Forgiven Isn't a Feeling
Have you ever felt like you weren’t forgiven by God? Or maybe you’ve had a nagging suspicion that you aren’t really saved? Those are distressing thoughts that cause all kinds of unpleasant feelings: fear, anxiety, despair, frustration, apathy.
But there’s hope! And it starts with understanding that forgiven is not a feeling. It’s a legal status, like “not guilty.” It’s an objective reality about us, not a subjective experience that ebbs and flows with our emotions.
Our feelings are responses to the judgments we make about ourselves, our situations, and God. If I feel despondent, I’m probably making some judgment like, “My situation is hopeless,” or, “I’m such a failure.” If I feel anxious, it’s because I’m making a judgment about the future, predicting that some impending disaster or calamity is going to ruin my life.
Here’s how that helps. When we don’t feel forgiven, it’s because we’re believing some judgment about ourselves other than the justifying declaration God makes about all who trust in Jesus.
Instead of saying, “I don’t feel like I’m forgiven,” try translating that into the underlying judgment:
“God does not forgive me.”
“God does not want to forgive me.”
“My sin is so great that God cannot forgive me.”
It’s no wonder that distressing feelings follow such hopeless and condemning judgments. But there is a better judgment. And it’s better because it’s true, authoritative, and merciful.
What we need is the blessing of justification, to have God himself declare that we are righteous before him, not because of anything we have done to earn it, but because we are united to Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, by faith.
“David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin’” (Romans 4:6–8).
To be forgiven is to be justified. And justified is an objective legal status, not a subjective feeling. It has nothing to do with how you feel and everything to do with the judgment God passes on you when he declares that all your sins were punished in Christ on the cross and that you are now righteous in his sight.
So the next time you feel those unpleasant feelings (or if you feel them now), confess and forsake any untrue judgment you are believing, repent of any specific sins you are actually guilty of before God, and then cling to God’s gracious and justifying judgment by faith.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Rather than looking introspectively for some feeling of forgiveness, look outside of yourself to the objective and finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. God offered his own Son as a sin-atoning, wrath-absorbing sacrifice for you because God is eager and willing to justify all who trust in Jesus.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23–26).
Of course, there is great joy and peace in being justified (Ps. 51:8; Rom. 5:1). But those realities are the result of knowing and believing God’s judgment. Forgiveness itself is not a feeling.