Though we are exhorted throughout the Bible to forgive others, perhaps the biggest challenge that believers face is forgiving ourselves when we have done wrong.
Maybe our actions, intentional or otherwise, caused harm to others or maybe we failed to help, and we just can’t seem to shake these feelings of failure and condemnation.
Though the Bible does not directly state that we must forgive ourselves, it is implied throughout the scriptures.
We start with how God treats our sins by tossing them into the deepest part of the ocean, which some have described as the sea of forgetfulness:
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our[a] sins
into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19 ESV)
Isaiah describes God putting our sins behind His back, so He sees them no more (Isaiah 38:17).
God has chosen to forgive and completely forget our sins, but many of us struggle with seeing ourselves as God sees u.
The Jews understood the importance of this and actually developed the tradition of Tashlich, which literally means ‘you will cast.’ The ceremony is traditionally practiced on the first day of Rosh Hashannah, the start of the Jewish new year, which generally takes place in the late summer or early fall.
As part of this, Jews gather at the edge of some water, the ocean if it is nearby, or a river, a lake and if that is not available a well or even a bucket of water.
They then throw bread on the water, and in some cases, people will shake their clothing to mimic shaking off the dirt and dust.
Through this ceremonial action, they are choosing to cast or forget their sin as God has done for them.
But as believers, we often dredge up our past sins and failures, and rehearse them in our minds. We can have flashbacks of incidents that we did years ago and all they do is condemn us.
Sometimes, Satan is the source of this condemnation (Zechariah 3:1), because he knows that condemnation or guilt is one of the most effective ways to derail a believer.
The Apostle Paul focused on this issue when he writes that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
This is the reality for the believer. God has completely forgiven us and any condemnation we feel is based on a lie.
In these moments of self-hate, we must choose to believe God’s word that we have been forgiven and our sins forgotten.
When these thoughts surface, we must purposefully cast them out of our minds. We must block them as we embrace God’s forgiveness.
As one psychologist stated, if we can’t show compassion to ourselves then we won’t be able to show compassion to others.
Jesus hints at this when he taught that if we judge others, then we will be judged according to those same standards (Matthew 7:1-6).
This suggests a judgmental attitude may be rooted in our own lack of self-forgiveness.
Simply, in order to love our neighbor, we must first love ourselves.
In dealing with issues of self-forgiveness, there are three things that may help:
- Reject perfectionism. We must accept ourselves as flawed human beings, who have sinned and will sin again (Romans 3:23).
- Secondly, we must embrace and receive God’s forgiveness completely. We must hold onto this forgiveness, by purposefully rejecting those thoughts that try to condemn us. The Apostle Paul says we must take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5).
- Finally, claim our identity in Christ. When thoughts or feelings flood our hearts, that beat us down, we need to reclaim our identity in Christ. We are righteous in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are a child of God (2 Corinthians 6:18).