Believing something is true — such as the fact that you are forgiven if you follow Jesus — is different than living like you really are free. You can believe in God and still live in bondage. You can accept Jesus into your heart and still carry the weight of guilt, shame, self-hatred. Brokenhearted Christians do this all the time.
Here’s how Ann, one of my She Blossoms readers, describes her struggle:
“If I can’t see myself as valuable through God’s eyes, then there is no value,” says Ann on 3 Reasons Not to Give Up on God – Genesis 48. “I’m like a useless waste of breath, a defect, a mistake. It’s been really rough and it’s not over yet. Thanks for a place to vent and call things as they are. You will likely disagree, but that doesn’t change my reality. I just don’t have the ability to believe anymore, nor do I know what to hold on to.”
Ann reminds me of David in the Psalms. She is expressing how painful and confusing it can be to walk with Jesus — much less live like she’s loved, forgiven and free! She is working through her pain, anger, grief, sorrow, confusion, and feelings. This is exactly what we need to do if we truly want to follow Jesus. We have to wrestle with our faith, work it out with fear and trembling.
We aren’t supposed to pretend we’re living like we’re forgiven and free. We’re called to have a real, authentic, honest relationship with Jesus…and that has to involve conflict, doubt, and confusion.
Conflict, doubt, and confusion? Yes, sometimes. Unforgiveness, guilt, and shame? Never.
Living Like You’re Forgiven and Free
If you’re struggling to forgive yourself for past mistakes, you’ve come to the right place! We’ll briefly explore how Joseph’s brothers couldn’t forgiven themselves for selling him into slavery (much less live like they were forgiven and free — which they were).
This article, inspired by Genesis 50, ends the first stage of my She Blossoms Through the Bible project. I’m writing an article for every chapter of every book of the Bible, and now bid Joseph and the whole book of Genesis a fond farewell. What better way to end than with a message on living in freedom and forgiveness?
1. Get out of yourself
After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers freaked out. They got scared because they thought Joseph was lying when he said he forgave them. They thought Joseph would punish them for the evil things they did to him, for their hatred and contempt. Joseph’s brothers were driven by guilt, shame, and fear. They had no idea what Joseph was really like; all they cared about was protecting themselves from their worries and anxieties about the future. So they sent a messenger to Joseph, lying about their father Jacob’s final words (Genesis 50:16-17). They projected their own character flaws, defects and weaknesses on their brother Joseph — and they expected him to punish, reject, abandon, and perhaps even kill them. Their self-centeredness prevented them from living like they were free and forgiven.
What story are you telling yourself? Maybe you’re like Ann, telling yourself that you’re useless, unworthy, unlovable. Maybe you’re like me, struggling to forgive yourself for not doing more in certain circumstances. Maybe you’re like Joseph’s brothers, refusing to accept God’s forgiveness, grace, and love. You don’t know how to live like you really are forgiven and free because you’re telling yourself the same story, over and over. What story is that?
2. Learn who He is
Joseph wept when his brothers asked for forgiveness because his brothers didn’t know him at all. They thought Joseph was the type of man who would hold a grudge, wait until his father died, and get revenge. Joseph reassured his brothers — yet again — that they had nothing to fear. “Don’t be afraid,” Joseph said in Genesis 50:19. “Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result — and the survival of many people. Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And Joseph comforted them and spoke kindly to them. He wanted his brothers to live like they were forgiven and free.
How are you chaining yourself to guilt and shame? If you follow Jesus and yet you struggle to live like you’re forgiven and free, then you don’t know Him. You’re not following your heavenly Father if you are burdened by your past sins, mistakes, flaws and weaknesses. You’re like Joseph’s brothers, who didn’t know him at all. Look at Joseph’s words in Genesis 50:19 — it’s Jesus talking! Do not be afraid, do not live with anxiety, trepidation or concern for the future. Learn who Jesus really is and you will learn how to live like you really are forgiven and free.
3. Practice receiving a life of freedom and forgiveness
Joseph’s brothers needed a lifetime to truly understand the depth of his generosity, love, compassion, and grace. They were so burdened by guilt and shame that they couldn’t just erase the past and march confidently into the future. Genesis 50 tells us that Joseph died before they did, and that he told his brothers to put their faith in God. “I am about to die,” he said in verse 24, “but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Joseph took care of them while he was alive, and left his brothers in his Father’s hands after he died. Does that remind you of anyone? It reminds me of Jesus.
How will you live forgiven and free? This is something you get to work out for yourself — and this is good news! There are no rules on how to live the perfect Christian life or follow Jesus or listen to the Holy Spirit. The Bible isn’t a rulebook for daily life; it’s God’s story of love and redemption, grace and salvation, freedom and forgiveness. How we actually live out of His lovingkindness depends on us and our relationship with Him. How we walk in faith depends on our personalities, lifestyles, genetics, gifts, resources, experiences, and willingness to keep building a relationship with Jesus. To truly live out of freedom and forgiveness means we have to practice our faith daily, consistently, through all the doubts and storms and droughts.
Living with freedom and forgiveness is the project of a lifetime. You will falter and stumble, wander and get lost. But if you keep following Jesus and building a relationship with our Father through the Holy Spirit, you will find your way home.
With His love,
P.S. Are you struggling to make a decision or find the right path in your life? Read an Easy Way to Stop Overthinking God’s Will for Your Life.