waited around until death to enter heaven.

    What a joy, as well as a challenge, it has been to examine the Word and consider what is taught about grace, justification, sanctification, adoption, etc.

    My sins won’t leave me either…until I’m with Him. Sanctification is not about perfection, and sometimes the more I learn of God and His ways, the more my humanity becomes evident.

    I don’t think I can rightly expect others to forget my sins against them, for I have the same problem…I can’t seem to forget about theirs. I love how 1 Corinthians 13 describes love as “keeping no record of wrongs,” but I find myself to be a pretty good accountant when it comes to the trangressions of others.

  13. If you want specific advice, you would have to give a great deal more detail about the sins and how they are still affecting you and those you’ve sinned against. That would probably get a bit too voyeuristic for everyone’s comfort or benefit, I’m guessing.

    In the broader scope question of how we’re supposed to deal with others and the effects of our sin on them and ourselves…. Well, good luck. Not that I am saying there’s nothing to help, but rather there is far too much to help to even start talking about it in much of any depth with anything less than a book.

    I’ve always considered the core teaching of the Bible in this sort of area to be that we are to hold the other person as more valuable than ourselves. This is true in general, but especially when we have wronged others and are looking to reconcile. Do whatever is necessary to rebuild and repair things, despite one’s own feelings and convenience. If they want some heavy-duty reassurances of some sort, I think the Bible lays a pretty heavy emphasis that we (as the wronging party) are to submit to those things to rebuild and reconcile.

    (disclaimer: this doesn’t mean to let them punish you constantly/forever or to let further wrongs take place just because you’re guilty, but rather in regards to rebuilding the relation; work out the balancing act between the two for yourself)

    I imagine you already know this, but it’s the only thing I have to share. If it makes you feel any better, you’re in my prayers.

  14. Michael – I’m in awe of your ability to cut to the chase, even exposing your own raw brokenness, and yet without wining or sounding cheap. But praises aside – this is such a difficult thing to answer, I’m not sure where to begin. But the issue, in my PERSONAL experience, has become less important once I drifted away from Calvinism (and not toward Arminianism). Reading Orthodox writngs helped – although i’m now attending a Lutheran church, not an Orthodox one. Partly due to historical-theological reasons, I just could not see my way open to Rome. But yes, maybe that is partly what the RCC mean, I’m not sure.

    Maybe viewing the demands for behavioural changes, the immense struggle to achieve, and the real suffering inflicted by our own sins, even years after, as Theosis, would help.

    Subconciously, we all want to be pelagian. And therefore we cannot understand that when we’ve ticked the boxes, things don’t always work. But that is why moving away from mere mental knowledge (IN MY CASE), to just accepting forgivness, twice on a Sunday, has helped my a lot – in the Lutheran church, our pastor, as a representative of Christ and by His authority, forgives us (early in the service), and then we receive the true Body and Blood, for the forgiveness of sins. No, I’m not preaching conversion to My church. But that has been my experience up to now. But there are no silver bullets, no magic cures.

    But I can trust Christ apart from understanding, theological or otherwise, apart from experience, apart from emotional condition.

    That’s all for now. God Bless.

  15. Jenny Bluett says

    Purgatory is a grace Michael. Reparation is the good news of Christ, we can unify ourselves to Him in it; that’s the reason we Catholics kneel before a crucifix. Our understanding of Colassians and participation differ; suffering has a redemptive purpose and while it is shrouded in mystery, it begins to makes sense while it hurts like h*ll.

    It’s our surrender and willingness in humility to hand ourselves over to Him in it; to obey Him and trust Him with the results. If our enemies (or more gut-wrenching) our loved ones, do not extend forgiveness, that’s His business; if we want mercy we’ve must give it. God help the both of us.

    Best as Always & Much Peace,

  16. “The ones who can’t love you with those sins you don’t understand still on the record? What do we do for those who aren’t interested in imputation, but want accountability? Payment? Consequences? What about those who have been sinned against, but aren’t offering me the Gospel, but purgatory?

    How do we take hold of the grace of God for ourselves but then deal with people who aren’t God and can’t be God?”

