This is a popular message. So let’s think it through together, shall we?
As an experiment I went on YouTube and typed in ‘forgive yourself’, and what I found was video after video of motivational speakers, Christian leaders and new age writers explaining how important it is that we forgive ourselves of our mistakes and sins.
It seems there is a consensus that the need to forgive myself is very real. And this all stems from our own deep regret and shame over past mistakes. So the instinct seems legit. Right?
Lets first ask the question, is it biblical?
Scripture has lots to say about forgiveness, but none of it pertains to ourselves forgiving ourselves. The bible’s main focus is on our willingness to forgive others, ask to be forgiven by others and most importantly our need for forgiveness from Christ the Lord. There is not one piece of Scripture alluding to or blatantly teaching us to forgive ourselves. When we sin we sin against God. And the reason it is so offensive is because He is God. He is Holy. So we must seek forgiveness from Him. And if our sin is directed at another person, we are told in Scripture to also seek forgiveness from that person.
These are the only teachings on forgiveness found in Scripture.
Which is pretty important when discussing this topic.
I have heard pastors stress the importance of this unbiblical teaching by saying that when we don’t forgive ourselves we put ourselves in the place of God. These pastors say that being unforgiving of ourselves minimizes Christ’s work on the Cross.
However the very need to be forgiven by myself, I believe, is what minimizes the Cross. The very belief that I myself hold the power of true forgiveness of myself, knocks God off His rightful place of being the ultimate forgiver.
You see if we are struggling terribly with grief over our sin and our regret is weighing us down into the depth of darkness, we make more unnecessary rules for ourselves when tack ‘forgive yourself’ to the antidote to freedom. God never asked us to do that. He only requires that we come to Him. He is the living water we find our purification and freedom in.
When Jesus encountered the Samaritan women at the well, He knew her current and past sins. It even seems that she was living in shame for her own actions given the time of day she was gathering water; at the peak heat of the day. Most likely trying to avoid others because of her own guilt. But Jesus offers her what is most important…Himself.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The Samaritan women left that conversation having spoken to God Himself and although He knew her every depraved deed, He offered her hope and forgiveness…and never required her to also forgive herself (John 4).
Some of you might think this is an issue that isn’t all that harmless, so why poke at it.
However I actually think any practice that is held up as necessary for freedom, that is unscriptural, dances too close to being pharisaical. This is what the Pharisees did. They added man-made hoops to jump through in order to experience God’s goodness. And believe me, there is a Pharisee in all of us.
It began in the garden. Eve found herself like a Pharisee when chatting with the serpent she added a law that her and Adam weren’t allowed to even touch the tree of Knowledge (Genesis 3:1-3). This was never commanded by God and yet there she was…adding a hoop. One that ultimately never protected her, as she disobeyed anyways.
Modern secular phycology tells us we hold the key to our own fulfillment. It tells us that happiness is found within ourselves. And it was there that the notion of forgiving ourselves began.
But this philosophy is the polar opposite of what the Bible teaches. Christianity tell us that we are deeply sinful. Our inner being is not a place to find happiness and peace. This is where we find dark sickness. We are in need of a Saviour. And that’s what Jesus is. He came here to die our death and victoriously conquer that death so that we can search no more within our own sick heart for satisfaction. We can now find it in Him.
He holds the key to our joy, redemption, purification and forgiveness. He alone hands out peace for our inner being.
Because of His actions we are forgiven. And that is all we need.
As the great hymn, Before The Throne Of God Above, says…
When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
We don’t have to live in shame, and when we do, we must look up. We must preach to ourselves the good news of the gospel. He made an end of all my sin! He did it! And there is nothing I can do for myself to add to that.
So I implore you to go be free! Rest in the redemption of Christ crucified and risen. What He has done for you is enough. Leave your need to forgive yourself at the empty well and go find living waters in the forgiveness of the Lord!
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9