The past few months I’ve heard several people speak about the need to forgive themselves. On the internet, I found the subject’s very popular. Even WebMD, and Psychology Today weigh in.
Sometimes Christians pick up a phrase or concept and assume its validity without going to God’s word first. I found a stunning absence on the experts’ part to acknowledge God has something to say about forgiveness and understanding the ‘self.’ Below are three truths that shape the Christian’s understanding.
First, per God’s word, forgiveness is the decision on the part of one who has been wronged to not hold the offender accountable. Forgiveness has to do with a law or standard being broken and the wronged party deciding to not hold the guilty party responsible – “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity – Ps. 32.
Second, we are guilty before God. The wrongs we commit are ultimately against Him. When David was confronted about his adultery and murder, he said simply, “I have sinned against the LORD” (II Sam 12:13). He also wrote, “Against You and You only have I sinned (Ps. 51:4). When Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph, he exclaimed, “how could I do this great evil and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9). Scripture warns us that it is God with whom we have to do, meaning, He finally is our judge (Heb. 4:13).
I cannot find in the Bible one single statement or theme that would support sinners forgiving themselves. We are to seek forgiveness from God for our sins (I John 1:9; Ps. 32:5). We are to seek forgiveness from people we’ve wronged (Mt 5:23,24). We are to forgive those who wrong us (Eph. 4:32). But not a whiff of forgiving ourselves.
Third, the believer is commanded to shape and guide his entire being according to what God has revealed in the Bible. Who God says He is, who God says we are, who Christ is and what He has done on our behalf define us, not what man says. We are commanded to “Set your mind on things above – where Christ is” (Col. 3:1-11). Not one professional I read, referred their readers to Christ. O, believer, stay away from the ‘experts’ who ignore Christ! They’re teaching you to deny the Master who bought you.
Here are three truths that shape those identifying with Christ:
First, the whole enchilada that’s you is guilty. Sin that defies God comes from our self – it comes from our desires, our thoughts, our will, our actions (Mark 7:20-23; James 4:1). No part of the one adulterating their marriage is not involved. His, mind, his will, his affections, his body – everything about him has entered into sin. No cashier stealing $50 does so with any of his ‘self’ unaware of what he’s doing. That’s the real and only you sinning and the whole of you is involved.
Second, the real you is all you have. Which part of you is going to forgive the other part of you? God says there’s nothing good within us – that is our own flesh — our natural sinful self (Romans 7:18; Eph. 2:1-3; Romans 3:10-18). Further, there’s nothing about you that has the capacity, not to mention the authority, to forgive yourself. Would you want the one who violated your wife serving as his own judge and jury? We do not wrong ourselves, we defy a holy God! Forgiveness can only come from the offended party and that’s not you.
Third, you, yourself and I are not the Gospel. There is one person who can address your guilt and shame. That person is Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross. The only way an infinitely holy God can forgive any sinner is if Himself provides a substitute sacrifice that totally meets and satisfies His perfect standards and demands. God did that by delivering up His own Son and pouring out His wrath on Him in the place of sinners. The answer to our guilt and shame is not in us; it’s in the cross of Jesus Christ!
Two more comments about our sin: First, God does not promise He will erase all recollection of past sins from our memories; so, there is potential for memories to cause us anguish (See Ezek. 36:22-32; Rom. 8:1). At the end of his life the Apostle Paul still had a strong awareness of his sins he had committed against Christ’s people prior to his conversion (I Tim. 1:12-15). Our peace of mind does not come from lack or memory; it comes from the Gospel – Jesus paid it all.
Second, we will have sinful inclinations that will plague us until we die (Heb. 12:1; Rom. 8:12-17; Gal. 5:17; I John 1:9-2:2). But the Christian does not look within, or to the gurus of our day to address their memories, inclinations, and failures. The believer turns to Christ.
So, beloved, when the memories or thoughts of previous sins, or the present awareness of our imperfect lives, weigh on us, flee to Christ. Go to what God says: In CHRIST, we have forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7).