The Oprah magazine online gives you eleven ways to forgive yourself. Psychology Today, on October twenty-second, two thousand fourteen, posted an essay online entitled, “How to Forgive Yourself and Move on From the Past: Four simple ways to forgive yourself and get on with your life.” Articles and essays like that are legion online. You can also find them written by those who profess to be Christian. The question we must address is this: is forgiving yourself biblical, or is it sin? Let’s look at this. This video is a condensed version of a sermon given a few years ago and the full sermon is linked in the description below.
My burden here today is to address the Christian. The Christian who has been told he or she must forgive themselves for this or that. Does your bible tell you to do that? If it does, then you better do it. But if your bible doesn’t, you better not. And if your bible doesn’t, and you think you have to forgive yourself, you are saying something about Jesus and your bible which is very dangerous and we’ll get there in a minute.
First, let’s look at the categories of forgiveness in the bible and see where we land. There’s forgiveness which God grants to people. In Mark chapter two, for example, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man and the scribes there immediately were taken aback because they saw Jesus as committing blasphemy – why? Because they knew only God can forgive sins. Say what you will about the scribes and all their faults but they were spot on here – yes, only God can forgive sins. So, we have this category of forgiveness – God forgiving the sins of people.
Next, we have the category of people forgiving other people and we can see an example of that in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew chapter eighteen, where Jesus introduces the parable by telling Peter the number of times you forgive the person who sins against you is seventy-seven times, or seventy-times seven depending upon your translation – and in either case, using either translation, seventy-seven or 490 isn’t the point – it’s that you keep on forgiving as much as is necessary. In this case – a person forgiving another person – whether that sin which caused the offense is another matter altogether but regardless, Scripture tells us about people forgiving people.
Now, let’s look at forgiving ourselves. What does Scripture say about that?…Nothing. Nowhere. Scripture never gives counsel on forgiving yourself, whether explicitly or implicitly. Never. Honest. Go ahead. Look for it. You won’t find it. And if you’re going to try to use 1 Corinthians six verse eighteen and sexual sin being a sin against your own body as justification, you’re not reading that verse rightly.
Why, then, do people think they have to forgive themselves? Even more, what’s the big deal? I’ll tell you the big deal first. It’s a big deal because the person who believes they must forgive herself or himself is denying the sufficiency of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Remember I’m talking about professing Christians here who believe they must forgive himself or herself. I’ll tell you this, also: people who believe they have to forgive themselves tend to be miserable. Why? They’re miserable because they’re trying to apply something which doesn’t fix their problem. What do I mean? Here’s how this works, and I have encountered countless people – primarily inside prisons since 1996, but also folks on the outside here – people in our churches – who believe they have to forgive themselves.
That person says this: they say they’ve committed this sin or that sin. They believe God has forgiven them. But they then believe another act of forgiveness has to occur and that’s forgiving themselves. But what happens when they try to forgive themselves? They can’t. They try, but their guilt remains. They’ve got this sin and it’s killing them. And they try and they try and try….and it doesn’t work. Think about what they’re trying to accomplish here – they can’t really tell you what happens when they forgive themselves – but they just know they have to. They know somebody has told them they have to – but not why…other than they have to. They think more atonement has to be done…and you and I know that Christ’s atonement was full and sufficient, right? Then why? Why? Because somebody told them. Honest. They can’t give you a reason. You look at this and it’s so very man-centered. It’s a secular psychological tool which has infested Christian thinking and we have to get it OUT of the Christian mind. Jesus Christ did not come to give a partial atonement for your sins, brethren. He paid a full satisfaction and you don’t have to add anything to it and when you add forgiveness of yourself by yourself to what Jesus did….that’s sin, pure and simple. You can’t add to the cross. Don’t let well-meaning people place you in that bondage. Trust what Jesus did on your behalf, brethren. Jesus really did pay it all, just like the song says. He really did. When He forgives your sin, you’re forgiven. Completely and totally. Trust it, and believe it. Amen.