Forgiving oneself… sometimes the hardest person to forgive… is you. No matter who you are and no matter what you’ve done, at some point in your life you’ve likely dealt with this when one of your little mistakes ended up hurting someone else or when you fell for the millionth time. A lot of us have a hard time forgiving ourselves — sometimes because we feel the need to punish ourselves for messing up, and other times because we feel like we did something so bad that we don’t deserve it.
This sets us up for a kind of self-righteousness — withholding forgiveness from ourselves and feeling the need to earn our way back to right standing with God. When this happens, instead of using God’s prescribed way for righteousness, we try to “get good” again. This condemnation that we bring onto ourselves has no purpose but to make us miserable. And this struggle we deal with, has no end. You see, we can pray, read our Bibles, fast, give everything we have to the poor and go on a mission trip to Africa, and those are all good things, but they cannot make us good. We see how our sin is wrong, and it makes us feel dirty. We want to be clean and so we desperately try to make ourselves clean on our own. We try to use all these good things to cover up the bad we have done and try to clean ourselves, but Isaiah 64:6 says that our righteous deeds are like filthy rags to God. How could we ever expect to clean ourselves up with filthy rags? They can’t clean us at all, and we are silly to think that they could!
Romans 10:3 describes this futile attempt at cleaning ourselves up: “Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” But this “pick yourself up and clean yourself off” method doesn’t work. Just as we cannot achieve salvation through our own good works, we cannot continue to live the Christian life through our own efforts.
After a while this struggle for righteousness will make us to feel like we are too far gone — too ugly to be loved. We begin to feel as if we aren’t and won’t ever be good enough for God to like us, and that makes us to not like ourselves, because hey, if God doesn’t, why should we? So we have set up this system… that we know will always fail, yet we still follow it. And if our goal is to punish ourselves for what has happened, then we have certainly succeeded.
But God does not want us to live this way! That’s the whole reason that He sent His Son, so that we would have a righteous way to Him. We never will make it on our own, but that’s okay, Jesus makes up for that and then some. He loves us and sees us for who we are in Him. When He looks at us, He doesn’t see broken; He sees mended. When we see too far gone, He sees one step away from home. When we see nothing but damaged goods, He sees something good in the making.* That’s what we need to do, we need to look at ourselves and those around us the way Jesus does. We can’t make it on our own, we need Him, and that’s a good thing.
In a previous article, we looked at unforgiveness as being like carrying around a big heavy suitcase full of the wrongs done to us everywhere we go. Well, that isn’t the only suitcase we carry. Often the heaviest suitcase of them all that we carry around is full of the memories of everything we have ever done wrong. It is guilt. Just like with forgiving other people, the right way to handle the suitcase of our mistakes isn’t to try and lug it around with us, but to instead just surrender it to Jesus. We can let go of it and give it to Him instead. He already cleansed us from all of our sin when He died on the cross, so why are we trying to carry it around with us everywhere we go?
“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.” (Romans 8:1,2)
~ Grant & Amanda
*From the song “Mended” by Matthew West (slightly paraphrased)