Judge: “Young Man, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Young Man: “Sir, I am happy to say I believe this case is resolved.”
Judge: “That is wonderful news. The facts of the case are you stole a car. You took said car for a joyride through the city. Then, you crashed said car through the front windows of a Starbucks gravely injuring four people. How has your case been resolved?”
Young Man: “I am guilty of all those crimes. I even drove through Old Mrs. Maple’s fence and busted it all before I sped through town, but Your Honor, I have resolved this case by choosing to forgive myself.”
The concept of “forgiving yourself” is an impossible, narcissistic, burden spawning from a purely self-centered worldview. The act of self-forgiveness is found nowhere in the Bible and stems from modern psychology. The idea is ludicrous and does far more harm than good.
Here is another example to consider as we unpack this concept even further. Imagine you owe $250,000 on your mortgage, and you have stopped making payments. Eventually, you will have to either pay or face a dreaded foreclosure. You may stand before a judge and tell him not to worry because you have forgiven yourself of the mortgage indebtedness, but it is highly likely the judge will think you’ve lost your mind. The consequence of foreclosure will take its course whether you forgive yourself or not. Justice will be served.
Imagine a murderer standing before a judge admitting his guilt and proudly announcing how he has forgiven himself expecting the Judge to dismiss his case. Clearly these examples are not realistic. However, let’s take this concept a bit further.
Often, when we do something wrong, whether it is an accident, an act of rebellion, or a blatant sin, we are plagued with guilt and unsure how to process the shame. We relive the situation over and over in our heads desperately wishing we could do things differently.
The truth is you can only receive forgiveness through confession by faith. Wise King Solomon said, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy (Proverbs 28:13).” Through faith in Christ, you can be forgiven. Through his work on the cross, you can move forward knowing your relationship with God has been restored. You cannot grant yourself forgiveness, for if you could, there would be no need for Christ! The cross of Jesus would be emptied of its power, and He would have died in vain.
Christine sighed as she drank her morning cup of coffee. She was not at all looking forward to her day - or the week for that matter. Being across the table from her husband while their attorneys discussed how to split up their lives seemed so final, so hard, and she just didn’t want to face it.
Her friends kept telling her how glad she would be to have it all behind her, but truthfully, she didn’t believe it to be true. Closure meant nothing to her; in fact, closure seemed impossible.
Across town, Dave was also drinking his morning coffee and dreading his day. The guilt was almost unbearable as he thought of the decisions he’d made. He reflected to when they were dating. Christine was the woman of his dreams. On their wedding day, he could not believe he could ever love another human so much. He looked forward to buying a house together, having many children, and growing old together.
Their relationship started breaking down when they discovered she would never be able to bear children. Coming from a large family, this was a hard reality for Dave. Although he didn’t quite understand at the time, he allowed himself to get bitter with Christine. The bitterness grew until they were unable to talk or even be in the same room together without arguing.
Now, facing divorce, Dave realized how wrong he was to ever blame Christine for her inability to have children. He realized he had not trusted God with his family, and he knew he hurt Christine beyond anything he ever intended.
He had no idea how to turn back. He did not know what to do. He just knew he needed to confess it all to Christine and ask her to forgive him, but first, he must have a talk with Jesus.
Dave ruined his marriage by allowing bitterness to take root in his heart. He’s at an important crossroads, but finally, he knows how to start putting things right, and he knows God’s will. Seek forgiveness.
The Apostle Paul said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” We know there is no perfect human. Everyone sins. Everyone messes up. That is where Jesus comes in. Jesus didn’t just die for a few. He died for everyone because all sinned!
Receiving forgiveness from Jesus is just the start. We are commanded to love God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:39-40). Seeking peace and reconciliation with each other is a high priority to God (Romans 12:8, and many others). If we try to settle matters only with God, our minds typically continue to plague and torture us. This too is a gift from the Holy Spirit, called conviction.
After Dave prayed, he felt so much better on one hand, but on the other, he realized even more deeply the pain he had caused Christine. Though it was hard, it was cathartic and a bit therapeutic to start feeling hopeful again. His intense focus on the bitterness and anger kept him from feeling he could ever love again, but those feelings were easing after his confession to God.
He decided to call Christine, and ask to see her privately, without the lawyers. After a long pause she agreed, thinking she would just leave if things got ugly. When they met, he shared everything with her. His bitterness over her health issues. His anger at her ability to accept whatever curveballs God threw at them, and he told her about his deep disappointment over not being able to have children. He was so upset at how she seemed to be at peace, but he took it as if she really didn’t care. He was so confused at how she was able to find joy. At the root of it, he was positive that he was not enough.
