How To Deal With Past Abuse
What are the biblical steps you should take to deal with physical or sexual abuse? How can you be truly free from the hurt, the confusion, and resentment of the past? What will enable you to forget the things which are behind and reach forward to the things ahead (Phil. 3:13)? The steps that you will cover in this study will not be easy to take, but they are sure steps to freedom. Jesus said, "If you know the truth, the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). Peter said if you will "obey the truth" your soul can be purified (Gr: to make clean or innocent) from what is behind you (1Peter 1:22). So, what must you do?
I. First, you must understand, as much as possible, why this abuse has occurred.
Biblical understanding of your past is essential to obtaining victory over it. Yet, one of the great struggles people have with the past is the question of why. Why did this person do this to me? Why would God allow this to happen? These issues must be resolved in your mind.
A. Why did the abuser do this to me?
1. If the abuser was a non-Christian, this sin was committed against you because he or she was blinded and controlled by his or her sinful nature. The Bible teaches us that the god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of those who do not believe (2 Cor. 4:4) (1 John. 2:11). Because of this blindness the abuser would have little, if any, understanding of the evil and hurt he was causing. Remember the words of Jesus regarding His abusers, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). "If they had known," Paul said, "they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory" (1 Cor. 2:8).
2. If the abuser was a professing Christian, and he continually practiced this abuse upon you or others, then the reason would be the same as #1. However, concerning this person's professed faith in Christ, Scripture teaches that no one can say "I know Him" and practice evil or willfully break His commandments (1 John 2:4-6)(1 John 3:7-10). In 1 John 3:8-9, the word sin or sinned is in the present tense in the Greek, which suggests a continual and willful choice to sin. Therefore, no matter what this person has professed, he or she is not a Christian, because someone who is redeemed by God is free from the bondage of practicing immorality of any kind.
3. If the abuser was a professing Christian and this was a one-time occurrence, then this person has only stumbled in sin. The Scripture teaches that Christians can stumble and fall into sin. In 1 John 2:1, John admits that Christians can sin (singular acts of sin, see context). Why? Because Christians still have a sinful nature which battles within them for control of their lives (Gal. 5:17). Many Christians underestimate the power of their sinful nature and commit very grievous sin. Therefore, the cause of this person's failure was an unwillingness to fully surrender to the Spirit of God. If your abuser had completely surrendered to God, then this individual would have been able to control their sinful desires and actions.
4. What is absolutely clear from Scripture is that God doesn't hold you responsible for the sinful actions of another. Every person is responsible for his own attitudes and actions before God. "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Eze. 18:20).
5. Be absolutely sure you are not blaming God for this abuse. If you are blaming God, then you are holding Him responsible for the evil actions of men. Jesus blamed sin and Satan for all of the evil and destruction in this world. Notice that Jesus specifically blamed Satan and the sin of Judas for the evil done against Him (John 13:2) (Matt. 26:24) (Acts 1:25). Therefore, it is essential that you place the blame where the blame belongs. See John 8:40-44; John 8:34-36; John 10:10.
B. Why would God allow this to happen to you?
First, there is no complete or easy answer to this question. Believers have wrestled with this issue for centuries, and no doubt, you have struggled with this question too. Why would God allow this to happen to you? Let's look at what we do know from Scripture.
1. Suffering is allowed by God for a reason and purpose. God allowed Jesus to be abused and suffer a cruel death. This was allowed for an eternal purpose (Eph. 3:11). Yet, at the time, the disciples could not understand what possible good would ever come from this cruelty perpetrated on Jesus. They lost all hope because they couldn't see the ultimate purpose and plan of God. They viewed the crucifixion of Jesus as a terrible mistake. Yet, God had a very specific purpose. Study these verses: John 12:27; Acts 2:23; 1 John 3:8; Heb. 2:17-18. Joseph, in the Old Testament, is another good example (Gen.37-50). He was abused by his brothers, sold into slavery, framed by a lying lustful woman and thrown into prison. God allowed these things to occur for many reasons that we will never know. Yet, we do know some. God was testing Joseph's faith in His Word (Ps. 105:17-19). God also wanted to reveal Himself to the Pharaoh and his princes (Ps. 105:20-22). Joseph's brothers meant it all for evil, but God turned it all around for good, to ultimately save the children of Israel from a famine (Gen. 50:20). Notice, that God's purposes went beyond the life of Joseph. God had a purpose to accomplish in Pharaoh, his princes, Joseph's brothers, and the nation Israel.
2. Therefore, believe that God can take the evil done to you and turn it around for good in your life. The suffering and abuse which you have endured is also for a purpose. It is obviously much easier to see God's purpose with Jesus or Joseph because it is explained in God's Word. You probably can't see now what possible good would ever come from this abuse. However, God promises to take all things, even evil things, and turn them around for good (Rom. 8:28). Consider some of these Biblical purposes:
a. Suffering causes you to commit your soul to God (1 Peter 4:19) (Heb. 5:7). Possibly, this abuse was what lead you to give your life to Christ.
b. Suffering gives personal insight that enables you to comfort others who are suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-5). Possibly, God will want to use you to minister to another who has experienced similar abuse.
c. Suffering enables you to learn things about yourself and the world you live in (Heb. 5:8-9).
