Welcome! This month’s view takes a look at a deceptive teaching which promotes forgiving ourselves, which has crept into the church from secular counseling. Christians say they believe God has forgiven them, yet they struggle with forgiving themselves. This has become their main focus and creates a problem in Biblical counseling.
Forgiving myself has always been an impossibility for me. Those looking for answers often ask me how I forgive myself after committing such a horrible crime. In my pride, I would like to say, “I have forgiven myself,” but that would be a lie. This is a part of my “good fight of faith.” 1
The truth is that our sin is greater than our ability to forgive. Only faith in God’s grace and forgiveness, provided 2,000 years ago at the cross, is sufficient. Our forgiveness is never enough to provide the peace we seek.
God knew that we would never be able to forgive ourselves in our struggle with guilt and shame. This is the reason He provided forgiveness through “…the Lamb [Jesus Christ] slain from the foundation of the world.” 2 He knew for us to experience forgiveness, that He would have to provide a sacrifice in our place for sin. Because of God’s mercy, Jesus Christ took upon Himself the penalty for our sin, so that we could be forgiven and God’s justice satisfied. “For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” 3
The Necessity of Faith
The problem with trying to forgive ourselves is similar to the problem the Apostle Paul was having with the Galatians in the New Covenant church. Deceivers had come among them saying that believers must follow the Law of Moses and even be circumcised according to Abraham in order to complete their salvation. Paul encouraged them, saying:
“I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to Himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.” 4
Again, the Apostle Paul boldly says:
“Oh foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the Law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you trying to become perfect in your own human efforts? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in van, was it?
I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles [forgiveness, righteousness, healing, etc.] among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believed the message you heard about Jesus Christ.
In the same way, Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith. The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.” 5
Many of us have been frustrated, even to the point of giving up, by our failed efforts to “forgive ourselves.” He didn’t save us and then give us a “Do-It-Yourself” manual with seven easy steps to forgive ourselves. Instead, He gave us the way of forgiveness and righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
One who feels the need to forgive themselves actually needs to die to self and recognize they are dead to self and alive in Christ.
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 6
Righteousness by Faith…
Our focus is to be solely on Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Forgiving ourselves takes our eyes off Jesus and places them upon ourselves. Paul says, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” 7
Paul wrote the Corinthians, saying:
“God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” 8
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” 9
Maybe your thorn in the flesh is found in your belief in your ability to forgive yourself? Paul had a thorn in the flesh, saying:
“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 10
Faith Brings Peace and Joy…
God gives us faith to trust in His grace. Grace is God’s ability working in us, making us able to do what we cannot do in our own ability.
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” 11
I believe when you say, “I have forgiven myself,” you mean that you have peace with God. Again, Paul says:
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” 12
Lastly, those of you still struggling with forgiveness, the Apostle Paul gives you these words of encouragement, saying:
“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” 13
A Prayer For You...
Instead of asking God to help you forgive yourself, pray for the spirit of wisdom and understanding, saying:
Father, I thank you for the spirit of wisdom and understanding that enables me to grow in my knowledge of You. I pray that my heart will be flooded with light so that I can understand the wonderful future you have promised to me. Help me to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance You have given to me. I pray that I will begin to understand the incredible greatness of Your power in me as a believer in Christ. I know this is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at Your right hand in the heavenly realm. Help me to realize that I am seated with Christ in heavenly realms all because we are one with Christ Jesus, my Lord and Righteousness! Amen! 14
1 1 Timothy 6:12
2 Revelation 13:18 KJV
3 Hebrews 9:22b
4 Galatians 1:6,7
5 Galatians 3:1-9
6 Galatians 2:20
7 Galatians 2:21
8 1 Corinthians 1:30,31
9 2 Corinthians 5:21
10 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
11 Ephesians 2:8,9
12 Romans 5:1,2
13 Philippians 4:4-7
14 Ephesians 1:16b-20
Acknowledgement: A special thanks to Evan for transcribing this months view!