When Can I Be Forgiven?

(A grueling and honest look at the choice to sin and true repentance)

A man left his wife and ran off with another man’s wife. Their decision was calculated and they are determined that this is what they want. They think they have counted the costs and understood the price they will have to pay. Lives will be shattered, children will be devastated, Christian friends will be heartbroken, family members will be hurt. They will go off together to enjoy their “honeymoon,” while everyone deals with the devastation behind them. It is not that they do not realize what they are doing, and what it will cause. To a certain degree, they do; but they cannot fully know what is ahead for them. They are like naive kids in the backseat of a car who know that they are playing with fire, but the passions have gotten the best of them.

The man asks me a question, “When can I know that God has forgiven me?”

What a difficult question to answer. I ponder the answer for a few moments and then I respond with these words. “God has already forgiven you. He forgave you when His Son paid the penalty for your sins. You accepted that forgiveness when you received Christ as your Savior. You live in that forgiveness every day of your life. However you cannot enjoy that forgiveness, until you repent of your sin. As long as you are living in willful disobedience, you cannot enjoy the peace of God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is there, but it is not for you to enjoy.”

“So how long will it take for us to be able to have that peace?” He asks.

Another difficult question. Once again, I think carefully about my answer and respond. “Repentance is not knowing you were doing wrong and asking God to forgive you. Repentance is a change of mind. For you to repent now, you would have to change your mind, go back to your spouses, fix your marriages and end this relationship completely. Anything short of that is absolutely not repentance, which means you cannot live in the peace of God’s forgiveness.”

“So, you are saying God can never or will never allow us to enjoy His forgiveness because of what we’ve done?” He asks.

Now we are getting on the slippery slope. There is such a fine line between truth and error when it comes to this issue. Carefully I try to explain. “Right now you have an intellectual knowledge of your sin. You know in your mind that what you are doing is wrong; you have calculated it and already assumed God’s forgiveness. That is a bit presumptuous. You are so comfortable with God’s forgiveness that you think you can sin and repent whenever you feel like it. Repentance is the byproduct of conviction, not just knowledge. To know that you are sinning, is not repentance; to be convicted of your sin and changing your mind is repentance. I cannot tell you when the Holy Spirit will, or if He will convict you. Worse yet, I cannot tell you if your heart will be too hard to be convicted. Your calculated decision to commit this sin shows an already hardened heart. All I can tell you is, that there must come a time where you are brokenhearted for what you have done and feel a sense of total remorse over the sins you have committed. It will not be calculated like your sin. It will be an absolute brokenness that sends you on your face before God in repentance to Him. Will it happen? It does for some and not for others. Many who walked away with the same calculated attitude have never repented. Rather than dealing with the conviction that they have created, a hardened shell over their heart which now the Holy Spirit cannot penetrate. Believe me, there are many people who calculatedly chose to go into sin and who never repented. They thought they would; they assumed that they would always want to be right with God. They forgot the, “sin, when it is finished part.” This sin is not finished with you yet.

“So, are you saying there is a possibility that we will never feel the peace of God again?” He asks.

“There is a certainly a possibility that you will forget the desire to have the peace of God because of the hardness of your heart,” I reply.

“But we want to be right with God in spite of what we are doing,” he says.

I have been where he is. I have known the naive idea that I could waltz into sin in then waltz right back to God. I know what he is thinking, so I respond “It is the risk you have chosen to take I guess. You have decided that you want each other in sin more than you want to leave her, so that you can be right with God. What can I say? I hope your hearts will still be tender. Will they be genuinely repentant? There are many people who have managed the façade of spirituality, after sinning, but never truly repented. Who is to say if you will ever truly get right with God.”

The conversation ended and I pondered the future before this man and woman as well as all of the other people who are left in the wake of their selfish and sinful decision. I have no stones to cast at them. I am a sinner myself. All I can do is, to tell them what I know from my own experience and hope that somehow they will hear me. I know what it feels like to want something so bad, that you are willing to risk God for it. What a foolish thing to do.

I said to my wife last night, “Wow, we really were naive 31 years ago.”

She asked. “What do you mean?”

I said, “We really had no idea what was ahead for us when we chose to go forward together.”

She said, “We hurt a lot of people because of our decision.”

I love my wife. I love our relationship. I thank God everyday for the almost 31 years of marriage. But, I know that it is by the grace of God that we ever came back and repented. I promise that my calculation could not have possibly made that happen and neither will yours. I am so thankful that God in His mercy pierced my presumptuous and hard heart to convict me of my sinful decisions. For me, repentance was not going back and undoing decisions that could not be undone. For me, repentance was confessing the fact that I had totally and completely failed the Lord and disobeyed Him. Although, I rejoice in my marriage, I grieve over my sin. It almost sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? I guess it kind of is.