3. God doesn't always explain the "whys" of suffering. The main reason why God doesn't try to explain everything is because of man's limited capacity to understand. Man is finite in his understanding, yet God is an infinite Being, with infinite wisdom and understanding. "Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite" (Ps. 147:5). Unless God reveals the reasons for a particular action, "His ways are past finding out" (Rom. 11:33). Today we know only partially; we understand and think as children. Yet, one day we will see God face to face and will know and understand as He does (1 Cor. 13:11-12). Therefore, to fully understand why this abuse was allowed in your life, you would need knowledge only God possesses. You would need to be able to see right now, in one large panorama, God's past and future purposes in your life and all who had contact with, or knowledge of, this abuse. This is, of course, impossible. This is the primary reason why God doesn't try to answer all of our why questions. Remember the suffering of Joseph. Here are some examples of how God dealt with the questions of men regarding, what they considered unjust situations.
a. The prophet Habakkuk asked God why He didn't answer his prayer for deliverance from the intolerable conditions in his nation (Hab. 1:1-4). He also questioned God as to why a more ungodly nation (the Babylonians) were allowed to judge a more righteous one [Israel] (Hab. 1:13). It is important to note that God did not give him an answer to all of his questions. God only told him that He was working His own work, and even if He told Habakkuk what He was doing, Habakkuk wouldn't have believed it (Hab. 1:5). God went on to encourage the prophet to simply trust Him (Hab. 2:4). If God told you all His purposes for your suffering, you probably wouldn't believe it either. It is important to accept what God does reveal to you, and trust Him for the rest.
b. David also struggled with similar issues in Psalm 10. David questioned why God didn't stop all the evil done against the poor and helpless. Yet, again God did not tell him why. Notice David's conclusion in verses 14-18. David said Lord, "You have seen it, for You observe trouble and grief, to repay...You are the helper of the fatherless...You have heard the desire of the humble...to do justice to the Fatherless and the oppressed" You must rest in the fact that God saw what was done to you, and will in justice hold this person accountable because God is just. God will help you and will hear your cry to Him. Rest in this truth, not in trying to understand all the whys.
c. The disciples saw a blind man one day. He had been blind from birth, and they became very curious as to the cause of this suffering. They asked if this was caused by the sin of the man or the sin of his parents. Jesus said, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in Him" (John 9:1-3). Notice first, that Jesus answered their specific question. Sin was not the cause of this particular suffering and ailment. However, Jesus did not explain why this was allowed to occur. Jesus only gave a general purpose, "That the works of God should be revealed in him." This is God's ultimate purpose for all difficult and trying circumstances in life. He wants to reveal Himself and work a perfect work in that person. According to James, this is the ultimate purpose of all trials. He declared that trials produce maturity in your life (James 1:2-4).
4. God's love cannot and will not ever force people to do good.
When a person asks, "Why didn't God stop this abuse and suffering?", in reality, they are asking God to stop the world. This would be the only way to stop evil and suffering. People hurt and abuse others because they are in rebellion against God’s command to love the Lord and to love their neighbor. This is the most basic reason why people abuse others. To stop someone from abusing you, God would have to force this individual to love and obey Him. To force a person to any action would be contrary to God's nature of love. God has declared that men must willingly choose to personally receive Him (John 1:12) (John 5:40). Therefore, God's love cannot, and will not, force anyone to believe and obey. It is not that God is unable to stop abuse and suffering, but if He did, He would be violating His own nature of love by forcing men to do good. One day, God speaks of stopping all the evil and suffering in this world. How will He do this? He will stop the world, as we know it. He will come and set up His kingdom upon the earth and "The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and those who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 13:41).
5. Rest in what you know to be true. After you have struggled with the why questions, and still are not satisfied, fall back on what you know to be true about God. This is where your faith must rest. The Scripture declares, "Let God be true but every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4). Be assured, God will not act contrary to His own nature. He is true to His Word, and you can be confident that He will never violate what He has said. What is true about God?
a. God loves you very much. He proved His love by coming to take your punishment and judgment (John 3:16) (Rom. 8:31-32). If He loves you this much and was willing to suffer for you to this extent, how could you ever think that He could be in any way responsible for your abuse. The truth is, that a sinful individual who was in rebellion against God was responsible for your abuse, not God.
b. God is all-wise and all-knowing. God knows all that has occurred to you in the past. He knows why this abuse occurred, and what He is seeking to work out in your life. He waits for you to come to Him so He can strengthen and heal your broken heart. Jesus said that He came "to heal the brokenhearted" (Luke 4:18). His promise includes your broken heart. As the Great Physician, He knows how to heal your wounded heart and give you to grace to make you a stronger person (Heb. 4:16). You must commit yourself into His able and knowledgeable hand and allow Him to do it.
c. God turns evil around for good. This is God's promise for every believer which includes you (Rom. 8:28). He is able to turn this evil around for good in your life. All He requires of you is to come to Him in prayer and yield yourself to Him. Obey Him completely. Trust Him to turn your life around; He will not fail. You do your part, and He will do His part.
II. Second, you must deal with your anger biblically.
Anger is a normal emotion experienced by all people at various times in life. Some believe anger is always a destructive emotion, while others believe it can be used in a constructive way. Which is true? Is it possible to control anger, and if so how? When you don't control your anger, how can you resolve it?
