Have you ever felt like you couldn’t forgive yourself for some of the things you have done? Our culture teaches that we must learn to forgive ourselves before we can move on with our lives. This idea is found in popular magazine articles, promoted by television self-help gurus, and in modern secular psychology. But is it taught in the Bible? Is it possible to actually “forgive yourself”?
Before I go any further, I’d like to say that understanding and embracing this truth has had a profound impact on my own spiritual walk with Jesus Christ. I pray it will touch your heart as well, and draw you closer to our Lord and Savior.
Another common roadblock to fully experiencing God’s forgiveness is thinking:
“I CAN’T FORGIVE MYSELF”
For those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, we should know, and hopefully believe, that He forgives our sin. That is a very foundational teaching of the Bible. But it is easy to fall into the enemy’s trap of thinking that in addition to God’s forgiveness, we also need to forgive ourselves. We just can’t seem to accept God’s forgiveness and “dismiss” our sin. We know that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross paid for our sins, but in a way it doesn’t seem like that is enough. We know we deserve punishment for the wrong we have done, and we may think we shouldn’t be “let off the hook” without suffering personally. On the surface, this kind of thinking can sound humble and almost righteous, but IT IS NOT!
When we claim that we can’t forgive ourselves, we are making our judgment HIGHER than God’s judgment!
It isn’t like God doesn’t know the depths of the evil of our sin. He does. He knows every detail of our sin.
Psalm 139:1-3 O LORD, You have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.
And even though HE KNOWS EVERYTHING about us, HE IS STILL WILLING TO FORGIVE US!
1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
Psalm 103:12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
That is so hard for us to comprehend because most human relationships don’t work that way!
God PROMISES to forgive when we seek Him, confess our sin and sincerely repent. Why would we ever think it is somehow more honorable to hold on to our sin and our guilt when God has forgiven it? Do we REALLY think we are wiser than God? What right do we have to hold on to something God has released? So if we get stuck thinking we can’t forgive ourselves for sin God has forgiven, what we are really doing is expressing unbelief… we don’t truly believe that God’s forgiveness is REAL.
Did you know the Bible NEVER tells us we need to forgive ourselves! Does that surprise you? That concept is NOWHERE in Scripture. And for good reason. When we try to “forgive ourselves”, we are trying to do the impossible. The only one who has the right to forgive is the innocent party who has been wronged. When we sin, we are GUILTY, not innocent. We have no right and no standing to offer forgiveness to ourselves.
Here is a scenario that will make it very clear: Let’s say I deliberately and willfully murder your child. Afterwards, I come up to you and say “it’s ok, I can forgive myself for what I have done.” That is not only meaningless, it would probably be the most offensive thing I could possibly say to you. This example makes it obvious that I have no RIGHT and no AUTHORITY to offer forgiveness to myself. Why? Because I was not the innocent party wronged by my sin.
People impacted by our sin do have the right to offer forgiveness (and if you are a follower of Christ you are commanded to forgive), but there is no guarantee that they will. And even if others DO forgive our actions, they do not have the authority to forgive our SIN! When we sin, our rebellion is ultimately against God. He is the true innocent One who has been wronged, and He is the ONLY One who has the right, the authority, and the ability to forgive SIN.
And amazingly, His Word promises He WILL forgive us when we confess, repent and seek Him honestly. Forgiveness of sin is God’s right and God’s choice, not ours. We must simply believe Him, take Him at His word, receive His forgiveness, and learn to rest in it. That means we stop holding on to our past sins, and we refuse to revisit them in our minds (which only serves to glorify our sin!). We allow His truth to wash over us, cleanse us, and cover us with His peace. We allow Him to bear the burden of our guilt and shame.
Psalm 32:1-7 Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night Your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to You and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And You forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Therefore, let all the godly pray to You while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.
True forgiveness from the Lord is much more powerful than any false forgiveness we may offer ourselves. What we need to learn how to do is RECEIVE the forgiveness God offers through Jesus Christ.
And finally – one last point that is critical to understand on the idea of “forgiving yourself”. If it was possible for us to forgive ourselves, we would have NO NEED FOR A SAVIOR!!! Jesus’ death on the cross would have been for nothing! PRAISE GOD for His amazing forgiveness that He offers as a GIFT!
Be sure to read the last segment of this study series for a practical tip on dealing with past confessed sin that keeps coming back to mind.