If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by guilt, you’ve probably heard someone say, “God has forgiven you, but now you need to learn to forgive yourself.” In fact, you may have even tried to comfort someone else by telling them, “You’ve got to learn to forgive yourself.” This may come as a shock, but while this advice sounds good, it is not biblical to encourage people to forgive themselves.
The Problem with Self-Forgiveness
When you sin, you don’t sin against yourself. You sin against God. You haven’t disobeyed your law. You’ve disobeyed His. When David sinned with Bathsheba, he prayed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” You didn’t sin against yourself, so you are not really in a position to offer yourself forgiveness.
Furthermore, when you tell yourself, “I have to learn to forgive myself,” then you start formulating reasons why you should let yourself off the hook. “Well,” you think to yourself, “I guess it really wasn’t that bad. Lots of people have done worse things than that.” In order to forgive yourself, you minimize the offense in your mind. It’s the only way you know to deal with the burden.
But you’re lying to yourself. And you know that, don’t you? You know that you truly are guilty. But wait…there is good news!
The Good News is, if you are in Christ, then you are “justified.” You are no longer guilty. You have been pardoned. Your record has been expunged. By His blood, Jesus has made atonement for your sins (see Romans 3:23-25).
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we can just keep on sinning (Romans 6); but it does mean that if we are faithful to Jesus, then we are innocent before God. John wrote:
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (John 2:1-2, NIV).
When – in an effort to forgive ourselves – we minimize our offense in our own minds, we also minimize the gospel. If we successfully convince ourselves that our sin is “no big deal,” then the blood of Jesus is also “no big deal.” But our sin is a VERY big deal. So when we hear that the blood of Jesus “cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), we ought to be absolutely overwhelmed with joy.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:7).
The word, “blessed” means content, satisfied, fortunate, happy. That’s what we should be if we are in Christ. When we think of the sins that have been forgiven because of Christ, we ought to sing with joy!
How Can You Know You’re Forgiven?
“But I did a really horrible thing,” you might be thinking, “how could God ever forgive me of that?”
That’s not how atonement works! Your forgiveness does not depend on the magnitude of your sin, but on the magnitude of His sacrifice. The gospel is not, “If your sin is small enough, God will probably forgive you.” The gospel is, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Everyone keeps telling you that you need to learn to forgive yourself; but the truth is, you just need to learn to trust God. If God says you are forgiven, then you are forgiven.
“But I don’t feel forgiven,” you might say. The forgiveness God offers is experienced through faith. Which means, it is experienced by taking God at His word – trusting Him – that when you go down into the water of baptism, you really are being united with Christ (Romans 6:1-8). And from that moment on, as you walk in the light, Jesus’ blood really is continuing to cleanse you from all sin (1 John 1:7).
In what do you put more confidence, the magnitude of your sin or the magnitude of His sacrifice?
The Bottom Line
If you are in Christ, then you are forgiven. You don’t need to forgive yourself, you just need to believe the gospel. You will feel forgiven when you learn to truly take God at His word.
I love you and God love you,