    The reality I’ve experienced thus far is this: Sometimes our sins create situations that offend and wound deeply. Though our repentance is sincere, there is truly nothing we can actively do to lessen the offense we have caused. No singular word or action can fix it. The reality is that both sides are still growing in righteousness and meekness – neither has an upper hand and both suffer because of it. When a situation has reached this level, I think there is wisdom in stepping back (after repenting) and trusting God to heal the relationship. I’m sure that looks different for everyone, depending on the details of the relationship. The Lord is committed to reconciliation in His church. We can’t always see how that reconciliation will come, but allowing Him room and time to work is the only recourse available.

    On a side note, as I read this I clearly saw myself in both positions – the one who offends and the one who is offended. It reminded me of how desperately I (and those I love) am in need of grace and mercy. Thanks.

  17. Well. You make amends, you tell them what you just said here about not wanting to make false promises. You offer them a heart of openness and ask them to bear with you. You honor their pain and try to enter into their experience, perhaps seeing it in a new way than before. And if they are hard-hearted in their lack of forgiveness and you have made every effort to make it right and reconcile the relationship… then you draw emotional boundaries and not let them punish you for sins that were already punished through Christ. Not to sound callous, but it’s not your problem anymore. Stay available when they want to move foward, but draw some boundary lines in the relationship and don’t let them emotionally manipulate you.
    Open to the Spirit that perhap He wants to take you deeper into your own experience of these sins than you were before. It could be that this is part of HIS process, not to punish you, but to show you parts of your heart that He wants you to further explore.

  18. As someone who has been on the opposite side of where you’re at, sinned against with no guarantee of future sinlessness from the offender,I recognize that there are some things that can never be recaptured. Dealing with those things has marked the path for my own spiritual growth in learning how to forgive those who do not seem able to “win” at their struggle with certain sins which so easily bleed over into my own life.

    Living with the choices we have made is not an easy task.

    May God help you as you try to figure it all out.

  19. Memphis Aggie says

    Everybody falls, so you have company in me for example, if that’s any consolation. In the absence of confession, you still have prayers of contrition. The Act of contrition should not be problem for a Protestant and is sufficient (if honestly offered) for all venial sins. Here is one of several:

    My God,
    I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
    In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
    I have sinned against you
    whom I should love above all things.
    I firmly intend, with your help,
    to do penance, to sin no more,
    and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
    Our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
    In His Name, my God, have mercy.


  20. Wow. Heavy stuff. I took a moment just now to pray for you, and will continue to. Thank you for writing this. As a younger person, this is helpful for me in terms of decisions I can make now about the rest of life. It’s also helpful in terms of dealing with heldover drama from my childhood. I liked what you said about people who have been sinned against, and don’t offer you the gospel. It was a smack in my face to remind me to offer the gospel to those who have sinned against me.

  21. Memphis Aggie says

    Maybe this one is more to the point( less about self and more about God):

    Merciful Father, I am guilty of sin. I confess my sins before you and I am sorry for them. Your promises are just; therefore I trust that you will forgive me my sins and cleanse me from every stain of sin. Jesus himself is the proposition for my sins and those of the whole world. I put my hope in his atonement. May my sins be forgiven through his name, and in his blood may my soul be made clean. Amen

  22. Memphis Aggie says

    On dealing with the other folks who still remember your sin: ask for forgiveness, apologize and repair what you can. Pray for them, fast for them, and take whatever grief they give you as penance.

    Then as for avoiding the sin in the future avoid the near occasion of sin as best as possible, and enlist help if needed: both spiritually and worldly help.

  23. But I haven’t successfully repented of all of them or abandoned all of them.

    Successfully repented? First, I want to acknowledge that this is a matter of delicacy and I understand the pain this situation causes you. But, your statement begs the question, whose work are you depending on? Paul’s question from Galatians comes to mind, “having begun in the spirit, are you now continuing in the flesh?” I know you know this; this is just to remind and encourage you that the work of the cross is definitive.

    But the pain, of course, goes on, now perpetuated by the unforgiveness of others. It appears, from what you have said, that others have retrieved your forgiven sins from the cross, and are trying to drag them back to life, all because of their inability to forgive. Not unlike the work of that other accuser.

