Bob Russell

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Bob Russell1  Occasionally people write me asking for guidance for a personal problem or theological issue.  Below is an email I recently received that expresses a common concern: how can we be assured of God’s forgiveness when we’ve committed grievous sins long after we became a Christian? Most are confident that God will forgive sins committed prior to being baptized.  But what are we to do when we’ve strayed far away from God again…long after we’ve accepted Christ?  Below is a letter expressing that concern, followed by my answer.

EMAILED QUESTION :  “Bob, I am troubled and a sinner.  For three years I have been having an affair and my marriage has ended.  My father died 8 months ago and I lost my job two months ago.  Is all this the result of my affair?  Am I ever to find favor and be blessed ?  Can I love again now that I am divorced?  I am lost and my will is failing.  I have never imagined at 43 these things would all happen to me.  Please help me.  I need guidance.  I need assurance. I need hope.”

ANSWER: I’m sorry to hear you are going through such difficult times.  It’s obvious that you are really hurting and I am sorry.   But I do have some words of hope for you.  God’s grace is greater than all our sin.  God still loves you in spite of the fact that you have wandered away from His will.  The fact that your conscience is hurting you and you are experiencing emotional stress is evidence that The Lord is tugging at your heart, pleading with you to return to His will.

Hebrews 12:5 says, “My son do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Just as a loving father may take the keys from his teenage son for disobeying a curfew in hopes the son will avoid future problems, so God allows us to reap the pain of our own sin so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.  He loves you and is seeking to bring you back under His protective care.

I’d encourage you to:

(1) Read the story of David’s affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-12:25), and then read his prayer of repentance in Psalm 51.  Although David sinned, God still loved him and called him, “A man after God’s own heart.”  God blessed David and Bathsheba with a son, Solomon, who eventually inherited the throne.

(2) Repent of your sin.  To repent is to turn away from sin and selfish behavior and to begin walking in obedience to God’s will.  “This is the one I esteem, he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word”  (Isa 66:2).  Charles Swindoll said, “God loves the broken heart, the bent knee and the wet eye.”

(3) Receive God’s forgiveness and thank Him for His grace.  First John 1:9 is written to Christians,  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Claim that promise.  God does not lie.  He is faithful to forgive.

(4) If you haven’t already done so, express an apology to those you’ve offended.  It may be best if your apology is written so that you don’t get into a prolonged explanation or argument.

(5) Begin from this point on to walk straight.  Billy Graham once said, “You can’t unscramble eggs.”  You can’t always go back and correct past mistakes.  But you are still a young man.  God may grant you another 40 or 50 years of life. There’s plenty of time to recover.

(6) Get plugged into a local church where you can experience the love and acceptance of other believers.  Hebrews 10:25 reads, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

When David repented of his sin he promised, “I will teach transgressors your ways so that sinners will turn back to you” (Psalm 51:13).  Others can benefit from your experience so walk straight and eventually God will provide opportunities for you to share your testimony.  But be patient.  Establish credibility first.

The joy of your salvation can be restored faster than you may think.  But you need to turn to the Lord completely NOW.  Don’t let your heart become hardened and don’t return to the world’s pleasures for temporary escapes.   Like the prodigal son, arise and go to your father…. and you will discover He’s eager to run to greet you and welcome you home.  He has promised, “…whoever comes to me I will never drive away”  (John 6:37)  God bless!

-Bob Russell  is the  retired minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY