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What does it mean to forgive yourself?
The expression ‘forgive yourself’
Have you ever heard someone say I can’t forgive myself for what I did? Or have you ever said that? Moreover, what do people mean by saying such words? I have met many people over the years, in my coaching or prayer ministry sessions, telling me these very words.
Usually, a person experiencing a feeling like that, did something in the past they now regret deeply. They asked God to forgive them but somehow they cannot move on in life— they got stuck in that specific past memory. And actually, by the words ‘I cannot forgive myself’, one communicates his or her lack of faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. They don’t genuinely believe God did forgive them! And that’s how the expression ‘forgive yourself’ came to be known.
There can be many reasons why a person might experience such a feeling. Maybe you drove your car with your best friend and because you had a car accident and because your friend died and you survived, you cannot forgive yourself for his/her death. And you cannot stop blaming yourself. You asked God to forgive you and with part of your mind you know God forgave you but you do not ‘feel’ forgiven. And you cannot move out of that situation. Then you ask for help and your Pastor or counsellor tells you that you need to forgive yourself for what happened. And after you do that, you feel free for the first time!
To ‘forgive yourself’ is about trusting Jesus
To forgive yourself is about accepting His grace, by faith. Indeed, often the problem is our lack of faith and that is why we need to ask the Lord to increase our faith (Luke 17:5).
If by God’s grace we have been forgiven, why is it so difficult to receive that forgiveness? Because to forgive yourself means to accept the fact God has forgiven you. To accept— by faith. Needless to say it is often easier to forgive others than to accept God’s forgiving grace for what we have done.
To forgive yourself is about trusting God and believing His Word as truth. He says in 1 John 1:9 (TLV)
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
God means what He says and says what He means. Moreover, to forgive yourself means to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9). Yes, there is a healthy and Biblical way to ‘love yourself’. Do you think that by continually blaming yourself or allowing the enemy to keep you in self-condemnation is a godly way to love yourself? A Biblical way to ‘love yourself’ is by forgiving yourself and releasing yourself into God’s grace and forgiveness!
Friend, you either trust God and His forgiving grace or trust the enemy. There is no other option. My counsel to you: trust God by trusting His Word!
Forgive yourself because God forgave you
But God was rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us. Even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Messiah. (By grace you have been saved!)
In the beginning of chapter two of Ephesians, Paul talks about a time when we were all dead in our sins and trespasses, when we walked in the ways of the world and in the flesh. The Bible even says that we were ‘children of wrath’. Do you remember that time?
However, let me tell you the good news! The good news, for you and for me, starts like this: but God…I am telling myself this message all the time, whenever Satan is attacking me with thoughts of accusation or condemnation, reminding me of my past sinful life. Moreover, I like to say something like yes, enemy, you are right. I did so and so and even worst things in the past. BUT GOD has saved me because of His great love!
You see, God is the answer. He saved you and me and forgave us our sins, because of His grace and mercy— something we do not deserve and cannot earn. And if He gave you the grace of forgiveness, you should accept it in its full measure. If God forgave you, then you can forgive yourself.
How to forgive yourself
First, acknowledge your issue before the Lord. You need to tell the Lord that you have not forgiven yourself for whatever happened in your life. Be specific when you confess your sin to God. Remember what I said about sin and repentance? Be honest. God loves an honest person. Say something like: God, I confess I have not forgiven myself for…and I confess I kept myself in bondage. Repent and renounce the sinful behaviours you practiced to make yourself feel forgiven. Repent of the pride that is behind your attitude— because it is pride.
Second, repent of your sin. When you do not forgive yourself, that is, accept God’s forgiveness, that is the sin and a barrier in your relationship between you and God. Tell God what you did is against His Word and then do not forget to spend time thanking Him for His forgiveness.
Third, declare your faith in His Word and promises. Use Psalm 103:12 or 1 John 1:5-10 or Romans 8:1, if nothing else. Ask Him to increase your faith and give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation of His sacrifice on the cross and what happened there.
Forth, declare that you choose to accept His grace, by faith. Moreover, declare that you believe His Word as Truth in your life and there is not other way to be forgiven but through Jesus and His sacrifice.
Ask the Holy Spirit to confirm God’s forgiveness deep down in your human spirit and cleanse you from anything that hinders your process of healing. Ask Jesus to fill you with His Holy Spirit and give you the joy of knowing you are forgiven. However, remember that if you follow what God says in His Word and if you still do not feel forgiven, that is OK. Because you are not forgiven by feelings but by faith. Even if you do not feel forgiven you are forgiven because God is faithful to His Word. Therefore, by the help of Jesus, forgive yourself!
God is the only one who sees sin perfectly. And you and I need His perspective over sin and forgiveness. Freedom will come as you grasp this revelation.
Ask God to show you how much He loves you and how precious you are to Him. His Kingdom and heaven would look so different without you. Do not let the enemy tell you his lies but choose freedom today!
One more thing— if you followed the above steps to freedom but you still do not sense you are free, ask another believer to pray with you or for you. Often, we also need to confess our hearts to others (1 John 1:7).
Do you agree?
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