    Unforgiveness is, of course, a sin of its own. Jesus even phrased it this way in Matthew 6:15: “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” It may seem harsh to those we have sinned against in the past, but it’s true- we are forgiven. We deeply regret things we have done. We try to make restitution, where possible. But, in the end, the unforgiveness of others is their problem alone.

    The pain, however, is still just as real. Michael, may God grant you grace, peace and wisdom.

  24. What do you do? If you haven’t already, you might ask the person(s) sinned against “What can I do to make it right?” If the answser is “Nothing.” then you ask “What can I do to make it better?” If that answer is also “Nothing.” then you acknowledge and learn from their pain and try not to make it worse.

    If you have already asked those questions and there is no way to mitigate whatever you’ve done, you live with the misery of having done so much harm to another person that they aren’t ready to forgive you, no matter what you offer. That hurts, but it’s supposed to hurt: you can use the pain to remind yourself to change whatever it was that caused it. You may not be able to eliminate from your nature whatever got you to this place, but you can learn to modify your behavior to keep from coming here again.

  25. It seems to me that those who want to hold your sin against you have not yet grasped the depth of their own sin. If I were not a sinner it would be easy to hold the sins of others against them. But as a sinner how can I without being a hypocrite or a Pharisee?

    Isn’t this what Jesus dealt with concerning the self-righteous? They were quick to point out the sins of others while failing to see their own.

    The folks you have described need to see the greatness of God’s holiness and compare themselves to that! Then they will see the depth of their sinfulness and a need for the gospel of grace. I would hope this would lead them to forgive you.

    I believe this is why Jesus taught in Matthew 6:14-15 – “For if you forgive other their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive other their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Someone who has an unforgiving heart has yet to taste of grace themselves. They are not forgiven and therefore lack a capacity to forgive you.

    You cannot control the attitudes of others, brother. You can only control you. So admit your failures to them, ask their forgiveness, tell them that in Christ you are forgiving and then hold out the same hope to them through the glorious gospel of grace in Jesus Christ our Lord!


  26. Scott: Would you say that those who have been affected by an emotionally abusive spouse, for example, are prideful if they say they cannot forgive and move on?

  27. You have no idea just how pertinent this is to me right at this very moment. I’d like to join the queue looking for answers too.
    It does hurt knowing that you’re genuinely sorry but knowing that in all probability you’ll be covering the same ground sometime in the future. It compounds matters when it’s someone close that you’ve hurt. I think Lauren’s reply, for me anyway, means the most (thanks Lauren). Acknowledging the hurt caused, not making false promises but trusting God to provide the healing seems like a good place to start. And I think that the healing needs to work in all parties. Giving things over to God with a sincere desire to want to change allows Him to work in hearts, showing the way forward.
    May the God of Grace work in all, to bring Him glory.

  28. This is less theological than humanistic in nature, but I think many times when someone has been hurt by the actions of another, what they want and need to proceed in their own healing is to be heard. They want the pain of the actions to be acknowledged- without excuses, without explanations.

    A short story- when I was seventeen, I was raped by a young man who, a few years later, converted to Christianity. Several years after that, I confronted him with his actions, particulary emphasizing the pain his actions has caused me, and the ways that I was still groping to heal from that. His response to me was that his actions were forgiven in Christ, and that he would pray for me. I was deeply offended by that response- I was not interested in punishing him, but I did want him to share with me my experience- it seemed to me that, having done a tremendous crime against me, he was obligated to acknowledge and listen to the pain I had experienced from that.

    That was all years ago. He has since given me that acknowledgement, and I have been able to make peace and offer him forgiveness. I think I would have been able to do this anyway, but his gift of listening without excuse or interruption, and taking on the pain that I had previously experienced privately, played a tremendous role in healing.

    So I think that, regardless of one’s creed or belief system, acknowledging and hearing the consequences, and just listening and sharing the pain, is a tremendous step. And difficult to do. My prayers with you on this.

  29. Okay, this is not advice to Michael Spencer as there is enough personal advice above to last him a long time, but this is my take (the point I’ve come to) on the whole issue of SIN and this is in response to some of the great comments above.

