Season: 10 Episode: 150
Listen to episode 146 in Spanish:
Does forgiveness of the self take away your guilt and shame? Do Christians need the forgiveness of God and the forgiveness of the self? Many Christians think so. Shanda talks about why this line of thinking is linked to the self-love mentality. Does the Bible tell us to forgive ourselves? What does this mentality lead to and what are the spiritual repercussions? Shanda shares her story of wanting to “fix” herself so she could go before God, and why forgiveness of self is another form of pride. This message will leave you encouraged and will convince you that you don’t need to forgive yourself. God’s forgiveness is enough.
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Today we are talking about why you don’t have to forgive yourself. I often hear people say they just can’t forgive themselves or they’re trying to forgive themselves and I want to hash that out a bit and examine the statement.
Before we do, let me tell you about a few things coming up.
We are opening up another Let’s Get Real: Examining the Evidence for God course in January. If you have a middle schooler who needs to learn about the evidence that points to God’s existence, go to onlinechristiancourses.com and get on the waitlist for that course.
Also, for the high schoolers and adults in your life, Baseline Apologetics: A 6 week course on truth and morality will be out in hard copy workbooks beginning in January but if you get on the waitlist, you will be the first to pre-order. The first 100 orders get a free gift. This study lays the biblical foundation needed in order to layer the apologetics concept on top of it. In this case, we’re talking about objet truth and objective morality.
This study is basic but takes you deep, if that makes sense. We first break down any preconceived ideas the student has by asking questions. Then we lead into what the Bible says about truth and beliefs. Then we connect the biblical connect to the apologetics concept for understanding. The facilitator guide is also coming out so that you can lead a group through the content. Go to shandafulbright.com/baseline-apologetics to get on the waitlist.
Okay, so do you have to forgive yourself?
And why might someone say that? Specifically, we’re going to dissect this statement by looking at the following three questions:
What does it mean when someone says, “I can’t forgive myself.”
What does this mentality lead to in regard to shame, guilt, punishment.
Is the greater spiritual repercussion?
Those are the questions we’re going to ask and answer today. I’m really excited to talk about this topic because I know there are people who struggle with guilt and shame and they just don’t know how to let it go. But is the answer in forgiving yourself? Can you take away your own guilt and shame?
So let’s first discuss what it means when someone says, “I can’t forgive myself.”
It usually has to do with a past sin, choice, or circumstance that brought on shame or guilt due to the sin, choice, or circumstance. It means they don’t want to remember the past and feel shame that accompanies the memory of the event.
I was talking to my husband about this and he said that when someone says they just want to forgive themselves, they are trying to find a way to be okay with their sin. I think that’s definitely one part of it and I’ll explain why in a bit. But I don’t think that’s it for everyone. But I’ll come back to this thought.
First, let me say it is good to feel remorse or guilt when we do wrong.
It means our conscience is working to let us know what we’ve done is wrong. Romans 2 tells us that God has given us a conscience that either excuses us or condemns us when we do wrong. This is part of general revelation because everyone has been given a conscience. In fact, Paul says this in Romans 2:15 “They (who’s they? Those who do not have the law or who aren’t Christians) show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” Meaning that everyone in the world has an innate knowledge of God and His law – simply put – they have knowledge of basic right and wrong.
So when we do wrong, even if we are not Christians, the natural response is guilt and shame. But when the conscience becomes seared, we no longer feel guilt or shame over sin because the conscience becomes desensitized the more we harden our hearts to doing what is right.
We should feel bad about sin so that we repent, however, sin brings shame.
So when someone is trying to reconcile a sin or wrong-doing, they are ultimately trying to remove their guilt and shame. The question is – can you remove your shame by forgiving yourself? Can you remove your guilt by forgiving yourself? That’s what we need to get to the bottom of.
