How do you forgive yourself?
I was recently ministering at our Celebrate Recovery group and in the breakout group, the subject that was hitting home with everyone in the group was the question, “How do I forgive myself?”
That is a huge question.
The Bible clearly teaches absolute forgiveness of all of our sins. If you were to arrive before our Judge in Heaven, you might start begging for mercy. You might begin confessing all that still haunts you with guilt and remorse, even things that happened years ago. The Lord would listen then look into His records to see the volumes of books containing all of your sins. He would flip through page after page going through volume after volume. Then He would look up and say, “All of these pages are empty. Every volume is full of blank pages. It seems whatever used to be here has been erased. I have no record nor any memory of these things you have mentioned. Enter into the joy of My Kingdom forever.”
God is able to throw our sin into the sea of forgetfulness. The power of our mind is minuscule compared to the Lord. And we simply do not have the power to forget. We want to forget. We try to forget. We try to drown our memories in alcohol, inoculate them with illicit drugs, sweat them out with exercise, buy them off with money, but no matter what they do, the memories remain and so does the guilt.
What Does Guilt Do To Us
Guilt is the spirit of condemnation. It is the sentence that changes us from someone who had made a mistake to someone who is a mistake. A free man has mistakes in his past, but mistakes that linger recast us as condemned men with a record never to be expunged.
Guilt can be a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Some will crave the death penalty because the knowledge of what they have done and who they have hurt is too much to carry. When there is no hope for parole, prisoners accept and assume a new existence within the context of the prison wall. There is no hope to undo what has been done. Relationships are released. We discard even the relationships with those who want to love us to rescue them from the horror of talking through the glass of Hell’s hotel on Earth.
When there is no hope, when there is no vision for anything better, we are already dead and just waiting for the hearse. Having faith in Christ will not blot out the nightmares of what we have done. This is especially true if the people you have hurt are still in your life. Every time you see them, the memories may pop back up in your mind. If we hurt them again, though in a much less destructive way, they may bring up our old mistakes and this is hard and can embed our guilt deeper in our psyche.
How do you heal and forgive yourself?
Find Mature Christians to Confide In
Self-forgiveness is not possible on your own. We might think it is something we can do on our own. Scripture clearly teaches us that we need help and support from other believers. However, we don’t need just the support of anyone who is a Christian. Self-forgiveness is heavy spiritual warfare and we need strong, mature Christians who know how to reach Heaven when they pray.
We all need people that we can go to when we have messed up royally who will speak the truth to us in love, refuse to condemn us as a horrible person, and administer or remind us of God’s forgiveness that is bigger than anything we might have done. Self-forgiveness is a process, not a decision. We need these people that we can go back to and be reminded that we are forgiven by God. And we need their prayers empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to remove the hardness we have in our hearts for ourselves. Knowing we are forgiven is not enough. This truth must be written in our hearts. And we need solid, loving, graceful, non-judgmental believers to help this process. Like Ananias praying for the scales to fall off the eyes of Saul, the murderer of Christians so we need people to pray to remove the scales from our hearts so the Holy Spirit can tattoo His truth upon our hearts.
Remember You are Not God
God has declared you forgiven. He has died, shedding His own blood, to secure your forgiveness. When the sense of guilt is overwhelming us, our flesh, the sinful part of us is working to convince us that we are God. Our intellect knows we are not God, but there is an ongoing mutiny happening inside of us. We must recognize these feelings for what they are. This is the sinful nature, under the dominion of the law of sin and death sentencing us to life in the prison of our own guilt. But those who have accepted Christ have been set free from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit.
The law of the Spirit says that when we put our faith in Christ, we are no longer our sin. We may sin, but that is the old man in us. We are a new creation. So in every Christian heart, there is both the old man and the new creation. The old man operates in the spirit of the devil.