    Is Grace cheap for the Christian? No. It’s totally free. I had the same problem talking to Muslims as Sled Dog did talking to Mormons. They thought that Christianity was too easy. It IS too easy, so easy that it’s hard, very hard. I think we all are born with the natural inclination to save ourselves . . . through penitence.

    Now, as a “good” Baptist, then good Navigator staff guy, theologically we believed that we were saved by grace—Jesus plus nothing. But in reality, in our colloquial-practical Christianity (unspoken theology) we believed in a dichotomy—God’s good pleasure came through Christ but was maintained by our own behavior/penitence.

    I’m not attempting to paint either entity (Navs or Baptist) with a broad negative brush, but just MY personal experiences in the 70s and 80s. Actually I think the Navs are much better now and I know many wonderful people on staff with them today.

    In summary (when I was with the Navs); if I woke up a 6 AM, ran three miles, had an all-natural, high grain, no cholesterol breakfast, then had a 30 minute quiet time, shared the gospel a few times (had one “decision”), smiled a lot all day, used a lot of religious talk all day, didn’t look at any woman from the neck down, didn’t masturbate, spent a couple of hours in Bible study, spent an hour or so in prayer, never raised my voice or showed any anger . . . then as I went to bed, I might have my first genuine smile of the day, because . . . for the first time in a long time I felt God’s pleasure. That’s penitence. I believe that penitence under-girds a lot of Christian behavior.

    But, I finally came to believe that if I am in Christ, then when God looks at me (day or night) He only sees Christ’s righteousness. I can’t have it both ways, saved by Christ but maintained by penitence.

    Now, as a believer, I see the law as God’s loving gift to me. Therefore, if I want to be normal and have a good life (and I am very selfish and I really do want a good life here and now) I will follow the law the best I can. But if I don’t then I will have real consequences here on this important earth . . . but God still sees Christ’s righteousness when he looks at me because it is either all or none.

    So, if I decide to jump in bed with my best friends wife . . .the consequences of a little bit of pleasure would be measured in emotional pain (for a lot of people), suffering, broken relationships etc and that would be tremendous. Her jealous husband may even kill me. If I trust God the creator, then I trust His law as the true instructions for quality living. But I am a habitual lawbreaker by nature and the law can never, ever earn God’s pleasure.

  30. Matt 5:25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court…”

    Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

    It seems to me that there is a limit to what can be done in these situations. Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel – both between man and God and between each other, but it doesn’t always happen.

    I don’t know anybody who has allowed Jesus to turn his or her life upside down, (especially if they’ve been involved in Church/community life) that has not injured, offended or damaged another person in the process. All I’ve ever known is failure, and all too often that failure has impacted upon others. It’s quite a trick to be able to be able to respond with grace to an accuser, acknowledging the truth which is in their complaint and apologising, whilst not receiving the condemnation Satan would love to heap on your head.

    Incidentally, if your accusers are Christians, it may be worth seeking a mutually agreeable authority figure with whom you can both sit down and talk. This would at least perhaps offer a bit of perspective and enable them to see past some of their hurts. Perhaps a wise person would enable them to see the justice they seek has been paid in full at the cross. Perhaps a wise person will enable them to see that Jesus can and does heal broken hearts and wounded relationships.

    I don’t believe either of us will stop sinning tomorrow, but I know He will continue to work healing in our hearts and gradually we will find our nature transformed.

    One last thing. Don’t be afraid. Whatever the future holds, He is with you.

  31. Michael:

    I, too, really appreciate your honesty and personal touch. There’s nothing hypothetical about this post.

    Unfortunately, those who refuse to forgive you are in worse need of forgiveness, and perhaps pity. Being able to offer forgiveness is a privilege of being in Christ. Without the cross, we are trapped in bitterness, unforgiveness, and hell itself. Because Jesus paid it all, we can forgive and let go. Forgiveness frees others, but it also frees ourselves.

    I have said things in the past for which no amends in the world can repair. But forgiveness is not dependent upon amends, which I am thankful to have experienced. If restitution of our neighbor’s property or reputation is within our power, we should offer it. Just don’t attach forgiveness to it. The guilty can’t say, “Here’s my restitution, now forgive me!”. The victim can’t say, “I’m sorry, I can’t forgive you until you make amends”. This is why our civil courts are in such a mess: a multi-million dollar damages award is not going to replace the peace that only forgiveness can provide – to the guilty or to the victim. If we don’t believe that the cross is enough, then we make Jesus, who said “It is finished”, a liar.

