We all sin, every single one of us. We have all been separated from God because of our sins. Relationship with God has been severed because of our desire to control our own lives and make our own decisions. No matter how hard we try, we still sin.
But even though we sin, our core identity is not (or should not) be that of a sinner. We are forgiven. We have been set free. God, through Christ, has erased the stains of our sins and made us white as snow. We can stand before God confident, not because of our own abilities, but because of the promises made that if we come seeking forgiveness, God will forgive. Not only will God forgive, but God will also forget our transgressions and hold them against us no more. We are forgiven. We are new creations.
The problem we often struggle with is not finding forgiveness from God, its learning how to forgive ourselves. We hold on to our sins, reminding ourselves of our past mistakes; refusing to forgive ourselves. Our sins become a burden around our neck, weighing us down, keeping us from positively moving forward. While it can be helpful to use past mistakes as a reminder to fight temptation in the future, we sometimes use our past mistakes as proof that we are second-rate. At some point we must learn to accept the forgiveness that has already been granted.
Ancient Israel had a way to help with this struggle built into an annual experience, the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement* was a day for Israel to atone for all of the sins in the community over the past year. It was in some ways a day of cleansing of the camp, allowing Holy God to remain in the midst of the people. While many sins were atoned for on a daily basis through individual sacrifices at the tabernacle, the Day of Atonement provided a way for the entire community to be cleansed before God. It was the one day out of the year when the High Priest was able to enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood before the ark of the covenant making atonement for himself, his house, and the entire community. After entering the Holy of Holies, the High Priest would come out and take a live goat, lay his hands on it, and confess over it all of the sins of the entire community, every transgression. He would send the goat out of the camp and release the it into the wilderness as a visual reminder that the people’s sins were leaving the camp, never to return. In this way, Israel was able to “let go” of their sins, literally watching them leave the community forever.
While releasing a goat into the wilderness may not be the most humane thing for us to do today, perhaps we need some way to physically release our sins so that they no longer control our lives. We need a way to unburden ourselves. We need a way to remove the sin from our lives so that we can experience the forgiving grace of God. There are many different ways to accomplish this act. Finding a trusted friend that you can confess your sins to and see God’s love through them is a great way to start. Secrecy is often one of Satan’s greatest tools. Another means might be to write down your sins in a journal and then throw the paper away or destroy it somehow as a reminder that your sins are gone. If the Old Testament image of the scapegoat resonates with you, you could find a stuffed animal and while holding it confess your sins over it and then figuratively release the animal into the wilderness. You may want to even spend some time in prayer first, asking God to reveal those areas of your life to you in which you haven’t forgiven yourself so that you know what needs to be released.
The truth is, God has already forgiven us, we just need to find a way to forgive ourselves. By continuing to dwell on past mistakes we allow sin to continue to control our lives. Sin does not deserve that type of power, not when Christ died for our forgiveness. It’s time to let go of sin, sending it off into the wilderness to be seen no more. Then, we can turn and devote ourselves completely to the One who has forgiven us and granted us new life.
* Details of the day can be found in Leviticus 16