Stop Telling People to Forgive Themselves

You will hear it on TV talk shows. You will hear it from pulpits. You will hear it from counselors trying to help people move on from a bad decision in life. Mom’s will say it to sons who are feeling guilty and dad’s will say it to daughters who have disappointed themselves in some way. One night you will be watching a news story about someone whose past included depths of sin that put them in prison. Now they are out of prison, doing some good ministry or service to the community and they will say, or the interviewer will ask, “how did you learn to forgive yourself and move on?”  

“Forgiving ourselves” is a fools errand.

Let me give you ten reasons why you can’t and shouldn’t try to “forgive yourself”.

  1.  There is no example in Scripture of anyone, in anytime, in any situation, forgiving themselves. None.
  2.  We didn’t set the standard. God did. He is the only one who can forgive our sin.
  3. “Forgiving ourselves” insulates us from gospel freedom. We don’t have to earn anything. Salvation is a gift.
  4. “Forgiving ourselves” insulates us from experiencing the beauty of the gospel. God forgives undeserving sinners.
  5. “Forgiving ourselves” insulates us from greater intimacy with Jesus. 
  6. “Forgiving ourselves” insulates us from plumbing the depths of God’s mercy and grace.
  7. “Forgiving ourselves” makes us our savior rather than recognizing ourselves as our Savior’s blood-bought trophies.
  8. “Forgiving ourselves” keeps us from fully understanding the depths of God’s forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50).
  9. “Forgiving ourselves” insulates us from the guilt that should send us to Savior for cleansing, healing, forgiveness, redemption and restoration.
  10. “Forgiving ourselves” undermines the gospel itself.

This is NOT an exhaustive list. It is just a beginning.

Spurgeon said, “I do not know when I am more perfectly happy than when I am weeping for sin at the foot of the cross.”

(Spurgeon, Charles H. “The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 60: Sermons 3387-3439”, Delmarva Publications, Inc.)

Spurgeon is right. Don’t insulate yourself from the glories of the gospel and a Savior and what He alone can do—forgive sin. You don’t need to forgive yourself for whatever it is you have done. You need to let your guilt over that sin drive you to the foot of the cross for the mercy He so freely wants to give at the cost of what He has already done for you at the cross. Forgiving yourself is a weak bandaid to your guilt. But His mercy, His love endures forever. Run to the cross. Be mesmerized by what you see there. Become intoxicated at what He did, what He promised, what He will do, when you give up trying to cover your sin with some sort of “self-forgiveness” and instead receive His complete pardon and embrace as a child of God.

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