    But we are all sinful, broken people, and unforgiveness is part of that. Forgiveness is another good example of what we can’t do in heaven. We have the need and privilege of doing it now.

  32. From Anthony De Mello “One_Minute_Nonsense”:

    “When the Master was a boy in school, a classmate treated him with persistent cruelty. Now, older and contrite, the cruel one came to the monastery and was greeted with open arms. One day the guest brought up the subject of his former cruelty, but the Master seemed not to recall it. Said the visitor, ‘Don’t you remember?’ Said the Master, ‘I distinctly remember forgetting it!’ so they both melted in innocent laughter.”

  33. Some of the comments which imply that the person on the other end of Michael’s description is prideful, or sinning by not forgiving, bother me.

    I think we need to appreciate the difference between forgiveness and trust. I can forgive someone without fully having trust in their future actions or overall attitude.

    So, someone might have been granted full forgiveness, without being completely restored to their former situation.

    For an extreme example…think Ted Haggard. He probably has many friends and family members who have forgiven him, but who will never be able to simply accept the things he says at face value without a few moments of equivocating.

    The difficulty comes in close familial relationships when we are tied to people whose stops and starts with sin directly affect us. WE have as much invested in hoping for victory and are just as dashed when it seems to never quite come. We are on the roller coaster as much as the “sinner”.

    just thinking out loud

  34. Early in the post, it appears that past sins are the issue. Then it appears that what these people are worried about are future sins. Are they saying they won’t forgive, or that forgiveness is not the real issue?

    As far as these things are thought of as sins, they are forgiven. Objectively. By Christ. They should be forgiven by the others as well. Forgiveness is the appropriate solution for sins that we ask forgiveness for. It is not a sufficient condition for a good relationship, though.

    If I wanted to relate to someone who spoke only Swahili, it would not help to say, “I forgive you for not speaking English. Now let’s talk.” (Broad analogy alert. Try it on a few different ways before brushing it aside!)

    If forgiveness is the real category here, I agree with all those who say you should put up some boundaries and not allow this to drain you forever. But sometimes it isn’t the category. And I have seen some try to make it the category when it isn’t.

  35. Some people’s minds are are taxidermy museums for the sins of others.

    Stuffed, mounted, and preserved. And they give many tours as well to describe the hunt that captured each sin.

  36. Thirty-some comments later I’ll offer two cents into my own beggar’s bowl:

    I think that repentance, being unconditional, includes submitting to whatever purgatory someone you’ve wronged wants you to undergo.

    For how long? Until you are certain they are really being unforgiving as opposed to still processing their pain and distrust.
    If you can’t tell, keep submitting.

    Yes, it sucks.

    The grace lavished on us by Christ is sufficient strength, and I don’t say that as an inexperienced platitude at all.

  37. bob pinto says

    At present, I’m a bum – forgiven and still a bum fed up with trying to make behavioral changes. Fortunately, for me, the ones who had grievances against me accepted my apologies.

    I heard a non-believer quote a bumper sticker that said : Jesus loves you but everyone else thinks you’re an [expletive]. At first I was angry at that quote but then shook my head in sadness. Some of us deserve to be hated, others certainly not!

    Sorry, Michael, that you’re not loved back for the love you’ve given.

    And I’m sorry for Miranda for her terrible violation.

  38. urban otter says

    “My sins won’t leave me either…until I’m with Him. Sanctification is not about perfection… ”

    Really? It’s not? Because at what point are you going to stop sinning? *How* are you going to stop sinning?

    Nothing unrighteous can enter into the presence of God. Nobody will sin in heaven. Are we all just going to stop after death? Why would we? Is God going to just render us incapable of sinning after death?

    I think this is pertinent to Mr. Spencer’s question. If we cannot offer others the promise not to sin against them again, then what’s to stop us from hurting each other in heaven?

    There must be some way we cease to sin and cease to desire to sin. Otherwise we’d have to believe that we helplessly continue in our sins while on earth, and then continue to sin in heaven — but we know that can’t be the case. Can we cease to sin while on earth? Can we or can we not offer a promise to others that we will not hurt them again?