The devil, for a time, has been allowed to reign. He is referred to as the god of this age in the Bible. However, Scripture teaches us that even he knows that his days are limited. He is fully aware that he is a dead-man-walking. And this old man inside is a slave to this devil. He doesn’t want to suffer his fate alone. He is doing all he can to bring you with him.
The law of the Spirit of life has separated us from this old man. It is not you anymore. Instead, the Spirit is in the process of cutting away this old man so he has less and less control over you.
This is the judgment of God. You are set free. And when you let thoughts of guilt remain by running over your mistakes in your mind continuously, you are attempting to usurp God’s authority. If He is God, then what He says is true and when you feel something different, it is a lie from the pits of Hell.
Make a decision of faith
Ultimately, self-forgiveness is a decision of faith. To proclaim to ourselves that we have been forgiven and fight the feelings of shame and guilt is a decision. If you wait until those ugly feelings go away, you will enter Heaven still beaten down by your past. God will have removed the burden, but you keep picking it up again and again because of that old man in you.
A decision of faith precedes freedom from the feeling of guilt. To make a decision of faith is to force our words, our thoughts, and our behavior to move according to the forgiveness God has given. We must take captive our thoughts. The guilt will work to produce thoughts of self-condemnation. You will have thoughts telling you that you are no good, that you are a horrible person, or whatever, but God has given you the power to take captive your thoughts and change them according to the truth of God.
When those thoughts come to you, start proclaiming out loud that Jesus died for you and you have been forgiven. Fight those feelings and thoughts as if you were fighting a murderous rapist who has broken into your home. That old man will rape your mind and kill your soul. Fight! Fight! Fight!
Shout it from the Rooftops
It is important that you proclaim your own forgiveness. Surround yourself with other mature Christians who will shout it from the rooftops. You are forgiven!!!
The Bible says the power of life and death is in the tongue. We eat the fruit of our own lips. The things you say when these feelings of guilt and shame rise up in you are so important. Your words more than anything will keep you enslaved to the enemy or usher in your freedom.
Scripture is so powerful here. Remember, Jesus used the Word of God to refute the devil in the desert. When we use the Scripture, we slam the door on these thoughts. Don’t just quote Scripture, but shout them into your own heart and mind. Shout them at every turn, on every hill, driving down the road, before you sleep, when you wake, in the face of more accusations. Shout them!
Jesus told the woman in Luke 7, “Your sins are forgiven.” 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Write out Scripture and put them everywhere. Don’t get embarrassed if people see your sticky notes. You are fighting for your freedom and it is a spiritual battle.
Love like you have never loved before
The Bible reminds us that love covers over a multitude of sin. Not only do we want to confess our sin to those we have hurt, but we want to resolve ourselves to love them like never before. The old man and the stupid devil will tell us they don’t want us to love them. Maybe they don’t so we don’t force ourselves. That wouldn’t be love anyway. But as much as they will let us, we love them as Christ has loved us.
I do not mean we try to earn their forgiveness. That’s impossible. Just like self-forgiveness is a choice so they must choose to forgive. You are not trying to earn it. Instead, by loving them with kindness and patience, working to prosper their life, you are loving Christ and honoring Him for the forgiveness He has already given you.
Keep in mind the power of love. Love today will eclipse the sin of yesterday. Stop beating yourself up and focus your mind on how you can love better. Improve your patience. Improve your kindness. Be joyful to be around instead of a grouch. Find ways to let them know they are valued by God and by you.
And should they bring up those things again, do not deny them. Do not dance around the issue. Confess them again. Don’t give excuses. Then, go to the Lord in prayer. Go to your support circle and ask for prayer. And in prayer and through worship, paint your soul with several coats of God’s forgiveness.
It is a process
Lastly, just understand it is a process. We want God to remove it forever. But one Biblical principle that is very difficult is God’s command to never forget who we were before we found Him. God doesn’t allow us to completely forget our past mistakes to keep us humble so that we never forget His grace and love that has poured out this forgiveness forever.
Live blessed and be a blessing!