Should I forgive myself?
Pop spirituality asserts that you cannot forgive others until you learn to forgive yourself.
Frankly, that’s a claim I’ve never understood.
Forgiving others depends not upon self-forgiveness, but upon recognizing your own sinfulness before God and the magnitude of God’s grace toward you in Jesus Christ.
God has already forgiven you a lifetime of disobedience through the death of his son.
If you believe that, you can forgive the comparatively few infractions that someone has committed against you.
The Bible speaks about forgiving others, never about forgiving yourself.
The Bible understands sin as a debt you owe another, not as a debt you owe yourself.
Even harming yourself is a violation of another, namely God, who said, “You shall not kill.”
Forgiveness releases someone from the debt they owe you, because you have chosen to bear the cost yourself.
Out of love for you, God released you from your indebtedness toward him and bore the cost himself in the death of Jesus Christ in your place.
In other words, sin is always interpersonal (between persons) and therefore relational, not intrapersonal (involving only oneself).
Forgiveness is interpersonal and relational as well. It comes not from within but from without.
So what’s the solution when you have done wrong and when that voice inside you, your conscience, will not give you rest?
How do you find relief from the accusations within?
Relief comes not from your own voice, but from the voice of one greater: God himself.
The perceived need of self-forgiveness is symptomatic of the need of God’s forgiveness.
God never calls us to forgive ourselves, and those who attempt to do so are, unwittingly, usurping God’s role and violating his will.
God has a better way.
As sin is ultimately a violation of God’s will, it is up to God to forgive, if he chooses, and he chooses to do so for all people through Jesus Christ.
Only God’s promises of forgiveness in Christ can overrule an accusing conscience.
The Apostle John wrote, “He (Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
That includes you.
The apostle Paul wrote, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
Again, that includes you.
These and other promises, read aloud and therefore heard, overrule our self-condemnation, because God’s voice is always more authoritative and credible than our own.
If this is not enough, then go to your pastor privately or someone else you trust and ask him or her to speak God’s forgiveness to you, aloud and personally.
Only God can forgive sin, but God calls us to verbalize his forgiveness to one another, as Christ commanded his disciples, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.”
Paul wrote, “Faith comes by hearing the message,” and hearing God’s forgiveness spoken by a Christian brother or sister is the best comfort for a guilty conscience.
Guilt cannot be removed by attempts to absolve yourself, but only by a growing appreciation of and a renewed confidence in the one who has already absolved you at the cross.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor at Grace Lutheran, Columbus, and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.