Biblical Doctrines · Christian Living · Pet Peeves · Self-Esteem · Sin

The Problem With Self-Forgiveness

When the Spirit of God brings a person to repent of sin it is not unusual for there to be a measure of self-loathing. The prophet Isaiah had this spiritual experience and wrote about it:

“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. 2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:1-5).

The closer a person comes to the thrice-holy God, the more self-conscious the individual will be of personal defilement and sin. It is the gift of God to repent. It is the gift of God to stand in judgment upon one’s own heart and to see the total defilement of self. It is the gift of divine grace to look inward and to cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). Then and only then can the great grace of our great God be experienced and enjoyed. Only against the bleak backdrop of sin can the glorious light of the gospel shine brightly and the heart can thank God, through Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of all transgressions.

Unfortunately, the current generation has been taught a new gospel called Self-Esteem Theology. Part of this unbiblical teaching is that individuals must first learn to forgive themselves. Search the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation and you will not find a single verse to support the error of encouraging individuals to forgive themselves. The idea of self-forgiveness is a religious construct which is promoted in to order ease the pain of a guilty conscience. However well intentioned the idea might be, self-forgiveness leads to false comfort, incomplete repentance, and the freedom to sin. Grace becomes not only free but cheap. Self-forgiveness is the wisdom of the world, reminding the individual that one sinner is no worse than another and that one should not be so hard on him or herself.

In this way, relative righteousness is promoted despite the fact that Christ denounced this notion as recorded by Luke. Said Jesus, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:10–14).When one person compares himself to another, the individual may look quite pious and holy, but when a person compares himself to God who is wholly just, the heart is seen to be “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9).

Self-forgiveness, as part of Self-Esteem Theology, is just another way of promoting the idea that “it’s all about me!” However, forgiveness is not about self but the Savior. God is faithful and just to forgive sin based upon the redemptive work of Christ at Calvary. Oh sinner, do you not understand? Sin is a foul thing. Sin brings death. Sin brings separation. Sin should produce deep and lasting guilt and shame. Sin has caused all of creation to be cursed. Sin is the reason why a crowd gathered at Calvary. The world could not look for very long upon the lingering Lord. Angels spread your wings, and cover your holy eyes. Children, turn away. Sinners, bow your head, and consider what your behavior has cost the Son of God. Be astonished enough to ask with Isaac Watts:

Alas! And did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head,
For sinners such as I!

Was it for crimes that I have done,
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Do not seek to forgive yourself. Seek God’s forgiveness, for only God can forgive sin. Trust in Christ, and you will find mercy in the Lord. As the Gospel of Mark phrases it, “Who can forgive sins but God only?” (2:7).

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