How Do I Forgive Myself?
I was just speaking with a wonderful woman, a dear and precious Christian lady whom I got to meet in the context of a pastoral crisis. The crisis was this woman was guilty of adultery. The adultery happened years ago. Her husband found out about it, and she confessed it. And they began a process of restoration and reconciliation. God was gracious and kind, their marriage was saved, and their marriage became stronger than it had ever been. It was a wonderful success story. But the woman approached me because she was feeling horrible. She was feeling terrible. We had concluded counseling at this point, we had concluded the restoration process, and things were going well, as I said, but she is feeling terrible. And she came up to me, and she said, Pastor, I’m so thankful for all the good fruit that has come out of all of this mess. I’m so thankful for the forgiveness of my husband. She said I believe the Lord has forgiven me. But she said, I just can’t forgive myself.
You Don’t Need to Forgive Yourself
Now, my guess is, if you’re listening to this, you’ve heard that out there before. You’ll hear people say, man, I know. I know. Everybody else forgave me. I think the Lord forgave me, but I can’t forgive myself, so what do I do? I’ve never been able to forgive myself for this thing in the past. And the question I want to answer was the question of this friend, who asked me, how do I forgive myself? Well, I want to talk to you out there if you have the same problem, if you have the same struggle, if you’re trying to figure out how do I forgive myself for this horrible thing that happened back whenever it was whatever it was, how would you do that? And what I want to tell you is, you don’t need to do that. You don’t need to forgive yourself. That is a creation. I don’t know what the history is of that phrase. I don’t know where it came from. But it is a human creation. It is not a divine necessity that we find in the Bible. In 1 John 1:9, the Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” An amazing passage in Scripture. What it says is that sin makes us dirty and guilty, that foulness and that guiltiness is in the presence of the Lord. When you sin, when you violate the law of God, you become foul, dirty, and guilty in the Lord’s eyes. And that is a problem. Because the Lord cannot tolerate sin, he cannot turn away from iniquity because he is holy and righteous, and altogether perfect.
There is certain and eternal punishment that is coming to the dirty and guilty people who have committed sinful acts of transgression. But because God has great love for us, he sends his Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life, never committing any of the sins that we are guilty of. He dies on the cross to pay the penalty, not for his own sin because he didn’t have any sin he needed to pay for. But he pays the penalty for the sin of all of us who are dirty and guilty by our own hands. Then he rises from the grave to demonstrate his power over our sin and the consequence of death and the devil. He does all of that, and we come to him when we confess our guilt, when we name our sin, and we trust that his life and death and resurrection is sufficient to pay for it. And that is the promise of 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he’s faithful, and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The dirty guilt that comes with sin is taken away when in the name of Jesus, we confess our sin. And that confession, the grace of Jesus mediated through confession, takes away our dirt and makes us clean. It takes away our guilt, and it makes us righteous. And now, because of Jesus, we stand in the presence of God, clean and forgiven. Why? Because 1 John 1:9 says, he is faithful and just. If you trust in Jesus, if you come to Jesus for forgiveness, you’re guilty foulness must be replaced with righteous forgiveness because the faithfulness and justice of Christ are at stake. God will never betray the faithfulness and the justice of Christ, and so he cleanses you and he makes you righteous. All the consequences of your sin are done away with because you are forgiven.
The Forgiveness That Matters
That is the forgiveness that matters. The forgiveness that matters is the forgiveness that God gives to you. When God looks at you, a sinner who’s trusting in Jesus and confessing your sins, he no longer sees a sinner. He sees his own son, Jesus Christ. He sees you as clean and righteous. That’s how God sees you. And if that’s how God sees you, my friend, that’s who you are. That’s your real status. And so, how do I forgive myself? Well, you don’t need to forgive yourself. The fight is not to find a way to forgive yourself. The fight is to believe in Jesus again. The fight is to believe that when Jesus says you are forgiven and clean, you really are forgiven and clean. The fight is to believe that you are who Jesus says you are. No matter what sin you have committed, no matter how vile and dirty and guilty you once were, in Christ, you are cleansed, you are forgiven, and you are righteous, and the fight is to ask Jesus for his grace to believe about yourself, what he believes about you.