by Dr. Jerald C. Joersz
I grew up in the Lutheran faith and attended church regularly for many years while our children were growing up. Unfortunately, I never took the Gospel to heart and served the Lord like I should have. I became addicted to pornography and finally quit going to church. I am now 58 years old. After doing some serious reflection on my life, I have come to realize how sinful I have been. I have deceived myself by thinking my sins were not so bad. After studying God’s Word, I have now started going back to church and have asked God for forgiveness. I believe I have truly repented and now seek to change my heart and follow Him. But I am having a hard time, though, feeling forgiven. I am wondering now whether it might be too late for me because I had my chance and elected to keep on sinning. Is there hope for me?
Four words in your question immediately caught my eye: I have deceived myself. These words express well a very important first step in our daily life of repentance as Christians: the honest admission that we have sinned against God.
The Bible teaches that we can deceive ourselves in two general ways. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we have not really sinned against God. But St. John reminds us, “If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:9). Worse still, John adds, “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him [God] a liar, and His word is not in us” (1:10 emphases added). By our self-deception, we turn God into a deceiver. Regarding the sin you have struggled to put away, some today regard pornography as a normal or morally neutral outlet for sexual desires. But such thinking is directly contrary to what God our Creator teaches in His Word regarding His design for sexual expression, and it is harmful to us and others.
And then this self-delusion. God promises that for the sake of Christ He forgives us when we come to Him for mercy. But we may respond with doubt, in effect saying to God, “Are You serious?” Again, St. John writes: “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning His Son” (1 John 5:10). As our Lutheran Confessions rightly teach us, “If our heart doubts, it maintains that Gods promises are uncertain and futile” (Ap XII 62). And so, by our doubt, we again turn God into a deceiver.
But this is God’s sure and certain promise: “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:12). If, before God, we are completely honest about ourselves and seek His mercy, “He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
As John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
Thank God we dont have to rely on our inner feelings to be certain of His grace! What a blessing it is that we do not have to gauge God’s feelings toward us by the thoughts and changing moods we find in our hearts. How assuring are the words of Christ in the Lords Supper, which come not from our hearts but from God’s heart: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” As Luther so wonderfully reminds us in his Small Catechism, “Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins.”
This is the true blessed assurance that uplifts and comforts the conscience and “brings peace and life to the heart.” Yes, indeed, there is hope for us!
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