A. Is anger always wrong or sinful?
1. No, because Paul commands us to "be angry and sin not" (Eph. 4:26). This passage clearly makes a distinction between being angry and sinning. Actually, Paul is commanding us to be angry, thus revealing the fact that anger can be used in the life of a Christian without the necessity of falling into sin. The Bible also teaches that "God is angry with the wicked everyday" (Psalms 7:11). Jesus also spoke to the religious legalists "...with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts" (Mark 3:5)
In 1 Samuel 11:6, we also see that the fruit of the Holy Spirit coming upon Saul caused "his anger to be greatly aroused," which then motivated him to do God's work.
2. Therefore, anger is an emotion that can be used in a constructive way if it is expressed in harmony with biblical limitations and principles. The problem is that many times anger is not expressed in a biblical way and results in great conflict between people.
B. How is anger expressed destructively?
1. Anger is very destructive if you allow yourself to blow up and vent your anger upon another person. Some people call this "letting off steam," when in reality, it is the sinful use of anger and wrath to destroy or manipulate another person. The Scripture declares, "The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). David commands, "Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret, it only causes harm" (Psalms 37:8). Solomon also declares, "A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back" (Prov. 29:11). The use of anger in this manner is clearly a violation of God's commands, which ultimately hinders effective communication and relationship with others.
2. A second way anger is used destructively is to internalize or bury your anger inside. This action is just as wrong as blowing up and venting your anger. Paul taught in Ephesians 4:27, "Do not let the sun go down on your anger." This passage commands you not to allow your anger to boil within your heart even for one night. God wants you to deal with your anger and what is causing it quickly, even before you go to sleep tonight. This is what God was trying to get Cain to do when he asked him, "Why are you angry?" (Gen. 4:6). God knew that Cain was very angry and wanted him to identify its cause in order to help him resolve it. Without taking this action, sin would ultimately control him and cause an inevitable blow up.
3. If your anger has caused you to sin, seek God's forgiveness and the person's you have offended by your anger. Remember, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). If you are holding in anger and resentment, identify why you are angry and then take the appropriate biblical action.
C. How is anger expressed constructively?
1. The only way anger can be expressed constructively is if it is restrained and controlled. Is this possible? Solomon declares, "It is prudent for a man to restrain his anger; it is his glory to overlook an offense" (Prov. 19:11, Berkeley Version). He also says that "He who is slow to anger is of great understanding, but whoever is hasty of spirit exalts folly" (Prov. 14:29, Berkeley Version). Before you were a Christian, did you ever have a conflict at work with your boss? He or she said or did something to make you angry. But, you chose to restrain your anger and say nothing simply because you wanted to keep your job. This proves that even as a non-Christian you could choose to control your anger. How much more today as a Christian should you be able to restrain it! Today you have the restraining power of the Holy Spirit to help you.
D. How can you restrain and control your anger?
1. First, you must make a choice to control it. Is this possible? Have you ever been arguing with someone at home and the phone rings? What did you do? Didn't you choose to control your anger simply by making a choice to answer the phone and speak calmly to the caller? Paul says, "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (Rom. 6:12). This is a choice. You can also make the same choice not to allow your anger to reign in your heart.
2. Choose to surrender to the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control. He enables you to do all that I am about to explain in these next pages. You need the "living water" of His Spirit to quench the fire of your anger (John 7:37-39). God's Holy Spirit is stronger than your anger. This is why Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). He will strengthen you to control your anger if you will simply ask the Holy Spirit to come and reign in you.
3. Next, control and restrain your words. Solomon says, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Prov. 15:1). Harsh words stir up whomever you are speaking to, but they also stir up your anger. Therefore, if you want to control your anger, "Be swift to hear, and slow to speak," and you will be, "slow to wrath" (James 1:19). Therefore, listening more and speaking less helps you to calm down and be more reasonable.
4. You must also control and restrain your thoughts. When you allow angry and resentful thoughts and accusations to rule and control your mind, you will continue to boil inside. You need the peace of God to rule your heart and mind. His peace enables you to think clearly and constructively so you can choose a biblical course of action, which solves the problem. This peace comes when you refuse the hateful and revengeful thoughts of bitterness, and yield to the Holy Spirit and forgive. Therefore, acknowledge your resentment as sin before God and ask His forgiveness. Paul promises that if you will meditate on "things that are true, things that are just... The God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:8-9).
5. You must also control and restrain your actions. Take a short "time out" when you realize that you, or the other party in the conversation, are beginning to get out of control. Solomon said, "It is honorable to a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel" (Prov. 20:3). He also commanded in Proverbs 17:14, "Stop contention before a quarrel starts." Taking a "time out" will allow you and others to pray and get under control before a blow up occurs. This will entail walking away from the confrontation before you explode.
While in the presence of a person with whom you are angry, or who you know is angry with you, don't grab, push, or have any physical contact. If you try to force someone physically to do what you want, this will only increase his or her anger and resistance. Even Jesus walked away from the emotionally charged moment when the Jews wanted to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30).
E. What should anger motivate you to do?
1. To see anger used in a constructive way it should always motivate you to a biblical and godly action. This is why God created you with the ability to get angry. He wanted this powerful emotion to encourage you to do what is right when there is a problem to be solved.
