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Typically a person who believes he needs to forgive himself has sinned in some way–hence the need for forgiveness. All sin requires forgiveness to be free from it (Romans 10:13; 1 John 1:7-10). The need for forgiveness is a straight-forward Christian doctrine: I sin; I need forgiveness.
The problem arises when the person seeking forgiveness is not seeking forgiveness from God, or from God alone. He is looking for something more–something in addition to God’s forgiveness; he wants to be self-forgiving. Though he may know God will forgive him of his sins, he also believes self-forgiveness is required.
“Yes, God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself for what I did” is a typical response.
Though this should be a self-evident heresy that distorts the gospel by adding to the forgiveness we receive from God alone, through Christ alone, based on the Bible alone, it is not with many Christians. Unknowingly, these self-forgiving people are adding to the gospel (Galatians 1:8-9). It is like placing the blood of the lamb above the doorpost along with your blood too–a dangerous teaching (Exodus 12:7).
The reason the perfect Lamb of God came to earth was to save us from our sins (John 1:29). Christ’s redemption is a major plank in the gospel platform. Sin separates people from Christ, and if they are going to be redeemed, God in the flesh must do it (Ephesians 2:1-9).
Jesus did come and became a man, lived perfectly, died on the cross, and rose from the grave to not only conquer our sin but to provide a means to free sinner-man from it.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. – Ephesians 1:7
If sinner-man could forgive himself, he would not need a perfect sacrifice. If an imperfect sacrifice would do, who needs Christ? How convenient: I can sin, forgive myself of my sin, and be free from my sin. I can live in a hermetically sealed self-made redemptive world.
The Bible teaches that only Christ can forgive us of our sins because we cannot forgive ourselves from the sins we commit against an infinite, holy, almighty, and sovereign Lord. There is no biblical basis for this.
The person who is struggling with self-forgiveness has committed some sin. They have transgressed God’s moral law and are feeling bad about what they did.
This feeling is called conviction from the Spirit of God, which is a good thing. Whenever we sin, there should be an appropriate and accompanying conviction. To feel bad about wrongs committed is a kindness from the Lord.
Imagine being able to sin, but not able to know, discern, or sense it. It would be like slicing your hand open and not feeling the pain. Pain in such an instance is a mercy from the Lord. Spiritual conviction is similar to physical discomfort. It gives us the opportunity to respond to God, receive His forgiveness, and move on in the freedom that the power of the gospel offers (Galatians 5:1).
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:8-9
In some cases with some Christians, they have a difficult time receiving and resting in God’s full forgiveness. They may even ask God to forgive them multiple times, but the lingering residual feeling of conviction remains. This feeling is a false sense of guilt that is not resting in the transformative power of the gospel.
Their lack of gospel trust disables them from fully appropriating the undeserved favor He provides. These unbelieving Christians (Mark 9:24) continue to struggle with ongoing issues like guilt, remorse, shame, and embarrassment.
Their self-imposed guilt may even drive them to isolate from others by hiding the real truth about what is going on. Like their predecessor Adam, they cover themselves with fig leaves.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. – Genesis 3:7
Hiding unresolved guilt issues complicates the original sin with other sins they pursue to find relief from the guilt. Rather than running to God, they entangle themselves in a godless orbit of temptations that pushes them into a spiral of self-perpetuating dysfunction.
The full power of the gospel becomes marginalized in their lives because their view of themselves, God, and His gospel is limited and smallish. This is what connects them to the self-esteem movement, a person who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about themselves rather than God (Philippians 2:3-5).
The self-esteem movement is counter-productive to the Christian way of thinking. It leads to more and more introspection and individualism, which has an incarcerating effect on the mind.
Can anyone spend more time thinking about themselves, and feel better about themselves because of their introspective reflections? The gospel frees us from ourselves while motivating us to spend more time focusing on God and others.
The self-forgiver is intuitively self-focused. All he can think about is what he did and how bad he feels about what he did and how God would never forgive such an awful person. Self-esteem makes man and his problems big and God and His power small.
The Bible category for self-esteem is self-righteousness.
