Stop Forgiving Yourself

Stop Forgiving Yourself

I’m sure you’ve heard of the importance of forgiving yourself. It’s a very, very popular concept; it’s also not Biblical at all. Here’s why:

What is forgiveness? Biblically speaking, forgiveness is something the person who has been offended offers the offender. God offers us forgiveness for our sins, we in turn are commanded to forgive those who have sinned against us. The question is, do we need to forgive ourselves?

Well, to answer that question, we have to ask another; are we the offended party? I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and try as I might, can’t come up with any scenario which I am the only person my sin affects. By nature, sin is sin because it negatively impacts others. Sin meets my need or desire at the expense of someone else. There are no victim-less crimes. Even if we could come up with a scenario in which our actions had no impact on others, if it goes against what God teaches then He is the offended party, not us. When we are in a position that needs to ask for forgiveness, we are not asking for it from ourselves but someone else. When we wrong someone, it is from them that we seek forgiveness.

Still not convinced, try breaking it down this way. If I hurt you in some way and walked up to you after saying, “Hey, I know that I hurt you and that was wrong and I’m feeling really badly about that, so I’m working on forgiving myself.” You would look at me like I was crazy and probably think I was being sarcastically rude – definitely not working towards reconciliation. Put that way it is just absurd, and yet that’s exactly what “forgiving myself” sounds like.

No, forgiveness can only come from the offended party. 

Ok, so, what about this… Many times we talk about knowing that God has forgiven us, but then we also feel the need to forgive ourselves. But that is actually saying that we are the offended party along side God. It is in and of itself pride (a sin) and hinders us from experiencing the freedom of forgiveness; the exact opposite of it’s stated intention. It’s insinuating that we are so righteous, and our level of being so advanced, that even when we hurt others it not only offends them, but we offend ourselves in the process. We are above such low level activities. No.

The Bible makes our state of being perfectly clear. We, in our original state are the worst of the worst. Nothing we do stems from any inate goodness within us. The Bible says that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. When we sin against God and in the process someone else, we are acting as true to our base nature as possible. We’re not sinning against our self, not at all. It has nothing to do with our polished sense of justice being offended. Now, we may feel badly about the consequences, but we need to keep this very straight, we are the offender, not the offended, and as such are the ones seeking forgiveness, not offering it.

Does all of this mean we’re simply doomed to a life of shame and hopelessness? Not at all. 

The beauty of sinning, not against our self, but against God is that He has made a way to solve the problem, and it has nothing to do with us. God is holy and perfectly just. Because of these traits it is utterly impossible for Him to allow sin to go unpunished. Think of the murderers, rapists, thieves; we want them to get what’s coming to them, right? The good news is that a Holy God is going to hold them accountable. The less attractive news is that just as He holds them accountable for their sin, we’re held accountable for ours.

But, this Holy and Just God is also perfectly loving and full of mercy. In order to satisfy both His justice and love His Son took on the punishment for our sin. He took the death penalty so that we wouldn’t have to. His sacrifice dealt with every sin that was ever committed and would ever be committed. He took the full force of justice so that there wouldn’t be any left for us.

So what happens when we’re experiencing the negative consequences of our actions? What happens when we realize the extent of our impact on others? What happens when we desire a right relationship with others and a restored relationship with God? If we’re willing to go through the legal means offered to us, forgiveness through the payment of Jesus’ life, then we’re forgiven. Forgiveness is ours for the asking. No begging. No penance. It’s done. Finished. 

But what if we still feel badly? Well, that’s an entirely different story! That’s not about conjuring up MORE forgiveness (aka. forgiving ourselves) but rather accepting the forgiveness that is freely offered to us. Remember, we haven’t sinned against our self, so we can’t forgive our self. We have sinned against God, and He is offering us forgiveness for the taking.

So often we walk around with the fact of being forgiven without ever accepting it – leading to perpetual shame. It’s like we have this constant conversation with God:

Me: God, I’m sorry, will you forgive me?
God: Done! Welcome back into right relationship with me, I’ve missed your company!
Me: No, but really, I’m sorry. I feel really bad.
God: I know, my blood took care of your sin. You’re totally forgiven.
Me: I’m so, so, so sorry God.
God: Yeah, I got that… you’re forgiven.
Me: But really, I just want to know if you forgive me…
God: [sigh]…

We would never have that kind of conversation with anyone else, and yet, it’s the type of talk we have with God all of the time. We don’t need more forgiveness but to learn simply to accepting the forgiveness that’s being offered to us.

Stop beating yourself up! There isn’t a spiritual timeout where we have to sit in the corner and think about what we’ve done, not with God. God’s forgiveness is free, and accessible 24/7, without limit and without exception. The last thing you need to do is forgive yourself. Just accept the forgiveness that’s being offered to you – then go and offer that forgiveness to others. It’s as simple as that.