2. First, look at others in the Bible who were motivated to godly action by anger. You should follow these examples:
a. Moses was led to pray for the people because of his anger (Num. 16:15).
b. Saul was motivated to resist the evil of another nation because of his anger (1Sam. 11:6).
c. Nehemiah was led to rebuke the rulers of the people for their sin (Neh. 5:6-7). He did this in a controlled way.
e. David was drawn to prayer and meditation. He trusted God and did what was righteous (Ps. 4:3-5).
f. Jesus resisted the peer pressure of the Pharisees to become explosive in anger. Instead, Jesus moved by anger calmly healed a man on the Sabbath. Of course, this was the right thing to do (Mark 3:5).
F. How should you reconcile your anger toward God?
Anger toward God occurs when we question His character or His love. We begin to wonder why God allowed this or that to happen. Did He really do the righteous thing? This is what caught Adam in the Garden. He said, "...the woman You gave to be with me" (Gen. 3:4-5). He charged God with being at fault for giving him the woman who led him to sin.
How do you deal with this anger?
1. You must reject outright even the thought that God is unrighteous, as Paul did. In Romans 9:14, Paul said, "God forbid" to this question of God doing unrighteousness. These words God forbid literally mean, perish the thought. Paul refused even the thought that God was unrighteous.
2. Why should you reject even the thought that God would do unrighteousness?
a. God has proven His love for you by sending His Son to die on the cross (Rom. 8:32). If He has given His own Son for your sin, how could you think He doesn't care about you?
b. Like Habakkuk in the Old Testament, God can do things you have no way of comprehending. God told him that he just had to trust Him (Hab. 1:1-5) (Hab. 2:4). God's ways and His timing are not always going to be in harmony with ours.
c. Just as God's ways are very different from your ways of doing things, so His thoughts are different than yours. Read these passages to help your understanding: (Isaiah 55:8-9) (Psalms 147:3-5) (Psalms 73).
G. How should you reconcile your anger toward people?
1. In minor issues you should pass over the transgression. Many times people have no intention of purposely offending you (Prov. 19:11).
2. But, if it is clear someone intended to offend you, or if you know that someone is angry with you, you must go to him or her alone and reconcile, as Jesus said, "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother" (Matt. 18:15). Jesus also instructs you: "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matt. 5:23-24). You need to personally take these actions to reconcile any unresolved issues.
3. All through the reconciliation process with your brother your anger must be restrained and controlled because, "the wrath of man never works the righteousness of God" (James 1:20).
H. How do you reconcile anger that is turned in toward yourself?
1. If you have dealt with your sin in the correct way (repentance, confession, and forsaking the sin), then you must rest in God's knowledge. John says, "If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things" (1 John 3:20). What does He know? He knows that you have sincerely repented and forsaken this sin. He knows the sincerity of your heart in its desire to reconcile before God and man. Stand on the Word of God concerning this issue, not your feelings.
2. Second, take any action required in God's Word that will seek to resolve the problem. This will cause your conscience to approve your actions as you attempt to reconcile any sin or failure (1 John 3:18-19) (Rom. 2:15). Taking the Biblical action required is essential to quiet the accusations of your conscience.
3. Once you have taken the above action, you must rest in the sovereignty of God to work even your mistakes and failures for good. Joseph encouraged his brothers not to be angry with themselves because God had turned all their evil around for good (Gen. 45:5). Believe that God will do the same in your life.
III. Third, you must deal with your guilt over the past.
Because of the abuse that has occurred in your life it is very possible that you have not handled this offense properly. You may have hidden the abuse, as time went on willingly participated in it, or become abusive to others because of your resentment. The guilt from these actions must be resolved in your heart in a biblical way to enable you to go forward in your Christian walk. Guilt does not go away by itself; it must be dealt with in the way God has ordained or there will be continual trouble in your soul. Everyone must deal with guilt at some time in his or her life. Understanding where guilt comes from, learning the right and wrong ways to handle it, and recognizing the many misconceptions about guilt are essential for dealing with it properly.
A. Where does guilt come from?
1. It comes as a natural result of breaking God's Law (Rom. 3:19).
2. It comes as a result of violating your conscience (Rom. 2:15).
3. It can come from your own heart condemning you (1 John 3:20) (Rom. 14:22).
4. It can come from other people condemning you (Psalms 109:31) (Luke 6:37).
5. It can come from the devil condemning you (1 Tim. 3:6) (Rev. 12:10).
B. Two ways to deal with guilt.
1. The wrong way
You can do what Adam and Eve did after they disobeyed God. They ran from Him, hid themselves, excused themselves, blamed God, and then blamed each other and Satan for their problems (Genesis 3:7-13). Similarly, you could do what King David did after committing adultery with Bathsheba. He manipulated and deceived people to cover the guilt of his sin. This behavior is what led David to commit the even more grievous sin of murdering Uriah (2 Sam. 11). It's important to note that none of these actions did anything to solve David’s problem with guilt. His actions only made things worse.
2. The right way
A few simple words sum up God's way to relieve men of their guilt: repent, confess, and forsake (Mark 1:15) (1 John 1:9) (Prov. 28:13) (2 Cor. 5:20) (Matt. 5:24). Believe God's promise of forgiveness, repent of your sins, confess these to God and man, then turn and forsake these sins. Next, seek reconciliation with anyone you have offended. Each of these steps will cause you to experience freedom from the guilt of the past. This is the promise of God's Word. God doesn't want you to live under guilt and condemnation. Jesus said He didn't come to condemn the world, but He came that the world might be saved (John 3:17). God wants to forgive your sin, not condemn you. Deal with your guilt God's way, and joy and freedom will result!
