Forgiving One's Self!
It May Not Be A Big Deal, But...
by Jerry D. Locke, Pastor
Lake Worth Baptist Church
4445 Hodgkins Road
Fort Worth, TX76136
It may not be a big deal (and if it is not I will probably get straightened out), but something has been bugging me. I assure you I am not trying to win an argument or to straighten someone out. It is really a genuine concern of mine that little by little we are getting further and further away from the Bible without even realizing it. Here is what I am talking about.
I received a publication in the mail recently from a sound fundamental Baptist church with an article by a deceased preacher entitled, “Be Forgiving, Both of Yourself and of Others.” This preacher was quoted, "Learn to forgive yourself. Everybody makes mistakes. The problem is not failing, but failing to take advantage of the provision God has made for our failures." He then quotes 1 John 1:9 and continued, "When we confess our sin to Christ, we may know that we're forgiven and cleansed, because that is exactly what He promises in I John 1 :9. Once God has forgiven you, then forgive yourself. Assure yourself that God not only forgave you but cleansed you, and the wrong no longer exists; it is gone. So why keep punishing yourself for something that God has forgiven and forgotten?"
Another well known and respected Baptist "pastor-TV preacher" has written a booklet distributed by Focus on the Family entitled, Freedom Through Forgiveness, the last half of which is given to the idea of learning to "forgive one's self."
Several people with whom I have talked in my years of pastoral counseling have expressed a feeling of shortcoming and their need to somehow forgive themselves. "I know the Bible says God has forgiven me. My husband says he has forgiven me. But I cannot seem to forgive myself!"
Before going any further let me say I am all for people getting out from under the guilt of their sin, unhooking themselves from the emotional chains that blind them, and leaving the baggage of the past behind them. Yet, what I am about to say goes against the grain of a lot of current Christian preaching and teaching. It may surprise you. It seems to me that this idea of...
Forgiving One's Self is Unscriptural!
Look through your Bible. Read it from cover to cover. This is what you will find. There is not a single scripture in the Bible that incites, invites, or implies the act or need of self forgiveness. There is not a single story in the Bible that even remotely points to such a thing.
Someone might say, "But it sounds so Christian. After all, forgiveness is a good thing." Now, be careful. Biblical words can be used without confining them to their biblical definitions. What can be found in the Bible? In the Bible you will find people receiving God's forgiveness. There are mountains of people who accepted God's offer of forgiveness. You will also find people responding to others with God's forgiveness. There are people in the Bible record who were forgiven by other people. And in the Bible you will find people seeking forgiveness from others when they sinned against them. But, among all the verses in the Bible, I am yet to find one verse on forgiving ourselves.
It is revealing that the preachers of the past who are now considered great men of their times never speak of forgiving one's self. Not Spurgeon, Moody, Torrey, Beecher, Brooks, Finney, Carroll, Robertson, or Scarborough. Not a single sermon, not a sentence in a sermon is given to, this idea. Before our present generation, the idea of forgiving one's self seems to have been unknown in Christian theology.
Further the idea of…
Forgiving One's Self is Unreasonable.
It seems to be a misuse of energy. It addresses the wrong problem and seeks a solution in a wrong source. Forgiving one's self is not a real. It is not attainable. It is not reasonable.
Consider this about forgiveness.
When I sin against God, who is the sin against and who forgives? When I sin against God, God forgives me. When I sin against others, who is the sin against and who forgives? When I sin against others, others forgive me.
When others sin against me, who is the sin against and who forgives? When others sin against me, I forgive them.
But can a person sin against himself and then forgive himself?
Baptists are people of the Bible. We say if it is in the Bible, we believe it. If it is not supported by the teaching of the Bible, Baptists do not believe it. Some subtle changes have entered into current theology. They have crept in through repeated clichés and catchy words. And, they can be passed on from generation to generation with no biblical basis; whatsoever!
Allow me to attempt to uncover the root problem and hopefully point to the real solution. What is it that people are trying to deal with?
It is GUILT.
Guilt is a horrible thing. Since it is mental, emotional, and spiritual, coming at us from the inside, it is impossible to escape its unrelenting abuse. Day and night, when you are feeling good or when you are feeling bad, it bears down on you. You have never been on a trip, until you go on an extended "guilt trip." It is definitely not traveling first class!
But all guilt is not bad and harmful. It can be a powerful motivation for responsible behavior. A husband goes to work, instead of fishing, simply because he knows his wife and children need the money. The process of Christian conversion begins with a sense of guilt.
There seems to be three levels of guilt when our sins are un-forgiven, or when we are not sure they are forgiven.
