Should We Try To Forgive Ourselves?

A Pastoral Response

Rick Booye, Sr. Pastor, Trail Christian Fellowship


Greetings Pastor Rick,

 A few weeks ago you made a statement that got me thinking. Maybe I misunderstood it. You said that we cannot forgive ourselves; we don’t have the power to do that. I get that I can’t forgive my sins like Jesus does, or that I am not able to forgive others sins, that this is Gods job not mine. But I do think I can forgive people for hurts they have caused me, and I can forgive myself for hurts I have caused myself. This type of forgiveness is not the same as what God does obviously. Am I wrong, did I miss-understand what you said? 

 That’s a great question, 

First, about “forgiving ourselves.” We may be just talking semantics here, or I could have miss-stated what I meant. I completely agree with you that we are able (and required in fact) to forgive others for the hurts they have caused us (I assume this means real sins against us, not just hurt feelings, though that too requires grace from us). This is completely biblical. But the idea that I need to forgive myself for the hurts (sins?) I have caused myself is a bit opaque to me. I guess that if all I’m talking about is the “hurts” I have done to me, then the Me that is offended can say “I forgive me.” Maybe that’s a way of getting through our internal stuff. It might be a helpful process. But if the “hurts” are real sins, real crimes in God’s court, then Someone greater than me needs to do the forgiving or it won’t work. The Bible is utterly silent on people “forgiving themselves,” which strikes me as odd in light of the heavy emphasis many Christians place on the concept. I think we mean by that phrase that we should take seriously the fact that the Lord has forgiven us, appropriate it personally and live in the reality of it. If that is our intent then I have no objection to the phrase at all. But I wonder if that is what we mean.

 What I was trying to address in my statement is the fact that many Christians don’t reach a sense of true peace about their forgiven sins, and they suppose that it is because they have not “forgiven themselves.” My suggestion is that that is the wrong way to put it. I would say that they haven’t really trusted the Lord to forgive them in a tangible way. My reason is that the Self is not the agent of forgiveness because the Self doesn’t have the authority to forgive in the first place. Which is in fact precisely why these folks can’t seem to find the peace of God in the situation—they’re seeking the peace from within themselves (a very western and American idea, and utterly absent from the biblical worldview). They seem to attribute more authority (and far more attention) to their own feelings about themselves than they do to what the Lord thinks about them. I suspect this is because in our culture for about the last 100 or so years we have gradually come to believe that what we think about ourselves (or anything else for that matter) is the ultimate arbiter of reality on the subject. But this is not true. What God thinks about us is infinitely more important and making that adjustment in our thinking is crucial to living in the grace of Christ. The Self is not Lord, Christ is Lord. What I’m wanting Christians to realize is that if Christ Jesus forgives them, then they should take is word for it rather than try to do it themselves. When they feel “unforgiven” (as happens often in cases of real sin) what they need to do is continually remind themselves of the gospel, that they are not at the mercy of their conscience but at the mercy of Christ (1 Jn.2:1-2; 3:19-20). And the cross of Christ has really, truly, eternally, completely wiped away their blame for the evil they committed. I think this is part of “taking every thought captive to obedience to Christ” (2 Cor.10:3-5).

 It seems to me that Paul alludes to something like this in 1 Cor.4:3-5. There he says, “…But it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself [un-confessed sin], but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

 The key phrases in this passage for our thoughts here are, “I am not by that acquitted,” and In fact, I don’t even judge myself.” Paul was criticized by people for being a bad steward of the ministry. His response to this is at least two-fold. First, he says that he is not aware of any unconfessed sin in his life, but that his clear conscience is not what acquits him of guilt. In other words, it is not his sense of being clean that makes him really clean. This is an astounding statement when you think about it. He consults his conscience obviously, but he does not let it stand as the agent of forgiveness or guilt. The second thing he says is that not only did he not care that much what his critics thought—he didn’t care that much for what he himself thought of his work. Instead he only cared what the Lord thinks and he recommends letting all judgment rest there. It seems to me that, based on this statement regarding his faithfulness in ministry, Paul would have thought it strange that on the much more important issue of forgiveness of sins, he should rely on his own ability to forgive himself in order to come to peace.

 I think what happens for many of us is that we unconsciously make a distinction between our theoretical and general “forgiveness of sins” and our daily, oh so specific, sense of shame and guilt. We subscribe theologically to the lofty doctrine of “forgiveness,” but we don’t let it actually penetrate our feelings about the way we have failed today in the myriad small sins we all are aware of. For those daily pangs and heartaches we take the over-the-counter advice of our world and try to “forgive ourselves.” But I’m encouraging Christians to apply the blood of Christ to those small issues as well as to the big ones. Jesus washed the dust off his disciples’ feet even after they had “bathed” in his eternal grace (Jn.13:10).

 Hope this clarifies a bit.

