If we don’t learn to deal with our guilt, we will become its prisoners. Dr. Paul Brand once told a story about a medical school administrator, Mr. Barwick, who had a serious and painful circulation problem in his leg.  As much as Mr. Barwick hated the pain, he refused to allow the recommended amputation. The pain grew worse, and he became bitter towards the leg. Finally, he gave up and told the doctor to remove it. Surgery was immediately scheduled. Before the operation, however, Barwick asked the doctor, “What do you do with legs after they’re removed?”

“We may take a biopsy or explore them a bit, but afterwards we incinerate them,” the doctor replied.

“I would like you to preserve my leg in a pickling jar. I will install it on my mantle shelf. Then, as I sit in my armchair, I will taunt that leg, ‘Hah! You can’t hurt me anymore!’”

Ultimately, Mr. Barwick got his wish, but he suffered phantom limb pain of the worst degree. After the wound healed, he could still feel the intense pain from his bad leg. The pain had left a permanent mark on his brain.

Dr. Brand tied Mr. Barwick’s experience with that of many Christians who struggle with false guilt. He said, “Christians can be obsessed by the memory of some sin committed years ago. It never leaves them, crippling their ministry, their devotional life, their relationships with others. They live in fear that someone will discover their past. They work overtime trying to prove to God they’re repentant. They erect barriers against the enveloping, loving grace of God.”

When we confess our sins to God, He forgives us. In fact, He forgives us even before we confess. This means we don’t have to live in regret over the sins in our past. We can take the leg off the mantle and move forward.

Is there a sin in your past which is holding you back? Confess it to God, and take it off the mantle. You are forgiven.

Devotional by Dr. James A. Scudder