Why, exactly can’t I forgive myself? The Bible answers that question and I taught about it in Friday’s CrossWords blog. Today, God’s Word equips you with what to do when you can’t forgive yourself.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us … But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:8-2:2).
Who is our advocate, our trusted agent who represents us before a holy God who demands our holiness and righteousness? Jesus Christ. The One and only One who is righteous. He is innocent yet he died as a sacrifice for our sins, atoning us—making us “at-one” with a holy God.
That’s why you can pray to God for forgiveness and say, “I’m sorry, God. I know you’re holy and demand that I be holy. I appeal to you through Jesus, who gave me his holiness and died for my sins. Forgive me for Jesus’ sake.” And God forgives.
Let me tell you how you can be sure of that. Because forgiveness doesn’t happen to you without first happening to God. Here’s what that means. Forgiveness isn’t created somewhere in your mind, or earned by your good deeds, or manufactured by your faith.
So it’s actually impossible for you to forgive yourself, that’s like loaning yourself your own money when all you have is debt.
Forgiveness was first forged or minted by God himself, it first happened when Jesus suffered for all the pain and misery of unresolved sin and guilt in your life. Remember all the symptoms of not being able to forgive yourself? Jesus took them all on himself for you. In an amazing prophecy by David himself, God the Holy Spirit had David write the very cries of suffering for sin that Jesus would feel hundreds of years later. They’re in Psalm 22. Jesus experienced them personally for you, “cries of anguish … I find no rest … scorned … despised … trouble is near … pierce[d] hands and feet … afflicted.” That’s where and when you were forgiven.
No more designing your own idea of forgiveness. That’s what David discovered. “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found” (Psalm 32:5,6).
Maybe you caused an accident that hurt someone or had an abortion or an affair. Maybe you hid something unethical in a business deal or didn’t report a crime. Maybe you served in the military and can’t forget the things you saw and did. Maybe you neglected your family, you physically harmed someone, or realize how much your rebellious years hurt your parents. Maybe you’re addicted and can’t escape.
Can you forgive yourself? Never. Nobody has that power. That’s God’s job, and—oh!— how he loves to go to work.
How do you get past these things and move on?
- Pray to God for forgiveness, because he loves being found (actually lets himself be found).
- Pray because God can forgive, and has already forgiven, any sin and all sin.
- Pray without cover up, in total truth and transparency, pray confessing it all— hopeless in yourself and full of faith in the mercy of God.
- Pray like this all the time, immersed in the divine truths of God’s Word, so that you not only confess the sins you know but in deep, real prayer you discover sins you haven’t yet confessed. “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them, and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:2).
PRAYER: God, please forgive me by the atoning sacrifice of your Son, my Savior Jesus. By your mercy, make me aware of my sins so that I treasure your forgiveness more and more, and the righteousness of Christ. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: Review the 4 recommendations above for praying about forgiveness. Which of these has been holding you up? Ask for God’s help, giving you strength and wisdom to improve.