Every week we put out the garbage. We take the orange peels, the plastic wraps, the used yogurt containers, and place them in the bin outside the house. We remove the refuse from our lives. It might not be an enjoyable process to go through it, but it’s necessary. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to bring the garbage from the outside bin back into the house. I have never wanted to be re-surrounded by my old garbage. It just doesn’t happen.
Why, then, do we do this with our spiritual lives?
The biggest obstacle to feeling forgiven isn’t the gravity of our sins. Nor is it our doubts about whether we pray correctly, confess rightly, or believe strongly enough. None of these things block the reality of forgiveness.
No, the biggest obstacle to feeling forgiven is our own propensity to take up all that we have just laid down. Despite our fervent prayers, we rehearse our sins again and again. We pick up our guilt, we hold onto our shame, and carry it with us. Despite the Bible’s assurance that the Lord is “faithful and just to forgive our sins”, we listen to the lie that whispers nothing but condemnation into our lives.
Scripture tells of a story of woman caught in sin, brought before Jesus so that he might condemn her. Jesus, famously, dismisses the crowd by calling all who have no sin to cast the first stone (John 8:7). In doing so, Jesus challenges the crowd to recognize their own need for forgiveness. Yet in doing so, he also highlights the availability of his grace. Jesus does not come to condemn, to judge, or to discard. He comes to forgive, to save, to love.
After the crowds have left, the woman stands alone before Jesus. I wonder if she fears what Jesus will say? Jesus, however, is not one to fear. He speaks the word we all need to hear from time to time: “I do not condemn you.”
This is a beautiful moment, but one we often overlook. When Jesus says he does not condemn her, he speaks about an eternal reality enfolding her life. His word declares that all sin, no matter how big or how small, is fully and finally removed from her life. There is complete expulsion of sin in the graceful love of Jesus. She is forgiven, she is free.
But that’s not all that Jesus says. He says, “Go now, and leave your life of sin.” In saying this, the woman is challenged to live her life from the reality of her forgiveness. Christ’s word of forgiveness is to be the basis out of which she lives. Instead of picking up her spiritual garbage once again, instead of choosing to live from the condemnation not hurled upon her, Jesus asks her to believe his word, and walk forward in freedom.
How might you step away from the habit of picking up your own guilt and shame? A simple way is to tell yourself you are forgiven. The story goes that whenever Martin Luther felt besieged by his own spiritual garbage he would close his eyes, make the sign of the cross on his forehead, and say, “I am forgiven.” Could you do the same?
You don’t have to carry your own spiritual garbage, especially not the garage of the past. The truth that encompasses your life today is that Jesus speaks forgiveness over you. He is compassionate and kind, steadfast in love and infinite in mercy. Ultimately, your forgiveness isn’t about you; it is about Jesus. Your forgiveness is held within his heart, it is based upon his word. So, when you leave something before Jesus, dare to believe that it is removed from your life, fully, completely, and eternally.