One of the most common issues I encounter in counselling concerns guilt because of sin. As you know, I am never shy of preaching the horrible weight of sin that is against us, and that preachers ought never to let sinners off the hook by saying people feel too guilty already and we do not want to add to their guilt. No, if you are not a Christian, you do not understand how deeply guilty you are. If I can pound that point home clearly and without equivocation, only then I have done my duty to the gospel. You need forgiveness of your sins through the blood of Jesus Christ.
However, pay close attention. The Bible says nothing about forgiving yourself of sin. Much less does it speak of a person who trusts Christ as having any time in their life regardless of their sin that they must forgive themselves. The Bible never allows a Christian to think Christ’s forgiveness is not enough—that we need to take an extra step and work on forgiving ourselves before we are made whole.
The question, “How do I forgive myself,” was answered insightfully by H.B. Charles in a recent devotional. He said, “The most faithful response to this question is to reject it as an illegitimate question. The biblical teaching about forgiveness can be summarized in two main ideas: God forgives sinners freely, completely, and sacrificially. Ultimately, divine forgiveness is paid for by the cross of Christ. Christians must forgive those who wrong us, as God has forgiven us for the sake of Christ. That’s it. Sermon over. There is no third point. God has forgiven us, and we must forgive others. Period…the Bible does not teach that we should forgive ourselves. It does not explain how to forgive ourselves. It does not say anything about forgiving ourselves whatsoever.”
Charles went on to say that self-forgiveness is self-centered psychology that suggests we are the ones who need to be appeased. In effect, it suggests that we are the God that is offended which he termed not just erroneous, but blasphemous. And yet, this concept is often found in self-esteem preaching. In self-help books, this is often part of their step program much like AA has a twelve-step program to wellness.
Self-forgiveness betrays the sacrifice of Christ by proclaiming it less than sufficient. It is nothing less than one more self-righteous works religion that is the backbone of all false religions. Adam began this religion by grabbing fig leaves to cover his nakedness. Self-forgiveness is another fig leaf that is odious to God’s grace in the full and free pardon of sin in Christ. Self-forgiveness evidences a person does not understand the work of Christ. The same people who would never think of doing penance by working the beads of a rosary have in fact embraced the same religion by laboring to emancipate themselves from guilt figuring how they can forgive themselves.
Charles also made this comment: “You do not need to supplement divine forgiveness with any self-forgiveness. Your forgiveness in Christ is complete. Receive it. Remember it. And rejoice in it. If your testimony is, ‘God has forgiven me,’ that is enough! You do not need to forgive yourself.” I submit this is the heart of the gospel. It is a gospel of grace that leaves nothing for us to do. Notice Charles said, “Receive it.” You are the recipient not the giver. As in your salvation, you do not “accept” it as if it must be evaluated and found to meet your approval. No, Christ approved it, you only need to receive it.
If you receive the forgiveness of sin accomplished by the grace of God, it is enough. Nothing needs to be added. Indeed, God wants nothing from you nor accepts anything from you. Christ took care of it. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
Pastor V. Mark Smith