When you sin and experience guilt, are you supposed to forgive yourself?
Recently I taught a short series on Jesus and forgiveness to our Bible Study group. Along the way I compiled a list of some questions about forgiveness that arose from that study and from things I have read in other places. This issue of forgiving yourself is front and center on the whole topic of forgiveness.
You might have heard it put something like this, “You can’t begin to forgive others until you first forgive yourself.” One internet article title begins, “How I finally forgave myself.”
But the Christian must ask whether this is part of Christianity or is it really some other religion. Since the Christian faith is provided for us in the pages of your Bible, let’s begin there. Can you recall the Bible teaching this or anything close to it? I’ll let the words of an article teaching that we forgive ourselves by a so called Christian leader answer that.
Forgiving yourself is not specifically addressed in the Bible.
I’ll add that it is not even unspecifically addressed in the Bible.
The One Who Is Able to Forgive
What does the Bible teach about our need for forgiveness since it is silent about our need to forgive ourselves? Remember that Jesus did not dispute the statement from the scribes who said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone (Mark 2:7)?” That truth points in the right direction.
In David’s prayer of confession he prayed to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned (Psalm 51:4).” We might say that David had sinned against a multitude of people. But sin was chiefly an affront to God. Even the prodigal son confessed to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you (Luke 15:18).” His sin of squandering his father’s wealth was before his father. But it was sin against heaven (God).
We deal with guilt not by forgiving ourselves. Guilt is remedied when we find forgiveness from the Holy One himself. One modern writer wrote that “forgiving yourself is essential.” Really? Then David and the Prodigal both missed that which is essential.
Another writer wrote that the failure to forgive yourself is a form of pride. No! It is pride to think that you are the essential one offended by your sin. Pride is elevating self to the place where God dwells.
The False Religion of Self
That elevation of self gets us to the point where we can identify what religion it is that teaches the need to forgive self. As previously indicated, this teaching is not Christian since it is not biblical. So what religion is this? It is the religion of self or selfism. Like the first sin of Lucifer, man repeatedly tries to ascend to the place of the Most High God.
This religion of self is described in detail by Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans. Paul sums up this religion with these words, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).” In this thriving religion of today, man enthrones himself where God should be. He rejects the revelation of God for his own futile thinking. He has to forgive himself because he is the master of his domain.
Finding Real Forgiveness
When you sin do not turn to yourself and apologize. Instead “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)!” Look to the Christ who lived without sin and died for sin. By faith trust that God will credit Jesus’ unblemished life to your account and see your sins penalized on the cross.
This is the only remedy for sin and the guilt which ensues from sin.