Forgiveness: The Key To Overcoming Guilt and Fear

The Bible says we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image.”) It also says God is love (I John 4:8 and I John 1:16). Therefore, we must conclude as images of God, created in His likeness, we are love, also. Yet when we look at the world of others and see their faults, the ways they have abused us mentally, socially, verbally and physically we see a misconception of who they are and who we are. Forgiveness of those trespasses as an expression of our love is the only way to find peace and experience who we actually are created in God’s likeness reflecting certain of His attributes as images of Him.

So often we needlessly feel guilt or fear. The result is that we act like victims rather than the victors that we actually are through Christ. This happens because we lose site of who we are as images of God and we act like what we think we are rather than behaving like who we really are.

I found this true in my own life until I was able to forgive all those who had abused me, judged me, offended me or attacked me. Until then, I was unable to be at peace and see those who had done those things to me for who they really were. They, like I, saw themselves in a distorted manner as unlovable, guilty and fearful, reacting by judging and attacking others rather than responding with love. The consequence was that I missed out on so much by being judgmental of others and myself until I discovered who I really am as a being created in the likeness of God.

Jesus paid the price for our guilt so we would not have to feel guilty. The Bible says perfect love does away with fear (I John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”) Although I know this, it is still hard for me to practice being who I am instead of who I think I am. Never-the-less, because I do know this, I strive to do what I know is best for others and me. I fail often, but I am not a failure and I have learned not to feel guilty when I fail, but rather to go on and try not to fail at the same things repeatedly.

Guilt and fear hold us captive until we are able to let go of them. The key to letting go of them is forgiveness. Forgiveness is an expression of love. That includes not only forgiving others, but it includes forgiving ourselves as well.

Often, when I counsel with people, I point out God has forgiven us for everything we have ever done as sin in His eyes. Yet, if we do not forgive ourselves, we are, in actuality, putting ourselves above God by saying to Him, through our actions, it doesn’t matter that You have forgiven me. I don’t forgive myself. Usually this gets their attention and a light goes on and they respond by saying, “You’re right. I have been discounting God and acting as if I am better at judging others and myself than He is even though He is the one who created them and me.” I actually have to do a little more prodding to get them to see it in those terms, but you get my point, I hope.

Until we use the key of forgiveness (both as givers and receivers) to unlock the shackles that keep us in bondage to guilt and fear, we will not be at peace. Guilt and fear leads to all kinds of other problems.

Fear may case panic, confused thinking, irresponsible actions, and cause us to attack and judge others. When we become fearful of situations or people we are involved in or with, it causes us to attempt take over in order to control situations and people so we won’t be hurt by them. I am convinced all wars begin as a result of this basic fact. The other side of the coin of fear is that instead of trying to control, we may try to become the great negotiator or mediator. Often we end up being caught in the middle of a lose-lose situation and end up being hurt or feeling guilty because we were not successful.

Guilt, on the other hand, may cause us to over compensate by striving to be someone we aren’t. Because of guilt we try to put on a false front in order to appear different than we think we are. It causes us to be people pleasers in lieu of God pleasers. It causes us to try and fit in and be accepted by those who are meaningful to us. It causes us to act like victims rather than victors. It causes us to live a lie. We do not experience peace when we feel guilty. Guilt causes a low self-esteem which in turn brings on depression and may eventually lead to suicide unless the individual comes to understand they have been forgiven by God and are considered righteous in His eyes merely for putting their trust in what Jesus accomplished for us.

Guilt and fear often go hand in hand. Because we feel guilty we are afraid. Some people are afraid they may not go to Heaven because of their guilt even though they have received Christ. This happens only because they are not trusting in God’s promises found in the Bible. They continue to live in agony without peace of mind. Their feelings of guilt breeds fear and consumes them. They neurotically strive to earn their way into Heaven by works even though the Bible makes it clear we are saved by grace through faith and that salvation, eternal life and righteousness are gifts of God and cannot be attained by our good deeds.

While God is in control of His creation and can ultimately make all things (good and evil) work together for good to those who love Him and are call according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), He does not attempt to control every aspect of our lives. Because of that, many times, probably due to our lack of understanding His nature and our lack of understanding the Scriptures, we seek after our own will, not His. We end up abusing the fact He has given us a free will. Sometimes we reverse God’s role with our role. We try to take control of the situations we should be leaving in His hands. Yet we pray He will fix the messes we have created for ourselves. God trusts us and expects us to be in control of some aspects of our own lives by acting responsibly and making appropriate choices. He doesn’t expect us to passively sit around and let Him do all the work. He wants us actively involved using the resources He has provided for us like the ability to think and reason and to rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in doing so. When we don’t do that there are consequences and guilt is quick to set in. Sometimes the guilt is followed by fear. We may think God is out to get us and punish us for our mistakes. That simply is not true.