When we talk about forgiveness, it is always extended to another person. It is never not something that we extend to ourselves. Why? Why is forgiveness about forgiving your neighbor rather than about forgiving yourself? It’s the same concept as self-love in the Bible. Some Christians will swear up and down that we are supposed to love ourselves. Love is the same as forgiveness – it is meant to be given to someone else, it is never referred to as giving love to yourself.
The best example of this is when we read 1 Corinthians 13 and we see what love is and what love is not. When you see that list, loving yourself is boasting, keeping a record of wrongs, envying someone else because you want that for yourself. You offer patience to another, kindness to another. It protects because we protect others. You will never see where the Bible commands you to forgive yourself but you will see where it commands you to forgive others.
So when someone says they cannot forgive themselves or they are struggling to forgive themselves, they are doing one of or a combination of a few things:
- They are not looking at forgiveness the way the Bible does.
- They are trying to reconcile the event (sin) causing guilt and shame so they do not feel guilt and shame anymore.
- They do not understand God’s love and forgiveness toward them (because you cannot isolate God’s love from His forgiveness).
And in some cases, this could be all three. Now, I want to break this up right here and not speak to everyone struggling to “forgive themselves.” I want to speak to the Christian struggling with guilt and shame and who uses phrasing like this – “I need to forgive myself.” And if you are not a Christian listening, this still applies to you because you will see the answer to your need in the answer to the Christian. What am I saying? You’re going to get a biblical perspective on how to remove guilt and shame and because it is from the Bible and the Bible is true, what I am going to tell you is true. And you can be set free from your guilt and shame.
In other words – there is good news!
What does this mentality lead to?
If you think that you have to forgive yourself in order to take away your guilt and shame, it can lead to other, more serious things because you are trying to remove your guilt and shame. Let me remind you of Genesis 3 (it seems we’ve been discussing Genesis a lot lately). Adam and Eve sinned against God and immediately they were ashamed. When they were ashamed, they realized they were naked. Nakedness now represents the shame of someone in their sin – you’ll see this language used often in the OT. Adam and Eve did not run to God, they hid from Him. In our shame, we often hide. We often repel from God because we are ashamed.
Shame causes us to run away from God rather than to Him. But it also makes us want to fix our own problem of guilt and shame. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together and thought it would remove their shame. It didn’t and we know this because they remained hidden from God. That shows us that we cannot remove our own guilt and shame brought on by the sin in our lives.
I encourage you to go back and read that entire chapter but start at the bottom of chapter 2.
Chapter two ends with, “They were naked and not ashamed.” Why did Moses write in there – “they were naked and not ashamed?” Because he knows that’s not our lives anymore. There aren’t too many people that are naked and not ashamed. The whole purpose of clothing is to cover our nakedness. Laws are created – indecent exposure laws – so people keep themselves covered up. It’s shameful to be naked, but not before sin entered the world. So, “They were naked and not ashamed” is going to stand out to the reader because we all know that’s not the world we live in.
When we sin, we hide. We isolate ourselves from God and from those we do not want to see us in our shame. And we try and take matters into our own hands.
Forgiving yourself is a way to take matters into your own hands.
What if Eve would have said, “Let me just forgive myself and I’ll no longer feel guilt and shame over disobeying God.” If that works, what does she need God for? It didn’t work. And we know it didn’t work because she sewed fig leaves together to cover herself. If it worked, she would have remained naked.
Those who hold onto guilt and shame are subject to self-harm. That’s why some punish themselves. Now, there is something called asceticism – where you deny yourself of certain pleasurable things because you want to focus on the God more. But that’s not the same thing. And asceticism is a lot like legalism – a bunch of dos and don’ts. But self-punishment is not the same.
Someone asked me about asceticism a couple of months back and it’s not a practice encouraged in the Bible. But my point here is to make sure we know the difference between denying ourselves the pleasures of life for the purpose of focusing on God, and inflicting pain on ourselves to pay for the sin because of the guilt and shame we feel as a result of it.
So this mentality of “forgiving oneself” makes the self the authority – how do I come to terms with my sin?