C. What causes a Christian to struggle with guilt, even after taking the above steps?
1. You don't understand or believe the reasons God has given as to why you have sinned and failed.
a. When you were a non-Christian:
1. You sinned and failed in your behavior because you are a sinner by nature (Rom. 5:12) (Eph. 2:3).
2. You sinned and failed because you were blinded by sin and Satan (2 Cor. 4:4) (1 John 2:11) (Luke 23:24).
b. Now that you are a Christian:
1. You sin because you underestimate the power of your sinful nature and the influence of temptation to compromise your beliefs (Rom. 7:11-24) (Luke 22:46).
2. You will sometimes choose to not walk under the control of the Spirit and, therefore, you end up fulfilling the desires of your flesh (Gal. 5:16,17). This brings forth every evil work (James 3:15,16).
The underlying problem you must address: You think you have sinned because you are some kind of especially evil person. You think you are more than just a sinner by nature.
2. You don't understand or believe your present standing in Christ.
a. Your guilt will disappear when you understand that by grace you have been saved. You have been freely justified by His grace alone. The word freely in Greek means "For nothing" (Rom. 3:24). You have your standing in Christ today by grace only. You have done nothing to deserve this.
b. You have been declared righteous and holy in Christ simply because of your faith in His finished work (Phil. 3:8,9) (Col. 1:19-22) (2 Cor. 5:21). Your past has been put away once and for all (Heb. 9:26).
The underlying problem you must address: You don't truly understand what it means to be justified by Christ.
3. You do not understand, believe, or accept God's forgiveness.
a. God's forgiveness is His promise not to mark or mention your sin ever again (Psalms 103:3,4) (Isaiah 43:25) (Heb. 8:12). The Hebrew word for remember, means to mark, mention or recount. What a promise! This means that God will not be mentioning to you your past forgiven sin, just so you will feel bad and want to repent again. He chooses not to remember it against you forever.
b. His forgiveness has nothing to do with forgiving yourself! Forgiving yourself is not a biblical concept, but has filtered into the church from secular psychology. As sinners, we don't have the right or the ability to forgive ourselves. Only God can forgive our sins. Even the Pharisees understood this (Mark 2:7).
The underlying problem you must address: Your failure to believe that God has completely forgiven you.
4. You don't understand what it means to forget what is behind.
a. In Phil. 3:13, the word forget means to neglect, or put out of your mind.
b. You must learn how to discipline your own thoughts. Many Christians don't believe this is even possible. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit doesn't put fear in our hearts, but instead He puts love, power and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). The fruit of the Spirit will help you to make the choice to discipline your mind and not think about the evil done to you or the evil you have done to others (2 Cor. 10:5) (Phil. 4:8). Your daily choices to control your thought life will enable you to not go back and dwell on your past sins.
The underlying problem you must address: You are allowing your mind to dwell on your past sins. Choose to control these thoughts with the help of the Holy Spirit.
D. If you are confident that you know and believe the above truths, and yet still struggle with guilt, what could be wrong?
1. Satan may be condemning you. He is the accuser of the brethren and the father of all lies (Rev. 12:10) (John 8:44).
2. You may be continuing in a behavior that you are unwilling to admit is sinful. Your conscience will accuse you for this behavior, and the result will be guilt (Rom. 2:15).
3. The only other reason for guilt could be self-deception over one of the above truths. If your conscience is still "accusing you" then something is wrong (Rom. 2:15). You must determine what this is and resolve it.
E. How you can resolve your guilt?
1. First, determine from the above study the cause of your guilt.
2. Take the appropriate action
a. Reconcile with God.
b. Reconcile with man.
c. Believe God's Word about what God has said about you.
d. Receive God’s forgiveness and pray for His deliverance (Psalms 51:14).
e. Control your thought life.
IV. Fourth, you must forgive.
Forgiveness is essential if you are to receive the healing and spiritual growth you are seeking. Without true forgiveness occurring in your heart, God will resist you and the restoration you seek will be unattainable (James 4:6-8). Unforgiveness will keep you hard inside and distant from God. You must completely forgive if you want to go forward and leave your abuse behind you. Be assured, forgiveness will greatly aid you in closing the door once and for all on this most hurtful evil.
A. Why should you forgive?
1. Unless you forgive, you have no right to ask God to forgive you (Matt. 6:12).
2. Unless you forgive, God won't forgive you (Matt. 6:14,15).
3. Unless you forgive, you are disobeying God's direct command (Mark 11:25). Your conscience will accuse you, and this results in personal torment and a lack of peace within your own heart (Matt. 18:33-35) (Rom. 2:15).
4. Unless you forgive, you will only take your resentment out on someone else. Anger and resentment will not sit neutral in your heart. Notice how the anger that Cain had toward God was expressed toward his brother (Gen. 4:8).