If you make bad financial decisions or try to live beyond your means you may end up bankrupt. If you jump off a high cliff you may end up dead due to the law of gravity. That is because there are consequences for behaving foolishly. God has nothing to do with that other than He has set certain laws in motion and He is not in the business of rescuing us from those kinds of decisions or laws. He allows us to learn from them and hopes we won’t make the same unwise decisions repeatedly. He has forgiven us and wants us to forgive others and ourselves and to make better decisions in the future.

He has dealt with the sin issue by rescuing us from its consequences as a gift provided we choose to give Him the credit by accepting what Christ has done for us. He now offers the gifts of eternal life (Romans 6:23) and righteousness (a right standing with Him) (Romans 5:17) to anyone who desires them, but He leaves that decision up to us to make. He won”t force them upon anyone. We can have them merely by acting upon our faith by placing our trust in Jesus to make good on His promises as recorded in the Bible.

There is the saying that you are what you eat. Likewise you are who you think you are. If you think you are scum, then you act like scum, people see you as scum and you become scum.

On the other hand, if you realize that, as beings created in the image of God, you and others possess the attributes of Love, are loveable and capable of giving love and can have eternal life and be considered righteous in His eyes, then and only then, will you begin being kind, considerate, compassionate, sensitive, and forgiving. Even people who have not received Christ into their lives have discovered these attributes if they have a good self image and don’t hold grudges, although they do not have eternal life and are not considered righteous in God’s eyes.

Righteousness and eternal life are not achieved by good works (Ephesians 2:8). The best one can do is considered only as filthy rags in comparison to what God expects of us (Isaiah 64:6). Eternal life and righteousness are only available to those who acknowledge it is through Christ and only through Christ that one can be considered righteous and possess eternal life.

God wants us to live life abundantly to its fullest and meaningfully. Until we see ourselves as loveable, acceptable, righteous, et cetera, we do not feel fulfilled and we won’t live life abundantly. However, we must keep in mind we are loveable, kind, righteous, guiltless, free from fear, and so forth, not because of anything we did or could do, but only because of what He has already done for us. Thus, we are to receive His gifts and praise Him for them and share them with the world. We are not to hide them under a bushel, but rather we are to let our light shine unto the world in order that others, too, might learn to experience with God what we are experiencing with Him.

James says confess our faults one to another and pray one for another that we might be healed (James 5:16). That is one of the most therapeutic examples I know of in the Bible for being delivered from the bondage of pain, sorrow, depression, fear, anxiety, poor self images, guilt and other negative experiences. We must use discretion, however. It is not wise to share with just anyone. Preferably the one you share with is a Christian and grounded in the Word. If they are not, they will, most likely, not understand how to respond to you in a manner, which will meet your spiritual and psychological needs. They will not be able to handle your confessions appropriately unless they themselves are spiritually healthy, mentally healthy and are trustworthy in keeping what you share confidential. Sadly, many Christians are not qualified in those areas either. To those who are not qualified, we can only let our light shine and share our love with them. This is done by accepting them unconditionally until they come to some realization it is God and God only who is the Great Physician and we are but a catalyst used by Him to heal others of their fears, and feelings of guilt through forgiveness.

Jesus spoke often about the importance of forgiving. Until we are able to forgive others who have offended us, it is impossible for us to grow and be set free from the bondage of an unforgiving heart. While we may be forgiven of our sins and saved, Jesus said the Father would not forgive us for not forgiving others. While salvation is a gift, we have to earn rewards for our eternal life in Heaven. Thus, if we do not forgive others, we will miss out on some of the rewards in Heaven even though our salvation is secured through Christ. Thus, we must conclude there is a serious lesson to be learned about the importance of forgiveness in God’s eyes. Jesus in his agonizing pain, nearing death for us asked the Father to forgive those who persecute Him because they know not what they are doing. In like manner, Steven, as he was being stoned to death for his beliefs in Christ, prayed that those stoning him would be forgiven because they were ignorant of the truth he tried to share with them. Truly that is the kind of loving forgiveness that frees others and us from guilt and fear.

Having been created in the likeness of God with the ability to love does not guarantee we will love. The power to forgive others and ourselves as an extension of our love comes from knowing God has forgiven us and that there is no need to feel guilty or be afraid of situations or people. Then we must act upon that knowledge by exercising our faith in God. By not being in touch with who we are, we are incapable of forgiving others as well as ourselves. Yet, until we forgive those who judge us, hurt us and lay guilt trips on us, we are essentially empowering them over us and we remain victims with defeatist attitudes. We may then have stronger feelings of guilt and fear by allowing ourselves to be influenced by their Bible abusive rhetoric whether it comes from Christians or non-Christian extremists using what the Bible says rather than what it means to justify their actions. Until we see ourselves differently and realize we do not need their approval because we have already been approved of by the only One that it should matter to us to be approved by, who is God, it is difficult to say no to their manipulations, judgments and attacks. His approval is all we need. Until that truth becomes real in our lives, we will act like victims rather than the victors that we are in Christ.

