It’s difficult to seek forgiveness. It’s especially difficult to seek forgiveness for the same actions over and over again.
We might be quick to apologize to the friend, spouse, or child we’ve sinned against on one day, and loathe to do it another. When we begin to feel trapped in patterns of sin, our sense of guilt compounds and tempts us to find refuge in pride. Within this fortress, we succumb to the lie that it’s safer to excuse our sin than it is to repent of it.
When Jesus told Peter to extend forgiveness not seven times, but seventy-seven, he made a point about forgiving freely in light of the extravagant forgiveness we’ve received (Matt. 18:21-35). But if we consider the reverse application, we’re encouraged to seek forgiveness not just seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Anger is a pervasive temptation and sin in my life. Being a mom has compounded this tendency, as little sinners poke and prod what’s already deeply entrenched in my heart. I have to ask my children for forgiveness often.
“Please forgive Mommy for being impatient with you.”
“Please forgive Mommy for speaking harshly to you.”
“Please forgive Mommy for yelling in anger when I should have corrected you in love.”
Sometimes, this isn’t hard to do at all. But when I’ve yelled again, just five minutes after apologizing for that very same thing, it’s hard to humble myself. When it hasn’t been a moment of frustration but a day of irritation, it’s easier to feed pride. Instead of seeking forgiveness again as I should—forgiveness that will assuredly be granted by my Father—I justify that this time the harsh words were warranted. I comfort myself with the delusion that my anger is actually “tough love” towards my wayward child. And when I feed these patterns of pride, God opposes me and the hold of sin tightens. Grace is reserved for the humble.
So I lash out more, I speak through gritted teeth more, I withdraw and proclaim “I’ve had it!” more. I dig my heels in, desperately trying to prove that I am in the right, that my sin is excusable and understandable—because pride prevents me from seeking forgiveness for the seventy-seventh time and then turning from sin in repentance.
The Remedy of Remembering
Remembering that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin is what sends us back again for forgiveness. Those we have hurt may not always forgive us, but our Father will. We don’t need to hide behind the fig leaves of shame as Adam and Eve did, because God covered us in the blood of his Son. We need not fear condemnation. We might be surprised that we’ve blown it again, but God isn’t. No sin surprises him, no shame deters him, no patterns or proclivities will push him away. Nothing will separate us from his love in Christ!
Remembering this guards us against condemnation and frees us from our elusive search for excuses. It gives us hope through our failure and comfort as we battle sin.
The Remedy of Returning
God invites us to come back, over and over again, to drink at the well of his forgiveness. He watches for his prodigal sons and daughters so he can rush to welcome us. He looks for the lost sheep and rejoices at its return. He comforts the tears of the sinful woman who weeps at his feet.
When we return to our Father, knowing the depth of our guilt, we will marvel all the more at his grace. Confessing a first time is easy, confessing the seventy-seventh time keenly reminds us that our standing before God is not based on merit but mercy. So we cry with David, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,” and according to his steadfast love and abundant mercy, God blots our transgressions and cleanses us of our sin (Psalm 51:1,4) He’s never ashamed of us when we sheepishly seek forgiveness one more time. He’s already given it at the cross. Before the foundations of the earth were created, he determined to love us. Before our sinful words were spoken or our sinful actions taken, he chose to save us. In absolute knowledge of every act of rebellion we would ever commit, he came to redeem us.
The Remedy of Relying
The assurance of our forgiveness drives our repentance. Repentance is more than just feeling sad or sorry for sin, it’s actively walking towards God in obedience. Those new actions are enabled by the Holy Spirit. We might be able to modify certain behaviors and alter certain mindsets, but we cannot transform our hearts. When we act in reliance on the Holy Spirit, he strengthens us to change—when we sow seeds of righteousness, he produces the fruit of holiness. We’re not slaves to sin! God can help me speak patiently to my children, just as he can help you respect your spouse, fight lust, or resist gossip.
When our sin casts us before the throne of grace, God will never cast us away. Then, we can go back to our friends and family to seek forgiveness for the seventy-seventh time, strengthened with the hope that God will be faithful to transform us into his likeness, one degree of glory at a time. His work isn’t done yet. And we will continue seeking forgiveness until it is.