B. Where do you begin when you know you should forgive?
1. First, ask God to open your heart and eyes to see your own sin. Read the parable Jesus taught in Matt. 18:21-35.
2. Next, pray for the willingness to forgive. If God requires you to forgive, He will work in you "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
C. What is forgiveness?
1. Forgiveness is not a feeling, but a choice. You must first understand that forgiveness is granted before it is ever felt. If you wait until you feel like forgiving, you will never do it. The feelings come as a result of forgiveness and reconciliation. Read Luke 17:1-10. Jesus teaches here the imperative nature of repentance and forgiveness. Jesus said that if your brother, "sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying 'I repent,' you shall forgive him." The disciples said this is too hard; we need more faith. Yet, Jesus saw it not as a problem of needing more faith but a problem of obedience and choice. He told them, in essence, you don't need more faith; you only need a little faith, as little as a mustard seed. He then told a story that illustrated this effectively. Notice verses 7 and 8. Here, the servant didn't feel like fixing dinner for his master, but he did what he was commanded. He took this action against his feelings (and the smell of the food) that said to him, you eat first; you're hungry. Now apply this story to forgiveness. You must forgive because you are commanded to. This will be against your feelings, as it was for the slave to prepare the meal. Remember forgiveness is first a choice, then feelings of forgiveness follow.
2. Forgiveness is totally undeserved. You must understand that no one deserves to be forgiven. You don't deserve it, nor will you feel like the one who hurt you deserves it. There is no good work you can do to deserve God's forgiveness. Likewise, the person who offended you can never do enough to deserve your forgiveness. God chose to forgive you totally out of mercy. You also must choose to show mercy and forgive in the same manner that you have been forgiven (Eph. 4:32).
3. Forgiveness is canceling your abusers debt, and thereby giving up the right to punish him. Jesus illustrated this principle in Matthew 18:21-35 when the man in the story couldn't pay the debt owed to his master and was sentenced to debtor's prison to be punished. Yet, when this man requested compassion and patience, the master forgave him. The result was that the man was released from his punishment. The master gave up his right to punish him when he forgave him and canceled the debt (Matt. 18:27). This is what you must do. Choose to cancel the debt. Give up your right to punish your abuser. Release this individual from what he or she owes you, and you'll find release from the hardness of your heart. Remember, your unforgiveness doesn't hurt your abuser at all. It only hurts you!
4. Forgiveness is a promise. To forgive is to make a commitment not to raise the issue again. When God forgives you He makes this promise, "I will not remember your sins" (Isaiah 43:25). The word remember in Hebrew means to mark, mention, or recount. When God forgives you, He promises never to mention your sin ever again. He cancels the debt and erases it from your account. When God forgives it doesn’t mean that He forgets your sins as many teach today. God can’t forget anything because He is omniscient and knows all things. Neither will you be able to erase this offense completely from your mind. Note that God chooses to remember not your sins against you because of His grace and mercy. You must, in the same manner choose to show mercy and forgive. This means that when you forgive you are also promising not to remember the offense against you. The offense is in your memory banks but you choose not to think or dwell upon it. This promise to forgive is threefold:
a. When you forgive you are promising not to talk and gossip about this abuse with others. The only exception is if you are counseling with someone about this abuse for further guidance.
b. When you forgive you are promising not to dwell on this abuse in your mind. Paul said that he chose to forget what was behind in his life. In Phil. 3:13, the Greek word for forget means to neglect or to put out of your mind. Paul chose, rather, to dwell on what was good, honest, and just (Phil 4:8). Doing so will enable you to continue with an attitude of forgiveness. You must choose, moment by moment, to not raise the issue again. When you forgive, this is the promise you make to others and to God. Yet, does this mean that there is no memory of the past when you forgive someone's offense? No. Forgiveness is not a shock treatment that immediately erases memory of the past. Initially, forgiveness is a promise to cancel the debt and not raise the issue again. As a result, over time, refusing to bring up the matter leads to forgetting.
c. When you forgive you are promising to not verbally throw this sin up to the offender in condemnation of this person. This is assuming that you have already confronted the abuser, and he or she has reconciled the offense with you. When any offense is forgiven and reconciled you are required by God to act as He does with your sins (Col. 3:13).
5. Forgiveness must respond correctly to others' lack of repentance. What should you do if you want to reconcile with a brother and the other person refuses to acknowledge any fault? You still must forgive him from your heart (Matt. 18:35). Jesus said, "Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25). This is where forgiveness and reconciliation start: in your heart. Then you take action to seek reconciliation. This is how God acted toward the world. He first purposed in His heart to forgive and reconcile mankind. He then set into action the plan, by sending His Son to pay the price for your sin. At that point, He forgave from His heart. Yet, complete reconciliation does not occur until you come and acknowledge your fault and repent of your sins. The same is true as you deal with others. You must first choose to forgive from the heart. Cancel the debt in obedience to God's command. Seek reconciliation. If they refuse to do the same, complete reconciliation and restoration of the relationship will not occur. Repentance must come first (Luke 17:3). Therefore, if others continue refusing to acknowledge their fault, you must then take the same action as God. He is patient. Hope for a future reconciliation (Ps. 86:5).
V. Now you must seek forgiveness from others you have hurt.
This issue is also essential for your spiritual growth. If you have hurt and offended others because you have held resentment, this is what you must do: seek reconciliation with them. To start the restoration process in your life and theirs you must ask for their forgiveness. Jesus said, "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matt. 5:23-24). Remember, if you refuse to take this action, God will resist you for your pride and disobedience. It won't be easy to take this step, but God will help you (Heb. 4:16).