  39. “Can we cease to sin while on earth?”

    That experiment is ongoing and continues without much success, except in spurious reports that appear significantly redacted according to those observing that experiment.

    The short answer is – no.

  40. urban otter

    I don’t think that anyone can ever say, “I won’t ever hurt you again.” Relationships are messy and one sin can be conquered only for another to spring up.

    The difference between here and heaven/new earth is that shiny new body we’ll have…one without the the desire to sin….one eternally alive in every sense of the word and not subject to death and sickness..

    Just as we are subject to death while still being Christians, we are subject to temptation and failure.

  41. If I understand Rick Ritchie correctly, he is absolutely right. Behavoral changes are necessary for a relationship to grow. Even after forgiveness is received, past sins may have forever changed a relationship or even ended it. Earned trust can bring it back, but maybe never to the way it used to be. I’ve been there.

    Do we successfully change out of fear of losing someone, or going to hell or purgatory, or getting stuck in a leaky shack on the wrong side of the tracks from the mansions in heaven? Sanctification is a work of grace by the Holy Spirit. We yield to Him, because we love and trust God, that the new life in Christ is better than the old life in Adam. The Holy Spirit makes us own up to the past and moves us forward. If it is the Holy Spirit’s work, then we can be patient with ourselves and with others. We don’t lose hope if the Holy Spirit’s work doesn’t restore all the broken relationships from our past. “Therefore we don’t faint, but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day” – II Corinthians 4:16 (WEB).

  42. Hey, Memphis Aggie (way upthread)…I think you meant to say propitiation, not proposition.

  43. “How do we take hold of the grace of God for ourselves but then deal with people who aren’t God and can’t be God? People who are going to hold us to the law for their own protection, and who won’t risk further dealings with me until guarantees of repayment and promises of no future sin are on the table?”


  44. urban otter says

    “The difference between here and heaven/new earth is that shiny new body we’ll have…one without the the desire to sin….one eternally alive in every sense of the word and not subject to death and sickness..”

    Terri, I infer from your post that the tendency to sin is located in the physical body. Is that what you mean?

    What about sinful thoughts? If I’m angry at my brother and wish him to suffer, this is a sin. But it’s not a sin driven by an untamed physical desire, such as lust or gluttony.

    The perfected body would be completely subject to the will. But how would a perfected body remove from the will the *desire* to sin?

    If I understand this correctly, *everybody* will rise from the dead, saint and sinner alike, in their resurrection body (otherwise the Final Judgment would look like Dawn of the Living Dead). Sinners go to hell, body and soul. Sinners in hell continue to be subject to sin, even though they are equipped with an incorruptible body just as those in heaven have an incorruptible body. Having a perfected body wouldn’t impart an inability to sin. If it did, nobody would be in hell.

    At some point we have to cease to sin. I’m certain that we can’t stop sinning without God’s grace. But I’m not so certain that God replaces our wills and intellects upon death. I suspect that there must be effort on our part required, otherwise the Bible wouldn’t repeatedly tell us to stop sinning. I don’t see how God would command us to do something that is completely impossible (it’s the 10 Commandments, not the 10 Guidelines That Would Be Nice if You Could Follow, But You Can’t). He did say that with his grace, all things are possible. This must include the ability to master sin.

    Mr. Spencer has brought up a serious problem with the idea that God ignores a Christian’s sin. Even if God ignores sin (as opposed to giving us the grace to cease sinning), other people cannot ignore our sins. Sin hurts everyone, not just the sinner. There can be no more hurt in heaven. Therefore people in heaven must actually be righteous, not merely declared righteous. Otherwise God would just be ignoring ongoing sin in heaven like he allegedly does on earth, and meanwhile everyone continues to suffer the pain of being sinned against. That wouldn’t be heaven at all, it would be hell.

