How to Forgive Yourself

Working on it

In a discussion the other night, a dear friend said something to this effect: “I know God forgives me, but I’m working on forgiving myself.” It seems like an innocent enough idea, until you start to reflect on it.

The idea of “forgiving yourself” is strangely absent from Scripture. Similar to the idea of “loving yourself” – “Even Jesus said we should love our neighbor AS OURSELVES!” – it is just not what Scripture is putting forward. Jesus does not teach that we should attempt or work on loving ourselves, instead He assumes up front that we already DO love ourselves. But the idea of forgiving yourself is not even hinted at. Why is that?

Wait Officer! I forgive Myself!

I think first that it is nonsense. If I go and burglarize a house, and I get caught by the police in the act, is it going to work if I say, “wait officer! I forgive myself! Let me go!” Of course not! It is a bit self-serving to say “I forgive myself.” I think one of the reasons we have trouble forgiving ourselves is because in our conscience we realize that it isn’t our place to do so. We don’t have the authority to recuse ourselves from our sins. It’s nonsense.

What we’re really looking for is an impossible absolution. We need an absolution that contradicts justice. But our conscience isn’t going to let us get away with that. Our conscience demands justice, but we need a way out from justice. As Paul said, “We know that the justice of God falls upon those who practice such things” (Romans 2:1). So we’re screwed. We need forgiveness, but our conscience won’t let us get away with it. And we know our conscience is right.

Nothing Can Save Us That is Possible

This is why justification is called “salvation.” There really is no way out. You can’t forgive yourself – it’s not yours to do. And no one else is really going to forgive you if they know the full truth. They really shouldn’t. They will play all kinds of little justification games – giving you excuses for your sin, like you had a bad childhood or you were provoked or it was your hormones. But the truth is, that isn’t forgiveness. It is a way to say that somehow you never sinned. But your conscience won’t let you believe that. Your heart knows the truth. You are GUILTY. These games won’t solve it. You don’t really have the resources or the knowledge to forgive yourself, and no one else has the resources to truly forgive you either.

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

W. H. Auden

#MeToo

Look at all these #metoo people. They have done such horrible things. There is really nothing they can say that will be acceptable. They have ruined people for their own pleasure and lust. Nothing is acceptable except to live the rest of their lives in ruins. And that is not bad enough. There have been so many “think-pieces” trying to identify what they should really do, and it is obvious that if they did do those things, it still wouldn’t be enough. If they did the exact things that those writers demand, the same writers would still condemn them. They can never win and no one wants them to ever win. Their plight is our plight, one way or another. The only real justice is to die under the perfect stamp of judgment. Only blood atones.

7 No man can by any means redeem [his] brother Or give to God a ransom for him– 8 For the redemption of his soul is costly, And he should cease [trying] forever– 9 That he should live on eternally, That he should not undergo decay. – Psa 49:7-9 NASB

Your Pitiful Repentance

Your pitiful and incomplete and selfish “repentance” is not going to save you. You are sorry for all the wrong things, and you aren’t sorry enough about those. And if you were sorry enough it wouldn’t matter. Being sorry enough won’t save you. If you murdered someone, repenting of murder isn’t going to absolve you. Being sorry enough isn’t going to redeem you. It’s all still works salvation and it’s all desperately insufficient. All sin is like this. It is not in your power to forgive yourself, and it is not in anyone else’s power to forgive you either. The only repentance that is going to matter is for you to repent of your idiot ideas about repentance. The only repentance that matters is a repentance of a lack of faith that Jesus is really able to save.

Your Only Chance

1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God [did:] sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and [as an offering] for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Rom 8:1-4 NASB

There is only once chance for you. The angels have announced good news of great joy! A savior has been born to us, Christ the Lord! Faith alone. Grace alone. God has established your forgiveness in Christ – it is not up to you. It is up to Him, and He has done it forever and ever and ever. Amazingly, it turns out that God is kind and good. He wants to save us even though He ought not. He is miraculously bigger than everything you’ve done wrong and everything you ever will do wrong. In Christ we are no longer under the law. We are under grace. And this is unspeakably wonderful and profound. Rejoice!

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One Comment

  1. Struggled with this a lot myself, came across a book by RT Kendall called “How to Forgive Ourselves Totally”. He covers this topic pretty extensively, and despite the clever language, its not about excusing ourselves from a crime we have committed – but the acceptance of Gods forgiveness for that crime.

    It is very difficult because our law-based fleshy brain struggles with the concept of forgiveness for others or ourselves. Its why when we really come to see the death brought by our sins, we immediately run to the cover of the blood of Christ.

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