Have you ever been told that in order to move past a difficult sin or to “heal” from something you have to forgive yourself? This is a commonly taught and viewpoint in Christianity as well as in the secular counseling realm. I am very frustrated by Christians who promote this erroneous teaching because it is completely unbiblical! People who say they “cannot forgive themselves” have a huge misunderstanding of the gospel and the cross.
Typically I hear a person say they cannot forgive themselves when they have committed a horrible sin or a sin they have judged as being terrible or horrible. A few of these would be a woman who had an abortion, was involved in adultery or some other sexual sin, hurt their child through abuse, or maybe did something foolish that was harmful to someone else.
What is mysterious is very often the person will tell me that they know that God has forgiven them; they have accepted the shed blood of Christ for the forgiveness of their sin, and they may even have secured the forgiveness of the person or person’s they harmed. Yet, they still cannot seem to “forgive themselves.”
The root of this sin (and yes it is sin) is unbelief. There is nowhere in Scripture that we find a command to forgive yourself, in fact the Bible states numerous times that there is no forgiveness apart from Christ (Eph. 1:7; 4:32; 1 Peter 3:18b) and that in Christ all our sin from the past, in the present, and in the future has been forgiven.
In reality, the person who believes they must forgive themselves is saying that the sacrificial death of Christ was insufficient, that He was not enough to satisfy the wrath of God. The person who thinks they have to forgive themselves will constantly attempt to make up in the flesh what Christ has done and they are wracked with guilt, shame, and sorrow. This can lead to self-harm practices such as cutting, hair pulling, starving themselves, and may even go to greater lengths such as attempting suicide.
A person who struggles in this area must commit the truth of the gospel to memory and then ask the Lord to bring the truth to mind each time they are tempted to revisit the idea of self-forgiveness. They must refuse to believe the lies that they are not forgiven by God and others. This is of course assuming that they have confessed their sin, and sought forgiveness from those they have hurt.
“It is possible for the Lord to look at us without seeing our sins because when he forgave us, he removed our sins as far as the east is from the west” Psalm 103:12
“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, who sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord doesn’t count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” Psalm 32:1-2
It is impossible for anyone to add to the complete and perfect sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, accept this truth!