|So, then what?|
Quick, how many books, sermons, Bible studies, blogs, and pithy social-network posts revolve around the concept of self-forgiveness? Any guesses? A quick Google search revealed 13,400,000 hits. Needless to say, it's a hot topic for the church as well as for popular culture.
Now ... how many verses in Scripture tell us to forgive ourselves? I'll give you a hint: the answer rhymes with "hero". That's because self-forgiveness isn't a Scriptural concept; it's part of the Oprahization of modern Christianity.
Frankly, who really cares if I forgive myself?
Okay, now I've just offended (or terrified) several groups of people. But hear me out:
1. For those true followers of Christ who struggle with guilt over past sins ... relax! Stop worrying about forgiving yourself. Instead, live in the joy of God's amazing, transforming grace! "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) In other words, you've been forgiven by the Lord and King--the only being in the universe with the authority to truly and effectively forgive sins. So follow Him joyfully and gratefully, like one who's redeemed from the grave! Jesus paid your entire debt; stop wasting the life He redeemed trying to charge yourself a meaningless surtax.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death ... Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:1-2, 33-34)2. For the true followers of Christ who struggle with guilt over current sins ... er, don't relax. We call that "conviction". You're supposed to feel guilty when you rebel against God. The Holy Spirit is trying to get through to you. Confess, repent, and seek the counsel and accountability of your fellow believers--the best of whom will not judge you, but will respect you more for the transparency and maturity you display by facing your sin directly and Scripturally. As I've mentioned once before:
Guilt, like pain, is unpleasant. If we are in great pain, we understandably want it to go away. We want relief quick! But pain also alerts us to some medical malady. If by treating the pain we mask the malady and leave it untreated, the results can be catastrophic. For this reason, those who suffer from leprosy and lose their nerve endings learn to very carefully monitor their extremities. Because they may not feel the pain of a simple cut, infection can set in before they realize they've been injured.
Guilt plays a similar role with respect to sin. Its primary function is to alert us to a deeper problem. David needed to feel the guilt of his sin with Bethsheba. Denying it merely prolonged his rebellion. In the end, God used Nathan to apply the scalpel to David's conscience, revealing David's guilt and enabling him to repent.3. For those who are more interested in "living victoriously" than taking up the cross and following Christ, pay attention! Self-forgiveness is self-delusion; it may help deliver "Your Best Life Now", but it won't save you from the judgment to come! This guilt of the unredeemed is not merely valid, but entirely necessary:
For him to feel no guilt is self-deception of the deadliest sort, since there is then nothing to chase him into the arms of Jesus. "... to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted." (Titus 1:15) Guilt for the lost sinner is the smell of gangrene in the wound, warning the patient that his infection will claim his life if he does not seek aggressive treatment. To provide him superficial "healing" in the form of soothing words and psychological comfort is not ultimately to love him, but to watch him die of negligence.The bottom line is this: the concept of self-forgiveness is not Biblical, but secular-humanist at its core, because it idolizes the self. If I have the power to condemn or forgive myself, then God is irrelevant to my salvation. Self-forgiveness is not merely unnecessary and redundant; it is foolish, delusional, and self-idolatry.