One of the most crippling phrases we face as believers comes from today’s pop-psychology world. It raises to a level of foremost importance the need to forgive ourselves. With the rise of such thinking comes a refocusing of our efforts to actually deal with offenses towards others to a more introspective, pseudo-spiritual self-forgiveness.
Does the Bible tell us that God expects us to forgive ourself? To put it plainly no. In fact, the Bible’s aim is to encourage self-examination but not self-forgiveness since sinful man always acts to gratify rather than harm the flesh. Without Christ, we are not offended by our actions but by God’s action to rule what we do as harmful to others and offensive to Him.
Even if we did find the Bible encouraging self-forgiveness, how can we step outside of our inner man in order to extend biblical forgiveness? Can we ever somehow hit the mental backspace and erase from our memory those things that offended God and others? The Bible speaks of forgiveness as not having our sin remembered against anymore in Jeremiah 31:34. Further in this passage the Lord, who is doing the forgiving promised to make a new covenant that will ensure that He treats them as if the sin had never happened. Can we do this for ourselves?
Let me be careful though. The Bible does not commend self-forgiveness, but that does not mean that we as men and women after the fall do not feel the need to seek it. Look with me at John 21. In this passage we find Jesus coming to his disciples post resurrection basically to forgive and restore Peter. Notice with me verse 21:17. Peter was grieved because Jesus asked him the third time “Do you love me?” Each time this question came Peter must have had vivid memories of his betrayal of Jesus just a few days before. He must have mourned over the loss of fellowship with the other disciples and the Lord due to his sin. Further he must have thought that he would never again be able to serve Jesus since he had so completely failed even after Jesus’ personal warning not to beforehand. Feelings of inadequacy and despondency may have been the reason Peter went back to fishing on this day in the first place.
Notice Jesus though. He does not allow Peter to wallow in his sin, but instead confronts it with a loving series of questions. After each one Jesus gives Peter a simple enough statement, but one loaded with significance. It is these three commands to “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep” that transform a Galilean fisherman into the first great under-shepherd of the flock of God. Because of Jesus’ forgiveness Peter could go forward trusting that the righteousness of Christ would be enough to sustain him as he followed Christ.
That is what we need. We need to examine ourself and recognize those places where our lives have become offensive to God and to others. Even so, to reconcile these offenses with our own forgiveness will have no effect. Our sinfulness should lead us to the feet of our Lord. As we bow, trusting in nothing else but the Savior, he will as our Good Shepherd grant us forgiveness and lead us to build right relationships with Him and others.