Dave asked if they could pray together, and Christine agreed. After they prayed, Christine suggested they get together to talk again before meeting with the attorneys. Dave gladly agreed.
Later that evening, as she reflected on their meeting, Christine found herself crying. She was amazed at her husband’s change of heart. Some of the things he said were very painful, but she was glad to have everything out in the open.
Something he said kept tugging at her heart and mind. He said he felt better and wanted to continue his life with her, but he kept saying he had no idea how to forgive himself for the pain he had caused her. She reminded him she had forgiven him, and she knew he was forgiven by Jesus. However, it didn’t seem to quiet his heart and put him at peace.
Dave sat by his fireplace pondering the same things. He understood the work done on the cross. He believed Jesus had forgiven him. He knew his relationship with God was restored. He knew he put off the old thinking and put on new thinking. He no longer blamed Christine or harbored any bitterness toward her. He was even looking forward to the possibility of courting her again and renewing their relationship! He had great faith God would restore what he tore apart.
But that was not what scared him. That was not what he was holding on to so tightly. He understood the amazing grace he received, but he was not sure how he was ever going to forgive himself. The look on Christine’s face when he shared how he had been feeling was penetrating. The bravery in her eyes as she said she would forgive him was overwhelming and quite refreshing. But how could he have caused her so much unnecessary pain? How could he ever get past it and forgive himself?
Dave bowed his head and prayed, asking for wisdom on how to proceed. Then, he started searching Scripture. In the book of John, he found the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery who was brought before Jesus by the Pharisees.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:3-1)
From this story, Dave realized Jesus had just one command for this woman. He told her to go and leave her life of sin. It is also translated, “Go and sin no more.” This did not mean he was asking her to live a perfect life and never sin again. It did, however, mean he was asking her to repent and turn away from the sin for which she was guilty - adultery. He was directing her to turn her life around by turning completely away from her old lifestyle and making a new life in Jesus.
Upon further research, there seemed to be more. Dave needed to stop focusing on himself, and the way it felt to have been so hurtful. He needed to turn his focus from self-ward to up-ward and out-ward.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
Dave remembered hearing a sermon about the “put-offs and put-ons.”
Put off lying, put on truth. Put off anger, put on peace. Put off stealing, work with your hands for good. Put off unwholesome speech, put on only words that are helpful and build others up. Put off bitterness, put on kindness. Put off rage and anger, put on compassion. Put off brawling and slander, put on forgiveness.
It was starting to become clear. He needed to turn his regret to love. Forgiveness was granted to him. To move forward was going to require action on his part-- love. If he wanted to move past the bitterness, he was going to have to put on compassion, kindness, and grace.
In our story, Dave clearly struggled with the age-old dilemma of committing a sin and then trying to figure out how to live with the realities of the intense hurt and pain he caused. Haven’t we all been there?
The first step was for Dave to fully understand the amazing and complete work of Christ’s cross. Below is a commentary from our website that clearly explains the gospel. This is a first principle. Don’t skip it!
Once Dave understood the work of Jesus on the cross, he realized it was enough. In Starting Point Andy Stanley says, “You don’t have to forgive yourself; yourself has already been forgiven.”
You may be thinking what if someone wants to forgive themselves? Why not allow it? The answer is quite simple. It’s impossible. It’s not even reasonable. It can’t be done any more than someone forgiving themselves of murder, a mortgage obligation, or stealing a car and causing property damage and potential casualities. God designed it this way because self-forgiveness negates His cross.
Next, Dave needed to repent of his sin. This entails turning away, changing his mind, and living to sin no more in this area. As stated earlier, it does not mean he’s going to live a perfect life. If he fails, he runs back to the cross. It does mean he lives a lifestyle designed to make the changes necessary to avoid sin.
If a thief asks for forgiveness, but does not repent, he still has the heart of a thief. If he asks for forgiveness and repents (turns away from stealing), God will create a new person inside.
Finally, David changed his focus from feeling sorry for himself and began using his words to love and build others up. This way he would no longer wallow in his own inadequacies but start living and sharing the life-changing gospel of Jesus.
Self-forgiveness cheapens the work of the cross and makes it unnecessary. When Jesus forgives your sin, He purifies you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).