Why Forgiving Yourself Will Always Lead to a Dead End

Do you struggle to forgive yourself?

Even if you do, you can still be fully free!

The past few months I have been heavy into writing my next 40-day challenge called Forgiving Challenge.  In doing research before writing, one of the questions I solicited feedback from my social media friends was in this question:

“Is it harder to forgive yourself or others.  Explain.”

Almost unanimously, the results came back that it was harder to forgive themselves than to forgive others.  As people explained their answers, much dialogue ensued.  One of the responses really stuck out to me:

“Is forgiving yourself even a biblical principle? How important is self-forgiveness after all?”

A lot of the focus in this world is in our ability and need to forgive others.  Especially in light of the racial injustice going on in our nation, many Christians are calling for reconciliation to take place.  I’m in full agreement.  Except for one major problem.  If the majority of Christians are still struggling with forgiveness in their own lives, then how in the world, are they going to be able to forgive one another.

It’s always really hard to offer freedom to others when we are still speaking words of condemnation over ourselves.

For real reconciliation to happen, we need to bring two free parties, not two broken parties, to the table.  So how does one become free?  Is it through self-forgiveness?

Let’s explore three truths about self-forgiveness that will ultimately lead you to more freedom than you ever thought possible.

  1. Self-forgiveness is biblical.

My first response to big theological questions like “Is forgiving yourself even a biblical principle,” is to look at what Jesus said.  But what about when Jesus never said anything?!  Not only did Jesus never use the phrase “forgive myself” or “forgive yourself,” but nowhere in the Bible do we see these words together.

What do we see in the words of Jesus?  All throughout the Gospels, Jesus is asking, calling, encouraging, and even commanding His followers to receive His forgiveness and also to forgive others.  Here’s a few instances:

What do we make of all of this?

Often times when Jesus speaks of forgiving others He makes the direct correlation to first receiving God’s forgiveness.  It’s hard, if not impossible to forgive others without first receiving God’s forgiveness for ourselves.  Forgiven people become forgiving people.

One time, Jesus summed up the greatest commandment to loving God with all that we have.  Then he said the second greatest commandment is to Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Notice, Jesus didn’t say to love your neighbor at the expense of loving yourself.  He said to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  If the way you are “loving yourself” is by withholding forgiveness to yourself, then at best you will offer a broken-down, mediocre version of love to others.

The first step in truly loving your neighbor as yourself is to receive the grace of Jesus for yourself.  If we struggle to forgive others, the root of it likely is that we struggle to grasp God’s forgiveness for ourselves.

Not only does Jesus call us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but He takes it a step a further: But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus calls us to forgive “others,” to love our “neighbors,” and even to love our “enemies.  But here’s the truth.  You are in fact included in “others.”  You are actually the closest “neighbor” you have.  And for many, you are your own worst “enemy.”

Sometimes the other, the neighbor, and the enemy that most needs forgiveness is yourself.

Therefore, even though the phrase “forgive myself” is not found in the Bible, it is a biblical principle because Jesus is all about the total forgiveness of all of mankind, and you are included in that. 

  1. You cannot forgive yourself because you are still a sinner.

If self-forgiveness is a biblical principle, then why can’t I forgive myself?

Even after having your sins wiped clean, fully paid, reconciled, and declared forgiven, we still live in a world where we miss the mark.  We may claim to be following Jesus as our Lord, but sin is still lurking all around us, and, sadly, we still give into those temptations often.   And one of the ways we still miss the mark today is when we refuse to issue forgiveness.

When you refuse to forgive anyone, including yourself, you are simply adding sin upon sin.

The two most common types of sin in unforgiveness are pride and unbelief.

Pride comes into the equation when you place yourself in a higher category than Jesus.  The phrase often said “I know Jesus forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,” is laced with pride.  Do you really think that your own forgiveness is the ultimate forgiveness you can attain?  Do you place your own declaration of forgiveness higher than Jesus’s declaration of forgiveness for you?  Pride places you at a level you were never meant to be.  You need to lower your estimation of yourself.  Being able to forgive yourself is an important and valuable moment, but it is not near as important as the forgiveness that God’s one and only Son Jesus gives to you!

C.S. Lewis says, “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves.  Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than him.”

Unbelief comes through statements like this: “Jesus might be able forgive someone like them, but He can’t forgive what I’ve done.”  Do you think that your sin is in a special category of sins?  Are their certain types of sin that Jesus didn’t pay for at the cross?  The reality is that Jesus paid in full for all sins for all people for all time, including yours.  Being unable to forgive your own sin is to express an unbelief in the sacrifice, death, and resurrection that brought about the total defeat of sin that Jesus won for all of us!

Have you done stupid things?  Yes.

Did you let Jesus down?  Yes.

If you are honest, did you even let yourself down?  Yes.

Do you believe that Jesus has forgiven you?  Yes or No?

Ask it again but make it personal this time:

Do I believe that Jesus has forgiven me?  Yes or No?

If you do, then why are you still making yourself pay for your sin?  Why are you rejecting God’s forgiveness over your life?   Why are you buying into the lie that your sin(s) isn’t covered?

The real reason you can’t forgive yourself fully is because you are still involved in the process.  And whenever you are involved, no offense, but it won’t be perfect.  And that’s okay because God has enough grace to cover up your mess up.

  1. Finding freedom in self-forgiveness will always lead to a dead end.

We should always be generous in our efforts to speak God’s grace over our own lives.  But, until Jesus comes back, while we can grow in the area of self-forgiveness, we will never fully, once-for-all-time master self-forgiveness.  You can have good days, months, or seasons, but you might also have a day, month, or season that’s not so good.

Thankfully, this doesn’t stop you from being fully free in this world.

Your freedom isn’t based on what you do or don’t do, it’s based on what Jesus has already done!

Jesus has forgiven you.  Your freedom does not come from self-forgiveness; an act that you do.  Freedom comes from God’s forgiveness.   Self-forgiveness is a noble pursuit but it ought never be the end goal or it will always lead to a dead end.

Don’t hear me wrong.  You can improve.  You can be more loving and gracious.  Humility can start to overtake pride.  Confidence and certainty can take over for unbelief and doubt.  All of these things are possible.  But when you have a bad moment of unforgiveness trust that even that moment is still covered by God’s grace.  And keep moving.

It is God’s grace, not your perfection, that allows you to be free.

The great civil activist Maya Angelou was almost right when she said, “Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.”  Far more important than your forgiveness is God’s forgiveness for you.  Forgiveness is the greatest gift that God can give you.

Whenever you place the emphasis on yourself for your own freedom you will never be free.

Self-forgiveness is a noble pursuit.  An even nobler pursuit is God’s forgiveness, and the amazing thing about this pursuit is that it’s already done.

Romans 5:8: But God demonstrated His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Total freedom is available.  It’s just not available through you.  It’s available only through Jesus.

Give up on the idea of waiting to be free until you are able to fully, once-for-all-time forgive yourself.  Stop beating yourself up by not being able to perfectly forgive yourself and simply receive this beautiful gift of grace God is wanting you to have today.  When you are struggling to forgive yourself, cut yourself some slack.  Give yourself some grace.  Remind yourself that your freedom isn’t in your own forgiveness, but in God’s that has already been given to you.  Trust that when you can’t fully forgive yourself, someone else already has.  His name is Jesus, and ultimately, He is the one that came to offer a fully free, abundant life!

To go much deeper into the freedom that comes from God’s forgiveness, Forgiving Challenge will be launching worldwide in select churches on 10/10/21 this year!  If your church is interested or wanting to be a part of the “First Wave” which will include many bonuses and specials email hello@redletterchallenge.com.

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