Let me illustrate: Imagine a person being two people. Let’s say the person is me. In this illustration, I am person A, and I am person B. I am representing both people. Now, let’s say, person A commits adultery and person B, which is also me, is in disbelief over what person A did. In other words, I am shocked at what I did.
Dear God, I can’t believe I did that.
In addition to being shocked, I am embarrassed, angry, frustrated, confused, and ashamed of what I did. My self-esteem gospel tells me to think highly of myself (person B), but my reality tells me that I have a problem (person A). I’m in a tailspin. Why?
Self-esteem says, “I am somebody. I am great. I can do all things.”
Bible says, “I am a sinner, totally depraved, and capable of many other things that are worse than this.”
Only a person with a high view of himself would be shocked at what he did: “It is so bad that I can’t get over it.” No Christian should be surprised or shocked when he sins. Though you are a saint, you also choose to sin on occasion.
We are fallen people, living in a fallen world, and at times we are tempted to yield to the temptation to sin–a sad fact of life. If you regularly imbibe on the counter-productive self-esteem model, you will always be shrinking into a person who finds it hard to accept your sinfulness.
While you continually stroke yourself upward through the maintenance of your high thoughts about yourself, you will also be confronted by the sin you commit. Your mind will be like a roller coaster of bad thoughts (James 1:5-8).
The self-esteem model teaches a person to ignore weaknesses and wrongs. Thus, when the inevitability of our Adamic tendencies come to roost, you will be surprised, shocked, disbelieving, and discouraged.
The Christian’s counter to this worldview is to regularly soak in the Scripture’s view that we are saints who sin. This view will prepare you to deal with the reality of who you are before God and others.
Though you will experience guilt and conviction after you sin, your actions will not throw you into a ditch by your actions. You will be able to fast track to the only one who can fully and freely forgive you.
The Bible does not have a high view of humans. In fact, the Bible has an extremely low view of who we are and what we are capable of doing. Whenever the Bible talks about our propensities outside of the grace of God, its view of man is low–even pronouncing eternal torment on those who reject God. (See Romans 3:10-12; Revelation 20:15)
Self-esteem (biblically defined as self-righteousness) can only lead to one conclusion: You have to go outside the biblical boundaries for a solution. Thus, the self-esteemer can never be free.
He will live with the ongoing residual effect of guilt and shame because of his unwillingness to embrace a sober assessment of who he is–a born again sinner. The battles of guilt and shame that reject the gospel’s cure will always motivate other measures like self-forgiveness.
I asked Christ to forgive me, and I believe He did, but I still struggle with what I did, so I just need to forgive myself.
If you have a hard time embracing your sins or accepting the poor view of yourself that your sins affirm, you will have a hard time accepting a gospel cleanse. Christ came for sinners, not people who can’t believe they did such a thing or won’t own the truth about their sinful actions (Luke 5:32).
All sin is against God, and only God can forgive sin. Let me illustrate by giving you a truth and an analogy.
Truth: The person sinned against (the Lord) is the one who determines the price to be paid to cover the offense.
Analogy: If you cause a car accident, you are not the one who determines what you are going to pay to make amends for your mistake. The insurance company assesses the damages and lets you know what the cost will be.
This analogy is proximate to how forgiveness works with God. He is always the one who determines what it will take to cover the offense–not you, the offender.
The Lord made that decision a long time ago when He sent His one and only Son to die on the cross for our sins (John 1:29, 3:7, 3:16). You or I do not tell God that we need a greater sacrifice for the sins we commit.
Imagine a friend paying for your meal at a restaurant. Though you appreciate it, you decide to also pay for the meal–in addition to his payment. There is no need for you to pay for something that has already been paid for, and there is no need for you to forgive yourself after God has forgiven you. The real question is, “Can you rest in His forgiveness?”
The gospel came to take care of your sin problems because you could not. Your job should be simple: apply the gospel to your life. You must ask, receive, and apply God’s forgiveness to your life. Then rest in His gospel goodness.
If you are like me, a person who can become overly shocked by personal sin, maybe you need to repent of self-righteousness. Sometimes I forget how Jesus is enough for all my sin. How about you?