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What the Bible Says About Forgiving Yourself

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Is "self-forgiveness" a scriptural idea? This isn't the place to go into details, but certain events and circumstances have left me carrying a heavy load of guilt. I believe in Christ and His death on the cross, but in this case my beliefs don't seem to have the power to change my feelings. If you knew my situation, you might understand why. People tell me that I need to "forgive myself," but I just laugh when they say that. Who am I to "forgive myself?" And where does the Bible ever tell me to do any such thing? I've searched the Scriptures over and can't find anything that supports this idea.

Our first thought is that you need to sit down and have a serious talk with a pastor or counselor. You say that if we had access to the details of your story we’d understand why you can’t “forgive yourself.” Perhaps that’s true. But it’s also possible that you’re too close to the situation to see the lay of the land. In any case, there’s no substitute in a case like yours for earnest prayer and the listening ear of a caring Christian friend or mentor. We’d advise you to unburden your heart to a mature believer whom you feel you can trust. Listen very carefully to what he or she has to say in reply.

In the meantime, we’d suggest that your “theological” objections to the idea of “self-forgiveness” may come down to nothing more than a question of semantics. You claim that there are no Scriptures anywhere in the Old or New Testaments that speak of “forgiving yourself.” At the same time, you would probably agree that there are many passages referring to the sin of unbelief. Isn’t it possible that these are just two different ways of saying the same thing?

Think about it for a moment. Paul tells us plainly that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). He also says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (II Corinthians 5:17). If you continue to condemn yourself after receiving the grace and forgiveness of Christ, isn’t there a sense in which you are denying the faith and crucifying the Son of God afresh (Hebrews 6:6)? We think so.

A passage that seems especially relevant to this subject is Hebrews 4:3-6. In these verses the writer speaks of God’s promised “rest.” The “rest” he has in mind is the rest of forgiveness and salvation in Christ. Here’s what he says: “For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘So I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest'” … Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience [or unbelief], again He designates a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today,’ after such a long time …”

In other words, we enter into the “Promised Land” by fully embracing God’s grace. We find “rest” when we really believe that all our sins have been washed away. This, we’d suggest, is exactly what your friends mean when they suggest that you need to “forgive yourself.”

If you think it might be helpful to discuss your struggles at greater length, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

God Gives Second Chances: How to Get Up, Dust Off, and Be Used Again By God When You Fall

Total Forgiveness

The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness

How To Forgive Ourselves – Totally: Begin Again by Breaking Free From Past Mistakes

The Bible Answer Book

Referrals
Hart Institute

Christian Research Institute

Insight for Living

Articles
Walking in Forgiveness

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