Love is not always giving in to what others want from us. Forgiving someone does not give them permission to keep walking all over us. Sometimes it is by not giving in to their desires, demands and subtle manipulations to get us to do it their way that we manifest our love for them. By not giving into their neurotic attempts to manipulate and use us, we are teaching them there is a better way to approach life in a positive, accepting, nonjudgmental way. By doing this, although they may not see it that way at first, they will eventually begin to respond to us differently with respect and out of love. Thus, by loving them, we in turn get loved back and we feel fulfilled, not used.

Forgiving someone without communicating to him or her what they did that was hurtful to you sends the wrong message. The message is that since you act like it doesn’t matter then it must be alright in their minds to continue abusing you, judging you, using you, accusing you, attacking you or violating you in some other manner that is offensive to you. This only reinforces their distorted image of you rather than them seeing you for who you are as a being created in the image and likeness of God just like they are.

When we feel used, abused or judged, anger builds up inside and anger turned inward upon ourselves leads to depression. On and on we go getting sicker and sicker. Unless we decide to start making better choices and start communicating our feelings accurately and honestly, the anxiety, pain and suffering will eventually become so great we may feel we won’t be able take it any longer. As long as we see ourselves as victims we will not be able to communicate to this degree of accuracy and honesty.

The alternatives are that we either to turn it over to the Lord and let go of our feelings of guilt and/or fears by forgiving others and ourselves or continue to suffer the consequences. If we do not extend love to others and to ourselves in this manner sooner or later there will be painful consequences.

It could even lead to one giving up on himself or herself to the point they decide to commit suicide in order to deal with a temporary problem in a permanent manner. Others may turn to alcohol or drugs to escape the pain of guilt and fear. Others may act out with judgments and attacks. Those behaviors and addictions, however, are manifestations of cries for help. They are cries to be loved. While they are not healthy ways of getting their needs met, we need to recognize the symptoms for what they are and love them, which may involve saying no and not letting ourselves be manipulated and used by them any more although we have forgiven them of past offenses.

There is absolutely no condemnation of us by God once we receive His gifts of forgiveness, eternal life and righteousness because we are then in the spirit through Christ (Romans 8:1). I don’t, care what you have done in life, you have been forgiven of it by God and until you forgive yourself, you are placing yourself above God and telling Him you don’t care. Until you forgive yourself, you are going to be miserable, depressed, fearful, guilt ridden, angry judgmental and unfulfilled. Until you forgive yourself, you will not be able to forgive others for how they have violated you. It will eat at you mentally and tear you down physically.

I know what I am talking about. I have been there and I don’t wish to return. Because of that, some people think I have gone off the deep end, that I am unloving and that I am too serious and not fun to be around. But when they feel that way about me, which isn’t very often I might add, that is because they are expecting something from me to meet their neurotic needs caused by a distorted view of themselves and me and I refuse to buy into that kind of sick symbiotic relationship. Rather, I choose to be who I really am rather than who they or I might think I am. At those times, I choose to live and let live. At those times I choose not to hide my light under a bushel but, instead, to let it shine by extending only love to them, without judgment, unconditionally and inclusively for that is who I really am as an Image of God and that is who they really are, also. Once they know who they are and I know who I am, then and only then can we love each other. It is only then that we have done away with our guilt feelings and fear of each other by forgiving each other. It is only then that we are capable of expressing ourselves to each other openly, honestly and without restrictions.

In so doing, however, we must not forget we are only images of God. We are only made in His likeness. We are not God and can never be anything more than clay vessels molded for His pleasure to be filled by the Creative Artist known as Jesus the one and only Christ who desires we live life abundantly (John 10:10).

Perhaps if we gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender “SAINTS” would forgive the religious right and other extremist groups for their attitude towards us they would see our shining lights and start responding to us out of love rather than reacting to us with attacks and judgments. They might then be able to get beyond seeing only our sexual orientation and begin seeing us for who we really are created in the likeness of the God they claim to worship. We need to act like the victors that we are through Christ not like the victims we think we are. We need to understand it is they who are victims of ignorance who view us and the world through distorted thinking rather than seeing us and themselves for who they and we really are created in the likeness of God. We need to understand that they react to us in this way due to their own feelings of guilt and fear because they have not yet come to understand what it means to act like who they really are rather than acting like what they think they are. They, and others like them, need our prayers and forgiveness not our judgments, attacks or rejections.