“Forgive yourself.” This is one of the more popular phrases that has come out of pop-psychology in recent years.
The need for forgiveness implies a debt that is owed. When we do something wrong, or damaging, it is usually for ourselves not against ourselves. Even the most destructive behavior is an attempt at self-fulfillment.
To forgive ourselves is like the right hand saying “sorry” to the left hand. And the left hand accepting the apology. It just doesn’t make logical sense to forgive ourselves. You would think, in the 66 books of the Bible, where so much information is given about sin and forgiveness, we would see some indication of needing to “forgive ourselves.” It’s not there!
When we do something “wrong,” or “sinful” in biblical terms, we don’t sin against ourselves. A thief doesn’t steal his own stuff. An abuser doesn’t beat himself. No, when we sin, we sin against God and we sin against others. It is to them we owe a debt. And it is from them that we need forgiveness.
Instead of forgiving ourselves, I believe what we’re aiming at is living our lives without “regret.” To live without regret is to live reconciled. It is to find “resolution” in our life. But how do we do that? How can we have that when we’ve done wrong, hurt someone, or offended a holy God?
2 Corinthians 7:10-11 gives us the clearest picture of how we can live without regret.
10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.
Godly sorrow and our response to it leaves no regret! What are the signs of godly sorrow?
* Earnestness – honest determination.
* Eagerness to clear yourselves – a readiness to make things right.
* Indignation – a sense of righteous anger at our own sin and the pain it caused.
* Alarm – shock, a real awareness of the nature of our sin.
* Longing – for resolution, reconciliation.
* Concern – real care and compassion for everyone who’s been affected.
* Readiness to see justice done – willing to take action to make it right, whatever it takes (restitution is another word for this).
And when we process sin this way, we move out of guilt and into resolution.
One reason we live with regret is because we really take our sin lightly. We gloss over it with sentiments of forgiveness. And we want it to be right without really striving to make it right. Some might ask, “if we do all this, why do we need forgiveness?” Because these things don’t undo sin. They don’t repay the debt. Instead they are signs that we take the debt seriously and we are living in awareness and appreciation of the forgiveness we’ve received.
So if you’re trying to forgive yourself, try changing your goal. Ask yourself the question, “How can I come through this without regret?” The only way is to express godly sorrow through an honest appraisal of what we’ve done, know that Christ has paid for the debt, and let your sorrow lead you to actions that lead to growth and change.