If you want others to acknowledge their offenses toward you, then you must be willing to do the same. Go to them, confess your fault and ask their forgiveness (James 5:16). Take these steps:
a. Go to the person and ask to speak to him or her alone. Do not try to reconcile with this person when other people are present. Jesus said to do this "alone" (Matt. 18:15).
b. First, acknowledge your specific faults, which would include any sinful attitudes and actions. Don't use vague generalities; be specific. This individual will respect your honesty (James 5:16) (Matt. 7:5).
c. Express your sorrow for your actions and ask for forgiveness (2 Cor. 7:9-10) (Luke 17:3-4).
d. Be ready to listen to this individual regarding any further offenses that you have not acknowledged (James 1:19).
e. If this person has offended you by any of his actions, tell him his faults at this time. Hopefully, after you have confessed your sins and faults, this individual will automatically do the same.
VI. You must learn to control your thought life.
This is another very important aspect to your healing and growth in the Lord. If you don't control your thoughts, you can be drawn right back into your anger and unforgiveness as you think about the abuse. Your own thought life can be your greatest hindrance to finding the complete peace you desire. You must resolve these issues once and for all with God, with others, and in your own heart. Then you must refuse to go back and dwell on this evil anymore in your thought life.
A. How do you control your thoughts and feelings?
1. First, you must understand the connection between your thought life, your feelings, and your behavior.
a. Your feelings are directly associated with your thoughts. If you want to control your feelings you must control your thought life. Notice in Mark 14:72 that when Peter thought about his denial of Jesus, he wept. His feelings were directly controlled by what he was thinking. Also, in Lam. 3:19-23 when Jeremiah thought about his afflictions, his soul sank within him. That means that when he thought about his problems he became depressed and sank into despair. However, when he thought about God's mercies, he became hopeful. Another example is David in Psalm 73:16. When he incorrectly thought that the wicked would escape the judgment of God, it was too painful for him, and he became upset and angry. Yet, when he went into the sanctuary of God (v 17-28), the Lord gave him a new perspective and he found strength (v 26). If you dwell on your past abuse in your thought life, you will become upset and angry too. If you continue to do this, you will become depressed.
b. Your feelings are directly associated with your behavior. If you want to control your feelings you must change your behavior. When your behavior is sinful your conscience will accuse you through your thoughts and then your feelings. In Romans 2:15, Paul says your conscience uses your thoughts to either accuse you or excuse you. Sinful behavior causes accusing thoughts and depressed feelings. Godly behavior, in obedience to God's Word, will cause thoughts that excuse you, making you feel good about your action. Paul says in Phil. 4:8-9, "Do what you see me doing, think on what is just and pure and the God of peace will be with you." With the same idea in mind, Jesus gave a simple formula for being happy. He said, "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" (John 13:17). Jesus taught that happiness comes from doing what you know is right. Therefore, you shouldn't wait until you feel like doing what is right. Rather, do what God commands and you will naturally feel good because your conscience will approve your actions.
2. Next, if you are to gain control over your thoughts and feelings you must make the right choices.
a. Will you choose to line up your behavior, thoughts, and feelings with the Word of God? If your thoughts and feelings are contrary to His Word, then they are wrong. You must reject them (1 Thess. 5:21). This will be a daily choice.
b. Will you choose to forsake sinful behavior and evil thoughts as Scripture commands? "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Is. 55:7) (Phil. 4:9). This is your responsibility. God won't do this for you. It's your choice. What behavior or thoughts must you forsake?
c. Will you choose to ask God to purify your heart before Him, knowing that out of an evil heart proceeds evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19) (Acts 8:21-23)? If your heart attitude is angry, self-righteous, or resentful, you won't have correct thoughts or feelings.
d. Will you choose to ask God to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) (Phil. 4:6-8)? Prayer is your choice. Prayer is the only way to receive the grace and help you need.
e. Will you choose to think and meditate only on what is good, just, pure, virtuous, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8-9)? Note: This will be an extreme battle within you many times. You must fight this battle by faith. In the beginning it may be helpful to make a think list that you can carry with you at all times. When you find your thoughts drifting back to the abuse or anyone related to your abuse, pull out your list and meditate on what is good, and the God of peace will be with you. You can control your thoughts and feelings. God's Word declares it. If you take these steps you will gain control because Phil. 4:9 promises that you will.
VII. Should you confront your abuser?
To answer this question, you must first ask yourself another question. Has your abuser offended and hurt you? Yes, of course. How would you handle any other offense or hurtful action against you? Wouldn't you confront the person with his sin? Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But, if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them tell it to the church" (Matt. 18:15-17).
You may wonder if these verses apply to your circumstances. Yes. If your abuser professes to be a Christian, this is how Jesus said you are to handle all offenses. But you may say, I don't consider my abuser a Christian at all. You may feel he is a total hypocrite. Yet, Jesus even rebuked the Pharisees in scathing attacks for their blindness, injustice, and hypocrisy. Read through Matt. 23:1-36. If Jesus considered his rebuke essential in confronting the evil of the Pharisees shouldn't you consider taking this same action?
