If you have accepted Christ, you are forgiven of all of your sins. If you told God that you know you are a sinner and you need his Son's death on the cross to count for you, your sins are forgiven. If the Holy Spirit is indeed within your heart - your sins are forgiven. This forgiveness is eternal. This forgiveness is permanent.
Past, present, and future sins - forgiven.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
The New International Version. (2011). (Eph 2:8–9). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 10:9). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.
The New International Version. (2011). (Heb 8:12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
So why then when we feel like we've done something sinful when we feel guilty of something, do we have such a time feeling that forgiveness? We pray, we read some of the bible, and the guilt remains. We can even have a repentant attitude. An inner realization that what we did was wrong and we want to change as to not repeat that same behavior. A heart decision to pivot our direction and live differently. Even then, something still feels wrong.
It's not true in those moments that we aren't forgiven, yet it still feels like that. So what then is missing? Why is it that when we decide in our hearts to change, we don't immediately feel relieved of our guilt? What are we doing wrong?
Have you ever felt like this? Do you feel this way right now? If you do, I may know why. I must say, I'm not an expert, but hear me out.
If you are a Christian, you've probably heard it said before, that God, the Creator of the Universe, now works through his people. He isn't walking around today on the earth, he's not intervening and making appearances, he's not physically here performing miracles and telling us face-to-face that we are forgiven. But, his Holy Spirit is amongst us within our brothers and sisters.
Since we do have our people, who share with us the Holy Spirit, we must be talking about our sin together. Not until you open up will you fully experience God's grace. Trust me; He wants you to feel his forgiveness. He wants you to know you are forgiven. He wants you to believe that what he has done was good enough for you to feel truly free of your sin.
But how else can we experience that, learn that, feel that, if we don't let our sin out in the open? Our brothers and sisters in Christ are here for a reason. That being so we are to portray God's love to each other. A large part of that is demonstrating God's grace and forgiveness to each other.
I've never once opened up to a brother and been scorned or torn apart. I've never opened my heart to a brother and felt stepped on. Not once! In fact, any time that I've ever opened up I've received a living, breathing example of God's grace. A good example of the way I've received forgiveness like this, albeit sans everyone having the holy spirit, is the following exchange between Joseph and his brothers.
3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
The New International Version. (2011). (Ge 45:3–5). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Again, God works through his people. So, if you don't let his people work, you don’t experience God's hand in your life. If you don't show your heart to your brothers and sisters, you can't taste authentic forgiveness. You can't experience real fellowship, and you surely cannot feel God's love.
Likewise, you can get convicted about something cool; God can show you something amazing in his Word. His own words can illuminate your life through your independent studies - but if you don't share what it is that is in your heart - what good is it? How do you check if your conviction is Godly, or evil; wise, or silly?
To top that off, at a certain point I think God most likely will cease to convict your heart if you only ever keep your convictions to yourself. If you decide to be selfish with what God gives you - he'll cut you off. In that same way, if one of your friends opens up to you and you choose to not show them grace - he'll likely come after you. Now, of course, he won't "smite you" or strike you with lightning, but surely he will find a way to show you the error of your ways.
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. l
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 18:21–35). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
I know these things to be true in my own life because I've experienced both sides of the coin. Typically this happens because I judge my sin, thinking that I am such a bad person. I become ashamed that my sin is so bad that it will make me look worse than I want to appear. I become overburdened with guilt, and instead of letting all this out I hide or sweep it all under the rug. Sadly sweeping it under the rug doesn't ever actually get rid of the feelings. Even if I can be successful at getting them so deep down that I don't think about them regularly - they still pop their heads out from time to time only leaving me (or you) to feel the same pain again, sometimes worse.
Just to be clear, I'm not saying praying and turning to your word in troubled times is bad - in facts it's an excellent thing to do. But what I am saying is that we have to be open and honest about our sin (or our pain, guilt, and especially convictions). Otherwise our efforts to get better, or be restored to a mentally healthy, spiritually healthy state - will be useless.
[just reiterating that this is an opinion piece on the topic, I know it makes sense to me from experience, but please if you think I've made a mistake or missed something, leave a comment below and we can dialogue]