First, there is conscience-level guilt produced by the human conscience. A poll was taken among children ages five through nine on the question, "What is the conscience? One 6-year-old girl said a conscience is the spot inside that "burns if you're not good." A 6-year-old boy said he didn't know, but thought "it had something to do with feeling bad when you kicked girls or little dogs." And a 9-year-old explained it was a voice inside that says "NO" when you want to do something like beating up your little brother. She said her conscience had "saved him a lot of times!" Actually, the conscience is the nerve-center of the soul. Even the most backward native has a conscience (Romans 2: 15). The conscience is like a thermometer, registering the conditions, not a thermostat, which controls or modifies its atmosphere.
Second, there is conviction-level guilt produced by the Holy Spirit as man is exposed to the Word of God. Jesus said in John 16:7-11 that the Holy Spirit would make mankind aware of sin, righteousness, and judgment. THE SIN which the Spirit of God reveals is the attitude of unbelief and rejection of Jesus Christ. In concert with the Word of God, the Spirit of God compels the sinner to make a choice between his sin and the Saviour. The Holy Spirit also convicts the believer of his sins after salvation.
Third, there is condemnation-level guilt produced by Satan, the unholy spirit. 2 Corinthians 11:14 informs us that Satan pawns himself off as representing God. And in the name of God, Satan uses the conscience to accuse, torment, and berate his victims. It is like the little boy whose pet cat died. He put the dead cat in a shoe box, got all the neighborhood children together, and had a funeral for the cat. They enjoyed the cat's funeral so much they decided to leave the cat's tail sticking out, of the grave so every few days they could pull it up and have another funeral. That went on for some time, until finally, one day when the boy pulled, the tail broke off, and the dead cat stayed buried. That is what Satan does to us--he digs up our sins, reminds us of how bad we are, and condemns us with them. Satan accuses us before God, Revelation 12:10. But God will not hear it, I John 2:1-2. Romans 8:1, 34. Jesus is our Advocate and He has never lost a case! The devil is always trying to reopen cases God has closed for us on Calvary's cross. That does not work, so the devil moves on by accusing us before others, 1 Timothy 3:11. Christians should not be a part of doing the devil's work. As a last-ditch effort, Satan accuses us to ourselves. What better weapon for spiritual discouragement could there be than feelings of guilt which need not to be forgiven because they do not represent genuine disapproval from God?
People need to experience GRACE.
Mark 2:5-7 declares only God can forgive sin. Even the Pharisees had this right. Do you know that? There are so many great verses on God's forgiveness: Psalm 32:5; Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 44:22; Jeremiah 31:34; Micah 7:19. According to these Scriptures God carries away, casts off, covers up, cleanses away, and cancels out our sin by Jesus Christ.
"But, I don't feel forgiven sometimes?"-What must God do to convince you?-That maybe part of the problem. We are working off our "feelings" instead of our "faith" in the promises of God.
Forgiveness is really about GOD, not about You!
I am not going to fall out with people who insist on the idea of forgiving one's self, but forgiving one's self is really a phantom--something that exists - only in the mind, an illusion. The need is not to give your time to some illusionary concept of forgiving yourself, but rather to seek God's forgiveness His way. And then, to live in the blessing of the realization of God's forgiveness.
Believe the Facts. God has forgiven you! Joseph's brothers would not believe that Joseph had truly forgiven them, Genesis 50:15-19. Did they need to forgive themselves? No. They just needed to believe Joseph had truly forgiven them, as he had said. Psalm 86:5 assures us, "For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive."
Receive God's On-Going Forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 teaches, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Accept what God does for you when you confess your sins. Can you explain it? Maybe not. Can you experience it? Absolutely. What God condemns, we confess. What we confess, God forgives. What God forgives, He forgets. What God forgets, we have no need to remember.
Build your life on solid biblical Theology instead of shaky humanistic Psychology. Forgiving one's self is a philosophy of man, influenced by psychology and psychiatry. It is fantasy, not fact. Don't measure God's Word by your beliefs, measure your beliefs by the Word of God! And don't twist God's Word to make it agree with such pseudo truths.
If we need to do anything, it is to confess, "Lord, I have a better memory of my confessed sins than you do. Lord, I have more rigid requirements for forgiveness than you do. Lord, I am harder on myself than you are on me. How foolish of me. Lord, all need to do is experience and enjoy your forgiveness. It is complete. And instead of focusing on my failure, from now on, I am going to focus on your forgiveness!"
Grace Baptist Church
2611 Pulaski Pike
Huntsville, AL. 35810