Recently I’d read the essay 7 Dangers of Embracing Mere Therapeutic Forgiveness and posted a link to it from this blog. The essay focused on the truth of forgiving others.
I’ve been preaching the past couple weeks on forgiveness. In preparing I’ve found Chris Brauns’ work, Unpacking Forgiveness, to be immensely helpful. A position that I have held for awhile now is that forgiveness isn’t simply about us. We don’t forgive someone primarily because we release ourselves from some prison of bitterness. Though that is certainly a benefit—we forgive because God forgave us.
Recently in a coincidence, our pastor explained the same concept, but from a different perspective. We usually focus more on the process and benefits of forgiving others, but what about forgiving ourselves? The scene he was preaching through was from Genesis 45. Joseph is revealing himself to his brothers, who had sold Joseph into slavery 13 years prior. He is reassuring his brothers that he is not angry and will not harm them. Genesis 45:5 says,
And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
Joseph is a picture of Jesus. Joseph did the unthinkable, he forgave his brothers for selling him into lsavery and conspiring to murder him. Yet … note the part of the verse that says ‘do not be angry with yourselves’. People in the church today have made up this brand new phrase. It’s not anywhere in the Bible. It goes like this- “I know that God has forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” My pastor had explained it this way,
It’s a phrase that has become very popular in church circles. ‘I know that God of the Universe has forgiven me, big deal. The REAL issue is I just can’t forgive myself.’ I heard someone explain this issue in a way that shines new light, sheds new light on this issue. It made me never want to use the phrase. This is what I heard from one pastor. He said, “If you’re saying that if I know God has forgiven me, but I’m still angry at myself, I still can’t forgive myself, what you’re saying is, the blood of Jesus may be good enough for God, but the blood of Jesus is not good enough for me. I have higher standards than the God of the universe.” This means you have put yourself above God and you have higher standards than God.
Also as an example, let’s say you did something at work, and you got fired. You did it. You did something wrong and you got fired. You say I know it was sinful and I’ve repented. I know God forgave me for this but I lost my job and I’m still mad at myself. I can’t forgive myself for what I did. This is a sign in that moment that the job was actually more important than God. The job had become my God-replacement. I was getting my meaning, my purpose, my worth and value, my joy. Now that I’ve ruined it, I just can’t move on. That would be an evidence that God hasn’t taken first place yet in your life.
Forgiveness is an attribute of God which demands our attention because it’s so integral to the Gospel. Jesus forgives us our original sin unto justification:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14).
Jesus forgives us our sins post-salvation when we repent:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:19).
In this verse, we learn about the infinite-ness of forgiveness. Such forgiveness includes riches of His grace (which is infinite), how it is dispensed (lavishly), and that it’s made known to us in all wisdom and insight.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
Do we have more wisdom than God and more insight as regards forgiveness within the place of His plan? What a ghastly thought! However that is exactly what we are saying when we say we know that God forgives us, but we just can’t seem to forgive ourselves.
On the surface it might sound pious and humble to say that you can’t forgive yourself, but it isn’t. If you knew you sinned and asked Jesus to forgive you, He has. Leave it with Him and go on about your business in confidence of His love and according to the riches of His grace.