If you would just forgive yourself, dear fellow Christian, you could move past whatever is hurting you – whatever is keeping you from healing. I have heard the call to the concept of forgiving yourself in various Christian settings from the pulpit to the pew to the counselor. But what does it mean to forgive yourself? More importantly, is forgiving yourself biblical?
I do not think that forgiving yourself is a clear biblical concept. However, I do not want to write-off my fellow believers who use this term. Instead, I think there is something deeper in their suggestion of forgiveness. I believe there is something greater and significantly more meaningful behind the call to forgive yourself. And this greater significance may underlie what is really meant when people are called to forgive themselves.
Jesus taught a lot about forgiveness. He even gave his life so that all who repent and believe are forgiven. Of course, Jesus’ apostles also taught a lot about forgiveness. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he taught them to ask for forgiveness from the Father as they forgive those who sin against them (Matt. 6:12). The Apostle Paul writes that Christians must forgive others just as Jesus forgave us (Col. 3:13, Eph. 4:32). Jesus taught us to forgive one another an unlimited number of times (Matt. 18:21-22).
And at the end of Matt. 18 when Jesus shared The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, he concluded with a frightening message. The unforgiving servant was forgiven a debt worth about 200,000 day’s wages – a debt he could never pay in his lifetime and beyond. The forgiveness granted by his master rescued he and his family a life of living in slavery. Then, that same unforgiving servant demanded a day’s wages from a fellow servant who was unable to pay. The fellow servant was then thrown in jail by the unforgiving servant. The parable ends labeling the unforgiving servant as wicked. His master sent him to the jailers (or torturers) because he was unwilling to forgive as he had been forgiven.
Finally, Jesus concludes stating (v. 35), “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
So what about forgiving yourself?
I think what people mean (or should mean) when they talk about forgiving yourself is a call to truly receive Christ’s forgiveness. When you sin, although it may be against another person or yourself, your primarily sin against God. The basis for Christian forgiveness is that Jesus has forgiven you. You cannot atone for our own sin, but Jesus can and did.
So the concept of forgiving yourself is almost placing yourself in a position that you cannot fill. You may be thinking too highly of yourself to go to yourself first seeking forgiveness. And we already think too highly of ourselves. (Which is a different topic. Note pride, self-pity, vengeance…) You may be trying to fill a position only Jesus can ultimately fill.
Know that God is not mad at you, Jesus loves you, and stop trying to forgive yourself. Instead, go to Jesus and receive his forgiveness. His yoke is easy and his burden light (Matt. 11:30). And there is no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:1). Your sins were nailed to his cross (Col. 2:14).
If you are a Christian, forget trying to forgive yourself. Take all your guilt and shame and lay them on Jesus. Then, walk in freedom, encouraged knowing that you are a child of God and Jesus loves you and is praying for you.
Grace for the journey,