You won’t. You will never come to terms with your sin. In fact, when we allow ourselves to be ruled by sin, we become slaves to it. The Bible clearly tells us that we are slaves to sin when we are not in Christ. So guilt and shame will never go away when we try and forgive ourselves. We’re thinking of it incorrectly.
I say this often, but everyone, Christian or not can identify that something is wrong. We know there’s a problem. Again, I read Romans 2 – the moral law is written on the heart of all human beings. However, the remedy is where we split. And in a lot of cases, properly identifying the problem is where we split as well. Humans are not inherently good. We need to be redeemed. Our minds need to be transformed. Our hearts are desperately wicked in all its ways. We don’t even know our own potential for evil. We are like sheep who have gone astray.
That is why we NEED a savior.
That is why we cannot forgive ourselves. And if we are not of the mind that we cannot be both the problem and the solution, we will sew fig leaves to our sin problem and continue hiding from God while trying to mask the guilt and shame. It’s a cycle that will never end and rather than just continue in a static fashion – it will get worse and the guilt and shame will eat at the soul, making us more desperate to get rid of it.
That’s the danger of the “I need to forgive myself” mentality. But I have compassion for those who are being chipped away because of the sins of the past. I feel for people who just want to be free of this horrible and weighty burden of condemnation – because that is what the enemy does. He condemns. He says, “You are guilty.”
I like what Bobby Conway said in an interview on the I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist podcast. He said, “Guilt says I did wrong. Shame says I am wrong.’
Think about that.
The devil is the adversary of your soul. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy. The enemy talks Eve into eating from the tree and breaking God’s command but then he turns around and points the finger at God’s creation and says, “You are nothing but filthy rags.” He says, “You are wrong. You are bad.” And the devil shames us and condemns us because he knows it drives us away from God.
But God does not condemn us. One day I need to do a podcast on condemnation because I have been studying John with my church and Jesus tells us who and what condemns us besides the devil, but I can’t get into it here. It’s really amazing. In fact, I am starting a YT series where I take you through John and we’ll get to it there, so I won’t go deep in it today. My point – God never condemns us. So he will not shame you. That feeling of shame you feel is a natural response to sin. And thank God we feel it because it is meant to make us realize our humanity and cry out for a savior. If we do not feel guilt and shame in our sin, we are in trouble. Because we have become desensitized to it and we love it. That means we are living Romans 1 and have been given over to a depraved mind.
So what is the greater spiritual repercussion to “Forgiving yourself?”
Simply put, it means we do not understand repentance and the forgiveness of God. Let me tell you about a time when I almost passed on communion at my church. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth mentioning here because I want you to see that we all have the temptation to find a way to pay for the sin we commit outside of what Christ has offered and done for us.
It was right before the 2020 shutdowns and I was in my church in California, feeling very low that Sunday morning.
I was thinking on how disappointed I was in myself and how I failed God.
I am the type of person that gets really hard on myself when I do something to displease God and I contemplate if I should teach, do a podcast, and it makes me feel like I am not good enough to represent Christ. That morning we were taking communion and as the men were passing out the elements, I decided I wouldn’t take communion.
I felt completely unworthy and I was telling God how horrible I am and I don’t even know why He would use me and I just can’t seem to get it right. And as they were about to pass the bread, the Lord spoke to my heart and said, “That is why I came.” And I felt so convicted. You see, instead of just repenting and thanking Christ that He saved me and has redeemed me and forgiven me for my failures that week, I was going to push Him to the side, opt out of the very thing that He tells us to do in remembrance of Him and His sacrifice for my sin, and wallow in my guilt and shame. God was right. If I passed on communion after examining my heart and realizing that I am not worthy, I would have drawn back from God rather than run to Him.
I wasn’t looking to forgive myself but it’s the same concept as those who say they need to forgive themselves.
