My wife and I were sitting in the counselor's office. I was a wreck! My poor choices had destroyed our relationship. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, she was offering me forgiveness - no easy thing, considering my choices against her, against our relationship. She took a sheet of paper, tearing it into little pieces, then threw it away. This represented how thoroughly she had chosen to forgive my actions. And yet..I could not come to grips with that forgiveness. I could not accept her forgiveness, because I could not forgive myself. I spent days at a time in bed, severely depressed. Only going to work because I didn't want to lose my job. Avoiding everyone when at all possible. Especially my own family. Beating myself up in every way possible. Unable to get over myself. Unable to forgive myself.
And then I was reading Psalm 51, and it hit me.
None of us can forgive ourselves.
It's really not a biblical concept. It's not part of God's design.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment." ~Psalm 51:1-4
What I gleaned from this?
- God is ready to forgive me, and even "blot out" my transgressions - it's the idea of an eraser on a white board. Permanently erase - cleaner than clean. Completely remove, obliterate sin and any traces of it. In Christ, God looks at me as a completely holy person - totally unblemished.
- Like David, my sin was continually in my face. I just wanted it gone. This was the part that destroyed me. How could I do something so disgraceful? How could I - a professed believer and follower of Christ, someone who had lived a pretty straight and narrow life up to that point? My actions were "beneath me." I was better than that. But this attitude was really just a false humility - aka pride.
- Like David, I realized that my sin was ultimately against no one but God Himself. Sin is only sin because God has defined it as such. Think about it. Sin is doing that which is outside of God's design. So even though my sin had a clear and negative impact on others and on me, my main problem was that I was operating outside of God's plan for my life.
- And then I realized that I really could NOT "forgive myself" because that would be putting myself in the place of God. What I was doing was self-condemnation, when Jesus Himself had already said "neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more." This self-condemnation was nothing less than mocking what Jesus Christ did for me - the atonement He bought at the ultimate price of His own life!
And that was the core issue.
By not "forgiving myself" I was actually trying to put "me" in the place of God. It's the faulty mindset that my sin isn't worthy of Christ's sacrifice (isn't forgivable). But either it is (and it IS), or He died for nothing.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. ~Psalm 51:10-12
In Christ, He has already done it. He did it for David - the adulterous murderer. He did it for me, and my sin is no less offensive to Him. He did it for all who believe in Him, regardless of their sin (John 3:16).
I really can't forgive myself.
I don't need to. In fact, I don't have that right or authority. I can only receive the forgiveness readily available through Christ, and then walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, trusting that in Him, I am redeemed.
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 8:1
Oh...and that forgiveness my wife was offering me - it wasn't really from her either. She was simply allowing the forgiveness of Christ to flow through her - for both our benefits, and for the benefit of our marriage. She's told me many times since, that's the only way she could've ever done it. Real forgiveness always comes from God through Christ and then flows through us to others. It is never meant to be simply received, or just bottled up. When we come to understand the gift that God has given us through Christ, our response will be to receive it fully and then pass it along to others.
If you have trouble forgiving yourself, I encourage you: stop trying. Just receive the forgiveness Christ has already paid for at the cost of His life!
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