Is this you? (It was me.) I meet many Christians who believe that God forgives them, but who really can’t forgive themselves. We padlock our own hearts with unrelieved blame and regret. It doesn’t have to be this way! In my experience we find it hardest to forgive ourselves over two kinds of sins:
a) if we have deeply hurt someone we truly loved, or
b) if we have wrecked our own life path with no visible means of remedy.
This message should help you with the first of these obstacles to receiving grace—those times when you hurt someone you loved (If “b)” is the problem see Love Thyself! for help with it). Even if you have hurt someone dear to you, there is grace.
Remember, grace means that forgiveness is a gift God wants you to have at no cost to yourself to make it happen. You don’t have to earn it or deserve it. Jesus paid the full price by His Blood so that you and I can have freedom and freshness in our life with Him, no matter what the sin was about.
Ironically, understanding God’s justice system actually helps us to receive His mercy. When God forgives us a sin, He then becomes responsible for redeeming the injustice issues that that sin caused in the lives of other people. Otherwise, it would be completely unjust and irresponsible of God to wipe out our sin as if it had no effect on other people.
When God forgives and releases us from guilt bearing (which He does through our repentance, confession and faith in Christ’s sacrifice), then He has to pick up what we release and work it for good in other lives. If God didn’t do this, He would be abandoning the justice due to them.
Let us rest assured that it is impossible for God to be unjust to anyone. That He causes even our confessed and forsaken sins to work for good is a further mercy He bestows upon us, but it is a real justice due to the ones we hurt.
Since He is asking us to receive His forgiveness and release the sin to Him to deal with, then the most responsible thing we can do is give our sin to Him and be released from all guilt, regret and shame—just as He desires. This actually places in His Hands the wrongs which need correcting. In return He wants us feeling free and fresh! Aren’t you glad?
Restitution is a separate, though related, issue. He may ask us to cooperate with His work of restoring the world from the damage our sin caused by interceding with Him for the people we have hurt, by going to them (at His leading) to ask their forgiveness and/or by restoring to them what we have stolen from them (for example). All of this is reasonably doable—if we leave the heavy lifting to Him (the guilt bearing and the full restitution) and are willing to take the hit on our pride.
Even so, these small steps of restitution on our part can and should be done with grace already in our hearts, so that it is a free gift when it is offered to others—not a work we are doing to try to get our own conscience relieved. If you have followed with faith what I have written so far, you are probably ready to forgive yourself. That would be so pleasing to the Lord!
Here is a prayer to help you:
Because of my Father’s perfect love for me, His never-ending mercy for me, the future and hope He has for me, and His commitment to bring good out of everything that has ever happened or will ever happen to me, it really is a great, good thing to be me! I therefore choose to fully forgive myself and accept myself—just as He does. I choose to believe that He really is at work to bring good even out of the harm I have brought upon my loved ones. He is going to redeem their lives too! And so I will fight to take my life back from all unloving attitudes against myself. I may have had a bad beginning, but I am going to have a great never-ending! And so will they!