 Grace and peace,

 Pastor Rick


What is the Gospel?

The gospel is a piece of astounding news of an event that God has brought about in time and space, and that has changed the destiny of the universe and every soul in it. The gospel is the announcement that Jesus Christ is the risen and gracious Lord, Master, King and Savior of both the material and spirit dimensions of the cosmos. It is the factual news that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, God in the flesh, who has died for our sins, been physically raised from the dead, and currently rules human history as a resurrected human King. God has done this to offer forgiveness and his own eternal quality of life to fallen, evil, and dying humanity by bringing his kingdom into this fallen material world (Mtt.6: 9-10; 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-47; Rom.10:9-10; 1 Cor.15:20-28). His kingdom is already here in an invisible form and will be brought into the visible material realm in the future when He judges the present order and brings about an entirely new creation, a new spirit/material universe (Mtt.19:28; 24:27-30; Acts1:11;17:30-31; 1 Cor.15:20-28; Rev.20-22).

Jesus Christ is the risen Lord. “Preaching the gospel” then, is essentially proclaiming Jesus Christ as the new, reigning and gracious Savior/King who died for our sins and was raised for our justification, and explaining and applying this reality (Mtt.28:18-10; Luke 24:44-48). Of course, implied in the proclamation is the command to respond in faith to the gospel by turning from evil to God, believing this news about God in Christ and to submitting to Jesus Christ as Savior, Master, and King in God’s kingdom (Mk 1:15). This is what it means to repent and be converted. (Mark 1:14-15; Acts 26:18; Col.1:13-14).

The gospel good news contains at least the following six elements:

  1. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.
    1. Jn. 1:1-18; Luke. 1:26-38; Col. 2:8-9
    2. This is the entry of God permanently into his created, material universe to redeem and renovate it.
  2. The perfect life of Jesus Christ under the God’s Law.
    1. Mtt 5:17; Gal 4:4-5; Heb. 4:15
    2. This is the life we should have lived and that he has lived on our behalf. 2 Cor.5:21
  3. The atoning death of Jesus Christ under the God’s Law.
    1. Rom 3:21-28; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21
    2. This is the death we should have died and that he died on our behalf. Gal.3:13.
  4. The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ following his crucifixion.
    1. Mtt. 28; Mk 16; Luke 24; Jn. 20; 1 Cor.15:1-9; Acts 17:31
    2. This is the beginning of the new reality, the new creation into which we enter when we come to Christ the King. 2 Cor. 5:17-21
  5. The risen lordship of Jesus Christ as the king in God’s kingdom. Mtt. 28:18-20
    1. The physical ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father. Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor.15:25; Eph 1:20-21; Heb 1:3; 12:1-2; 1 Peter 3:22
    2. This means that Christ is the Commander in Chief of God’s army (Lord of Hosts), the king in God’s kingdom here and now and forever.
    3. When we come to the King, we become his apprentices in kingdom life. Mtt.11:28-30; 28:20.
  6. The physical return of Jesus Christ from the heavenly realm to renovate the material realm.
    1. This is for the purpose of judging and renovating the universe and establishing God’s eternal kingdom among humans on earth forever. Jn. 14:1-6; Mtt 24; Mk 13; Luke 21; Acts 1:11; 17:31; 1 Cor.15; 1 Thess.4:16-5:11; 2 Thess.2; 2 Peter 3:1-13; Rev 20-22.
    2. This tangible, material, future hope is the focal point for the Jesus-apprentice that gives perspective to the present suffering. John 14:1-6; 2 Cor.4:16-18; Rom.8:18-28.

We must understand that God saves us by his personal grace in Christ, supplied by Christ’s obedience and sacrifice at the cross, not on the basis of any religious or moral activities in which we may engage. This is not simply an abstract doctrine, but a dynamic personal relationship that involves covenant loyalty, love and God’s unmerited favor given to evil people who never could deserve it (Rom.5:8-10; 8:1-9). When people put simple, personal, repentant faith in Christ as the Saving Lord, God freely makes them members of his eternal kingdom here and now. He puts his own Spirit, his Mind and Life into them, birthing them from above so to speak (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:3-7; Eph 2:1-10; 1 Pet.1:3, 23). Christ’s morally pristine life and his atoning death are both permanently credited to the Christian’s personal identity, replacing the former identity of evil, rebellion and punishment (Eph 2:1-10; Gal 3:13; 2 Cor.5:21). In this way, the Lord eternally and legally forgives all their sins, making them his children forever. (Titus 3:3-7; Rom 8:1-38; Gal 4:4-7).

Almost all of the letters of the NT are expansions and applications of one of these central themes of the gospel, or the practical ramifications of them. It is important that we proclaim the whole gospel consistently and clearly because false spiritual messages and misstatements of the gospel proliferate in this age (Gal 1:6-10).