Q: “I have heard people talking about forgiving yourself. It sounds strange to me to hear it; therefore, what does it mean to forgive self?”
A: I have heard this term as well, but I can’t find such a notion in Scripture. It sounds good, but when you start examining the statement according to Scripture, it begins to sound more and more like psycho-babble. In other words, such a statement finds it source in the world’s godless psychology and the more you speak it the more it becomes babble in light of Scripture.
To understand if this is possible, we must begin with the word “forgiveness.” The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. A good statement is how can we ask forgiveness from God if we do not forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25; Luke 17:4; Ephesians 4:32)? Forgiveness is a form of mercy, and it is for this reason that mercy and judgment are to walk hand in hand. James 2:13 put it this way, “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” Mercy should be our preferred desired response in matters where offense exists. We are not to be sparce in forgiving others who seek it; therefore, we must be ready to forgive at all times.
We seek forgiveness from those we offend and my question is how can I offend myself? Granted, I may betray myself by ignoring my conscience, justifying wrong attitudes, excusing away questionable conduct, and in general validating my unbecoming actions in the courtroom of logic, but to be offended by my desired, preferred, or justified ways and actions does not make any sense because whose law have I broken?
The reason the Law of Moses was given was to show us we were transgressors, someone who has committed a trespass against God. My wrong decisions and actions may make me feel guilty later on, but it is because I sense God is not pleased with me due to the pricking of my conscience, or that I have hurt others in the process, and if I end up paying consequences it leaves me with regret and self-pity.
The other question is how would forgiving myself really translate? God can forgive me and I can forgive others, but am I in the place of position and authority of forgiving myself? Forgiving has to do with pardon or release. God as the Judge, is the only one who can pardon that which offends Him because of transgressing His Law. This is true in any courtroom where law is upheld. The judge is the only one who can render the sentence according to the law or can pardon. This brings us to a question, what law have I transgressed when it comes to myself that allows me to sit in the judgment seat of self?
Since I am not a judge, I do not have the authority of pardoning someone where the law is concerned, but if I have been offended, I don’t have the authority to legally carry out any judgments, but I do have the power to release them from the guilt they bear and myself from seeing justice being carried out to my specifications. The more I demand that I see justice instead of forgiving or releasing myself from seeing justice, the more I become entangled in bitterness, anger, and rage.
My question is once again what would forgiving myself look like? Would it mean casting off guilt, but what is a person guilty of, breaking the law or offending someone? If this is true, we must seek forgiveness from the one we have wronged. It is natural to perceive that if one feels guilty or ashamed that they must forgive self to get rid of such feelings, but this is not true.
To get rid of guilt and shame involves cleansing the conscience, not seeking to forgive self. To cleanse the conscience comes down to drawing near to God (in repentance) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience (Hebrews 10:22).
This brings me to the three reasons people have a tendency to buy this psycho-babble. The first reason is because they are not willing to address the offense in a right way. For some people they use their guilt as a form of fake-humility where they act as if they are more honorable than God about their grave sin as they wear their offense like a badge, making them appear as if they are a suffering martyr. In a way it becomes a type of self-punishment that since they are trying to rectify something on their terms without any success, they will walk around in a mode of penance while enduring a self-inflicted condemnation. Godly pardon can’t be earned, it is given and it must be humbly sought from the right parties to receive it. What these people need to repent of up front is their pride, which God resists (James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 5:5-7).
Another reason people buy the lie of forgiving self is because of past sins and failures. We can be dogged by past regrets, missed opportunities, and the fear of failing to make the grade. In some cases, people hold onto certain events of the past instead of letting them go so they can run the race set before them. Their problem is a state of unbelief. They believe that the blood of Jesus cleanses a person from all unrighteousness but they can’t believe it for themselves. They are like the poor disheartened man who told Jesus, “I believe, but help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9:24; Hebrews 12:1 John 1:7)
The final reason that people will accept forgiving self over God forgiving them is because it takes child-like faith to receive such forgiveness. Whether it seems too easy, too simple, or too lame, they can’t receive it. Granted, they have enough religion to make them aware that they are not perfect, but becoming their own judge and jury about their iniquity will ensure that the judgments leveled against them will not be too narrow-minded, will show some tolerance and certainly give them a wide berth to operate in without feeling any real conviction. These people are like those in the days of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25)