  45. Trying to think with the Church says

    I think a Catholic would say that, generally speaking, after an initial submission to Christ and the freely given cleansing of baptism in which all previous sins are forgiven, with the help of God’s grace serious sin should be a rare, or increasingly rare occurance in a Christian’s life. Actual results will vary. The damage done (to others, to self, to the whole community) by previous (or new) serious sin remains. [If I knock out my brothers front teeth, God will forgive and my brother, being a Christian, will forgive, but the teeth won’t grow back.] Even after my initial conversion to Christ and the graces given in Baptism, the itch or urge toward sin also remains. The graces and gifts given in Confirmation help me resist and encourage/engender/direct my growth in holiness going forward. But on a week-to-week basis, it is my relation with Christ, my feeding on His Body and Blood, that gives me what I need to resist sin, love my neighbor, offer myself again and again to God. This is real power, a real gift of God’s life to me, in which He invites me to cooperate and grow in holiness day by day by day.[When I don’t, and throw over His easy yoke, my baptismal state must be restored if I am to get back on the road to growth. I must repent for all such sins. Confession is for that, and in it I hear Him say I am absolved.] Catholics believe the outcome of this way of Christian living should be a gradual maturing in the Spirit, such that the fruits of patience, kindness, gentleness…and self-control in all areas of life becomes more and more evident. I think a Catholic would say, Michael, you need the grace of the sacraments. I have found I do. Can God work this in you another way? He is God, and can work this in you another way. Is He?

  46. “Mr. Spencer has brought up a serious problem with the idea that God ignores a Christian’s sin.”

    No, God doesn’t “ignore” sin. (see “Golgotha” for reference)

    The theological proposition that a Christian can live without sinning is quickly and indisputably refuted by the lives of its proponents – along with everyone else. And the scenarios about the lives of the redeemed in heaven are without Biblical clarity and can be left with a trustworthy Heavenly Father.

    In essence, don’t sweat it, it’s gonna be real good! 🙂

  47. As a lifetime (and mainly recovered) evangelical, I think we’ve missed the symbolic boat. Our cycles of sin, confession, and repentance are much longer than those in the RCC. Of course I’m referring to “practicing Catholics” that are able to unload their guilt to a fellow (albeit neutral) human being and feel absolution granted in return.

    I’m your age (plus a little) and remember when we evangelicals could erase our emotional slate at annual revivals or during aisle walking “rededications”. Or both. The slate might contain our own sins or grudges held against others. Or both. Today personal growth is secondary to Church Growth and Programs, so we stuff our inadequacies instead of admitting our humanity and subsequent imperfections. From the pew, its a lousy system. I can’t imagine how lousy it is from the pulpit.

    Quoting Paul makes it feel a little better for a little while. IMO (as a recovering alcoholic who has used others for a sounding board during times of need) God’s presence and forgiveness are more tangible when he works through others to help us. Time in personal prayer and meditation and Bible study are valuable, but recognizing the kinship of flesh and blood sinners/failures is priceless.

    Flesh and blood contact is why Jesus of Nazareth pressed the flesh and left such a lasting impression. Getting a handle on abstractions like sacrificial atonement or justification is much harder for me than hashing out my feelings of inadequacy with someone whose journey parallels mine.

    I enjoy your writing immensely. You are tougher on yourself than God is (again IMO). Laugh at your imperfections and the ironic narrow mindedness of grudge-holders that so easily beset you. God must. That’s Grace.

  48. Christopher Lake says

    Michael, do everything that you possibly can to tangibly demonstrate your repentance to this person or persons (if you haven’t done so already)– and live in the freedom of Christ. He has forgiven you. He is always the chief one offended in any sin against another person. Live in His forgiveness and acceptance of you through Christ’s finished work on the cross. For those who still choose not to forgive you for past sins, of course, you will feel pain. Pray for them, and pray for your own heart. I pray that in your pain, you will experience God’s grace as being sufficient– because it is.

  49. Reminder: It’s a policy around here that you folks whose solution to a problem is to join your denomination get one post, then I won’t post any other comment telling me to become a ________. Jesus has me or he doesn’t. You don’t have more of him at your place.



  50. Michael, have you forgiven the person of whom you’re asking forgiveness?
    Do you love this person, self-sacrificially?
    It’s not easy, this Christian life of ours. I just know that the one situation for which I most want forgiven is the one situation I actually have trouble forgiving.
    Hope things get righted for you.
    Peace in our Lord,