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Realities behind not forgiving ourselves

Practice / Forgiveness
All of us have something in our past that causes us great embarrassment, shame, accusation and pain. Just thinking about it is enough to make us cringe. Why do we have so much difficulty in forgiving ourselves?

(See Chinese versions: 简体中文不原谅自己背后的现实 繁體中文 > 不原諒自己背後的現實)


Unable to forget 

God promises us that once we ask Him to pardon for any sin, He will readily forgive us and forget our sins. The trouble is that we find it hard to do the same.

Isaiah 43:25 ESV  “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Here are some of the lies we believe:

  • Judgement | “I’m not worthy of God, I believe I’ve done something so bad, that even if God forgives me, I can’t forgive myself.” | The Bible says, Ephesians 4:32 ESV  … forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Shame“I’m too ashamed of what I’ve done. If people find out, they will judge me and not want to have anything to do with me. I can’t forgive myself when other people can’t accept me.” | The Bible says, Psalm 34:22 ESV  The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
  • Still in bondage “I keep on doing the things I don’t want to do, things that I know displease God. How can I forgive myself, when I keep breaking my promises to turn a new leaf?”  | The Bible says, 1 John 1:9 ESV  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
  • Regret“I have caused too much damage through my actions, I can’t forgive myself. Otherwise, it would be like I don’t care about the consequences of my actions.” | The Bible says, 1 John 3:20 ESV  For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
  • Condemnation“I’ve done such horrible things that I don’t deserve forgiveness.” | The Bible says,  John 3:17 ESV  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

We don’t realise that when we continue to condemn and accuse ourselves of things that God has already forgotten, we are really dishonouring His love and grace for us.

The realities behind not forgiving ourselves

1. “Jesus’s death is not enough for me”

Jesus’s horrifying death certainly shows how serious God is about showing that there are no holds barred when it comes to His love and forgiveness for us.

John 15:13 ESV  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Romans 5:7-8 ESV  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Yet when we can’t forgive ourselves, we are actually ridiculing the high price Jesus paid to buy us our freedom from condemnation, because we choose to continue condemning ourselves.

2. “Jesus was shamed for my sake but that still doesn’t make me feel better”

When’s the last time any one of us was stripped naked in front of large crowds of strangers, spat at, physically brutalised, mocked, gossiped about, bullied, paraded like an object – all together?

Jesus felt the full weight of our shame laid onto Him when He humbled himself to be tortured and shamed by men. Jesus knows what it’s like to feel shamed and accused. He gave Himself to be crucified for our sake, so we no longer need to endure condemnation and shame.

How it would pain Jesus when we fail to honour His sacrifice! We are not alone in our pain. God understands our shame completely. He went to the extent to die on the cross to free us from our shame and lift us up with Him in His glory.

Romans 8:16-17 ESV  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

3. “I condemn myself because I have chosen to be my own judge”

The Bible calls us not to judge and condemn, but to be merciful. That applies to ourselves as well. We need to be merciful to ourselves because God is merciful. We dishonour God when we become a merciless judge on ourselves. Where God has already freed us from our prison of sin, let us not throw ourselves back in.

Luke 6:36-37 NIV Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Isaiah 33:22 ESV  For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us.

4. “I choose to agree with Satan, not God”

Satan accuses all believers day and night. How annoying it must be for God to listen to that all the time. However, when we accuse ourselves for sins that God has forgiven us for, we are in essence, siding with Satan, rather than God. We disgrace God’s redemption and restoration by our stubborn arrogance to think that we know better than God about righteousness.

Revelations 12:10 ESV  And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

5. “How I feel overrides what the Bible says”

The Bible says we are to die to our flesh – that includes our “fleshly” reactions.

Romans 8:12-13 ESV  So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

As hard as it may be to put down self-destructive feelings and thoughts, we need to die to those ungodly emotions as well. It is part of our renewal in Christ. We are to put away our childish ways of thinking and become mature in Christ, being renewed in our minds.

1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV  Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

Let us repent of any wrong way of dealing with unforgiveness and:

  • Accept that we all make mistakes, intentionally or unintentionally, as children or as adults
  • Accept that how we feel about ourselves is not how God feels about us
  • Accept that it’s a fact we are not worthy of God, no matter how good we think we are – and that there is nothing we can do to win His love
  • Accept that God has done so much more than what we are capable of doing for ourselves
  • Accept that His love is freely given, and much greater than our understanding – and thank Him
  • Accept that God, who is the ultimate Judge of all things, lets us off the hook and we should not continue to condemn ourselves

If we are truly sorry for our mistakes and are doing our best to be renewed in Christ, know that God is our most faithful Friend who will never leave us or forsake us.

God is far more forgiving and magnanimous than we can ever understand. God is not petty and He doesn’t spend His time finding faults with us. He will readily forgive us when we approach Him with humility – even forgiving us for things we find hard to accept in others or ourselves. The Bible even says we will be forgiven for blaspheming Jesus Christ if we repent. How often are we able to readily forgive someone if they say awful unfounded things about us? Happily, God’s much much bigger than us!

Matthew 12:32 ESV  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

1 John 1:9 ESV If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

We need not “beat ourselves up” when we trip up. God is always with us to pick us up, clean our wounds and cheer us on to a healthier path towards Him – like the perfect Father of love that He is! And we can be so ever grateful for that.

Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV  Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”


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