Now, you are probably thinking at this moment, "This is easy to tell someone to do, but I could never do this. I am be too afraid to confront them." Yes, I agree this will be extremely difficult to do. You will risk the anger and unrepentance of your abuser. You may also stir up the condemnation of other people because you have taken this action. You will even have to relive the memories of this abuse. You may think to yourself, If this is what I have to go through, why would I ever want to do this?
A. What is the purpose of confronting your abuser?
1. To obey God's Word
a. Isaiah says we are to reprove those who oppress others (Is. 1:17).
b. David declares that God rebukes the proud and the cursed who stray from His commandments (Ps. 119:21).
c. Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3).
2. To expose this evil done in secret
a. Paul says that this is what walking in the light is all about. It means reproving and exposing evil for what it is (Eph. 5:8-14).
b. This person has a very serious problem. If you don't expose it, he or she may abuse someone else. In many cases, he or she has already abused someone else. Your action will help others to gain courage to come forward as well.
3. To bring him to repentance
Paul says this is the purpose of correcting people: "If perhaps God would grant them repentance, so they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Your abuser is a captive of his sin and is deceived by Satan. He must be confronted by the truth in order to come to repentance.
4. To experience personal freedom
By confronting your abuser, you will be set free from trying to bury or hide your anger any more. This is a constructive use of anger. Also, your soul will be purified as you obey the truth (1 Pet. 1:22). The word purified means to make clean or innocent. How liberating this will be for you.
B. How would you actually confront your abuser?
1. First, determine how you will contact him: in person, by phone, or by letter.
2. If you choose to confront him by phone or in person, take a witness with you. Remember true sexual or physical abuse is a crime. Another person should be there as a witness and for prayer support. Also, when or if this is reported to the police, the policeman can also be a witness of all statements made by your abuser.
3. Write out a simple outline of what you will say. Remember the above purposes.
4. Ask God to control your anger. Don't explode or withdraw into a shell if he is unrepentant or dishonest. You know what the truth is and so does God (Luke 16:15).
5. Pray for God's wisdom and get further counsel from your pastor before taking any of these actions. In minor cases of harsh verbal abuse, you may want to simply overlook this transgression (Prov. 19:11). In extreme cases of sexual or physical abuse in which you have been threatened with physical harm, you should involve the police right away. Remember, Paul even appealed to Caesar for justice (Acts 25:11). The civil authorities are also God's ministers to help you (Rom. 13:1-5). Use them when necessary.
VIII. You must be personally growing in the Lord.
Your overall spiritual growth is another important aspect to finding lasting freedom and fruitfulness in Christ. If you don't desire to fall back into old patterns and habits, here is the answer. Notice what Peter says, "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love...if you do these things you will never fall" (2 Peter 1:5-10). Notice that Peter acknowledges that each area in a Christian's life is interrelated with all other areas. If you will add to your faith, or in other words just grow in Christ, you won't fall back into your old ways.
Now, this is the point! You don't want to focus on the abuse of the past. You need to focus on your life today and your growth in Christ. Paul says, "Forgetting those things behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead..." (Phil. 3:13). Focus your attention on overcoming your sins and not dwelling on the sins of your abuser. Give your attention to dealing with your own resentment and unforgiveness by learning to love others with God's love. Turn away from any self-deception or self-pity by focusing on the truth of God's Word that will set you free! How can you do this?
A. Establish a personal plan for reading and studying the Bible in your daily devotions. As you do, His Word will be a light to your path (Ps. 119:105). You will know the truth, and it will set you free (John 8:32).
B. Establish a plan for praying daily. As you call upon Him, He will show you great and mighty things which you have not known (Jer. 33:3).
C. Attend church regularly for teaching, worship, and Christian fellowship. As you do, you will grow in the grace and in the knowledge of your Savior and be knit together with other believers (2 Pet. 3:18) (Col. 2:2).
D. Find a place of service to others in the church or a para-church organization. As you do, the mind and heart of Jesus will be formed in you. You will learn what love and dying to self are all about (Phil. 2:5-11).
E. Learn to share Christ with others. As you share the words of eternal life your heart will be flooded with joy (John 6:68-69).
IX. Allow God to use you in other people's lives who have been abused.
As God sets you free, He will take this evil done to you and turn it around for good (Rom. 8:28). He does this by allowing you the opportunity to share the insight and wisdom He has given you with someone else. Your freedom and victory is a gift of God's grace. Peter says, "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10). Minister to others in their need. This helps you to stop focusing on yourself and enables real spiritual growth.
X. Summary of what to do when you begin to struggle.
A. Go back to where you started with God and acknowledge to Him in prayer that you believe His Word and you believe He loves you! Ask Him to help you focus on what He has done for you.
B. Acknowledge to Him in prayer that you are trusting Him to fulfill His purposes in your life.
C. Let your anger lead you to a constructive action: prayer or ministry to others who have been abused (2 Cor. 1:4).
D. If you have sinned by dwelling in your thought life on the past again, ask God's forgiveness. Take control of your thought life. Go back and read that section again.
E. If you find yourself bitter, resentful, and unforgiving again, go back through the same process of forgiving. Every time you do this, it gets easier to let it go.
F. Pursue personal growth in the Lord through the Word and prayer. As you dwell on His truth, it will set you free (John 8:32).
This study was written by Pastor Steve Carr. If we can be of further assistance please contact us at www.calvaryag.org or (805) 481-2320.