A lot of folks walk around with guilt and insecurity for things they’ve done in the past. In a world that tells us to love ourselves and embrace who we are, many of us immediately run into a conundrum: why should I “love myself” when I’m guilty of (fill in the blank)?
The world’s response to that?
I hate this term. By definition, it doesn’t work.
Among the definitions given by dictionary.com we find “to grant pardon for or remission of an offense; to absolve” and “to cancel an indebtedness or liability.”
Do you see the problem here?
You did not offend yourself. You were not indebted to yourself. You can’t clear yourself of your own wrongdoing.
If we’re seeking reassurance in self-forgiveness, that reassurance will be constantly challenged by others who don’t think we should be forgiven.
Consider if the woman caught in adultery (John 8) had tried to find her footing by “forgiving herself” rather than receiving Christ’s forgiveness.
Consider how Psalm 51 would look if David “forgave himself” rather than petitioning for and then accepting God’s restorative forgiveness.
Consider if Paul came before the Christians he had persecuted and only had his self-forgiveness to rely on for reassurance.
In order for our forgiveness to mean something, it has to come from the one we offended. As Psalm 51:4 shows, the ultimate offended party in every sin is God.
And, in order for our forgiveness to be reassuring, it needs to come from a Judge with a perfect standard.
For this reason, self-forgiveness will always leave us feeling empty. It is acceptance of God’s forgiveness that we should be emphasizing instead.
I once heard a preacher tell a story that illustrated this concept perfectly. He was teaching in a Christian college when a young couple in his class confessed to fornication. Some weeks later the girl came to her professor distraught over her sin. “I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed to ask for forgiveness,” she said. “But I just don’t feel any comfort over it.”
“Well,” he told her, “I want you to go home, and pray to ask God for forgiveness.”
“That’s what I’ve been doing!” she replied. “I just told you I’ve already tried that!”
“No,” he corrected her. “I want you to ask for forgiveness for not believing God when He told you your sins are washed away.”
There is a reassurance in that which could never be found in forgiving ourselves. Only when we look to the perfect, righteous Judge of the universe and see our names cleared can we feel at ease.
Don’t forgive yourself. It’s a waste of time.
If you have guilt over your head that makes you doubt your standing with God and others, look to Him. See what He requires of you, and do it. And when He says you’re forgiven, believe Him.