It has the same result. Am I going to go away and become “worthy” of taking communion apart from Christ? Am I going to be more worthy next Sunday if I live better that week? No! A resounding no! All I can do on a bad week or a “good” week is say, “God, thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you because I gladly take communion today knowing that my sin is under the blood, forgiven, wiped clean, and because Christ is worthy, I come before you in His name because He alone wiped my slate clean and took away my guilt and shame.
There are three R’s when it comes to those who respond to sin and don’t want the guilt and shame anymore:
- Regret – you can and should regret that you have sinned. Regret is to be sad, disappointed over sin. But regret does not take away guilt and shame.
- Remorse – Deep regret or guilt. It is good to be remorseful, but remorse does not mean you have repented and it doesn’t take away guilt and shame.
- Repentance – To feel or express remorse or regret over a wrongdoing.
This is what the kind of repentance that removes guilt and shame? 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Notice here that there are two types of sorrow:
- World sorrow
- Godly sorrow
You’re going to experience one or the other but only one leads to salvation. Only one removes guilt and shame. It’s coming before God and accepting the work of Christ – the only one who could pay for your sin. Worldly sorrow is not going to remove your guilt or shame. In fact, worldly sorrow leads to death.
If you try and forgive yourself, you might eventually become okay with your sin, but you’ll still die in it. The Bible tells us the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through our Lord.
So here’s the deal: Worldly sorrow requires that you pay for your sin with your own life.
Godly sorrow means you understand that only Christ’s life is sufficient to satisfy the penalty of our sin. Either way, sin’s wage is death.
Is Christ’s sacrifice enough? This is what Got Questions says, “Penitence is not a list of religious requirements we must perform to pay for sin. We cannot pay for our sin no matter how many rituals we observe. Only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us from our sin (1 John 1:7). Jesus’ death was sufficient payment for any sin we commit. We cannot “help” Him by further punishing ourselves. To insist upon further self-castigation is to nullify the work of Christ on our behalf. We are in effect saying to God, “What Jesus did on the cross is sufficient to pay for all the sins of the world—except for mine. I must help Him by punishing myself until I have decided I’ve paid enough.” That is not penitence; that is a twisted form of pride.”
I want to wrap this up today by saying that Christians ought to be careful what we repeat when it comes to these types of sayings. The whole idea for this podcast came from a Christian podcast and the terminology was something along the lines of forgiving ourselves. As soon as I heard it, I was surprised because this person is a bible teacher. And then I thought, if we think we have to forgive ourselves, we don’t understand God’s forgiveness. It’s the same concept as the “love yourself” message.
And I’ll be honest, when it comes these messages, I am very concerned for the woman sitting under the teacher. I feel compassion for the woman struggling with guilt and shame and feeling inadequate and not getting the true gospel message that can free her.
I get angry with those who hold the Bible and misrepresent it.
But I am thankful for the Holy Spirit who puts people like me in check when my pride is about to get me to pass on communion, although I wouldn’t have thought it was pride. I pray that is the case for others.
Finally, I also want to add that there is a tension between knowing we are not inherently good, feeling bad about our sin and wrongdoings, and knowing that God loves us and will forgive us. Someone once said they have a hard time with the Christian message that you aren’t good. That you aren’t enough. It just seems like it’s so negative. The reality is that we were all going to hell without Christ. Sin is ugly. The fall was devastating. We were lost in our sins. But while we were still sinners – ugly, fallen, disgraced by sin – Christ died for us. That is what makes it beautiful. Redemption is beautiful. A changed life is beautiful.
We have to realize how ugly sin is in order for us to realize our need for a savior. We have to realize we aren’t good enough because it is then we reach out our hands and take the free gift offered to us by a savior. When we think we can save ourselves, we think we can forgive ourselves, and that is the ugly reality of self-love and worldly sorrow.
I hope you are encouraged that you don’t need to forgive yourself. When you ask God to forgive you, He does. And when He does, guilt and shame is removed and you are declared righteous in Christ.
If you have any questions for me email me at email@example.com and I’ll catch you on the next one.