We’ve all blown it sometime. We’ve sinned, often grievously. Our sins have wreaked havoc in our own lives and the lives of others. We have hurt people tremendously. As David said in Psalm 51:3, “My sin is ever before me.” However, unlike David, sometimes we can’t seem to move on. Those past sins keep us held back. We cannot enjoy God’s blessings or move on with a better life. How do we overcome that? Forgiveness. Not simply receiving God’s forgiveness or the forgiveness of others. I’m talking about forgiving ourselves. In the past, we’ve looked at what forgiving ourselves means, now we need to ask how we can practically and actually accomplish it. Here are 11 practical steps to take in order to forgive yourself.
11 Steps to Forgiving Yourself
Step #1: Own your sin.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else did or how angry they made you, you weren’t supposed to sin (Ephesians 4:26). Therefore, you can’t justify your sins with someone else’s behavior. Own it. I know this is painful. I know this is hard. But this is the first and greatest step to forgiving yourself. I know what you want to do is separate yourself from it, make it belong to someone or something else. I know you will want to look for an easier softer way, but there isn’t one. Own it.
Step #2: Own all your sinning.
Many recognize their need for forgiveness because of some monolithic, humongous, pink-elephant-in-the-room kind of sin. It is too easy to be focused on that “biggie” and forget about everything else. But if you truly want to forgive yourself, you have to own all your sinning. There are very likely sinful attitudes and smaller sins that lead to the big one. Forgive those as well. You need to take what folks in 12-step recovery call a fearless and thorough moral inventory. Get a pencil or pen and some paper and just start writing down all the sins you have committed. (I’ll be writing more about how to do this in a later post.) Don’t be afraid of this. It is only by being completely honest that you can get freedom from all of these. But if you only own the “big ones” and not all of them, then there will always be the nagging secrets and skeletons in the closet that keep you wallowing in the misery of your own sinfulness, keeping you from being able to forgive yourself.
Step #3: Accept yourself where you are.
You are a sinner, just like me. You might as well accept it. But if you are like me, you want to fight against that. You want to be something else. You want to be perfect. You want to be the example for everyone else. You think that the only way to be pleasing to God is to be something other than what you are. You need to remember Mark 2:17. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, not the righteous. When you refuse to accept yourself where you are, you are like a person hiding a gaping wound from the doctor you are visiting. We fear if we accept where we are and start letting it be known, God will turn His back on us. Not so. It is only when we accept that we have a gaping wound that the Great Physician is free to start working on it.
Step #4: Mourn the loss of your ideal self.
You have a picture of the ideal you and it is now gone. Let’s face it, there will never be a day that you can look back on your life and say, “I didn’t sin.” That is done and nothing can change it. Once you’ve accepted that, you can mourn the loss of that ideal self. You can mourn your own unrighteousness. This mourning is important. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, it is the mourners who will be comforted. But you can’t have the comfort if you don’t first mourn.
Mourning is the process by which we say goodbye to something that we wanted to hang on to. As hard as that is, it is this goodbye process that sets us free to move on. Mourn the loss of your innocence. Mourn the loss of your perfection. Mourn the loss of your own strength. Saying goodbye to all of this is what sets you free to enjoy the blessings of leaning on God for strength. Sit in those feelings of sadness. Don’t medicate them with addictions, acting out, fantasy, or more lies. Own your sin, accept who you are and what you’ve done, then mourn the loss of that ideal self.
Step #5: Humble yourself.
In Matthew 5:5, Jesus said the meek are blessed. That is, the humbly submissive are blessed. This point seems counter-intuitive. It seems to be a paradox. You probably think you are humble because you are heaping all kinds of misery on yourself. Actually, if you are in Christ, not forgiving yourself is a display of utter arrogance. You somehow think that you are such an awful sinner that you stand out head and shoulders above the rest. Your sinning is so powerful that it defies the powerful grace of God. God could forgive David when he committed adultery and murdered Uriah. God was powerful enough to forgive Manasseh for all of his idolatry, human sacrifice, and sin. God was powerful enough to forgive Peter his denials and Paul his persecution and murders. But your sins are so big that you are too powerful for even God. Humble yourself and accept God’s forgiveness. If God can forgive you, you can forgive you.
Step #6: Bring your sins to God and embrace His promises.
Like the tax collector in Luke 18:13 bring your sins to God. Jesus died so you could live. Let Jesus bring you into the Holy Place before God and let God atone for your sins in Jesus’ sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 10:19-23). Having owned every one of your sins, bring them to God. Confess them to Him. Remember the promise of Proverbs 28:13—“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (ESV). Remember who God is. He is not the universal tyrant looking for opportunities to zap His creation to hell for all eternity. In Ezekiel 18:23, God says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (ESV). God doesn’t want to condemn you. He wants you to live.
Step #7: Confess your sins to another person.
I don’t think you have to read a litany of your sins at the end of a congregational assembly. However, I think God says sharing your sins with another human being is an important part of the victory process in James 5:16. I believe the sickness in that passage is a spiritual one and shows that healing comes from finding others to confess to. Let them see you in all the wickedness you have committed. But make sure it is someone who is healthy in the Lord who will be able to share God’s love with you instead of bringing condemnation down upon you. If you take a chance with someone and open up and they do bring judgment and condemnation upon you, remember that your forgiveness is not based on their judgment. God is your judge and if you are in Christ, He has forgiven you. Don’t burden yourself with trying to prove your forgiveness to another person or prove your worthiness to be forgiven to another person. If they come to you with this attitude, they have a problem between them and God that they need to deal with. Go find someone else to share with in a healthy way.
Step #8: Stop comparing yourself to others.
I love a phrase a friend of mine once used to describe how he viewed himself. He called it “terminal uniqueness.” It is demonstrated in one of two ways. On the one hand, some are terminally unique by thinking they are not as bad as others so they don’t need much forgiveness. That was demonstrated by Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50. On the other hand, some are terminally unique by thinking they are so much worse than others that the remedy God offers others surely can’t apply to them. Judas is a great example of this in Matthew 27:3-10. Both Simon the Pharisee and Judas the apostle saw themselves as unique and their uniqueness killed them. Quit comparing yourself to others. That will only lead you to terminal uniqueness. Simply remember that every one of us is a sinner in need of a Savior. Read and reread Romans 3:9-26.
Step #9: Quit punishing yourself.
This is the heart of the forgiveness. At those moments when you want to heap condemnation and punishment on yourself, either verbally or by sabotaging your life, pause and remind yourself that Jesus died so you don’t have to. Vengeance is God’s. If He decides you need to be punished, let Him do it. If He doesn’t punish you, He doesn’t need you taking up His job and doing it for Him. Let it go. Instead of punishing yourself, start affirming your relationship with God. Start affirming that you are in Christ, that Jesus has taken your punishment so that you do not have to punish yourself. Certainly, if you have done something worthy of punishment by the civil authorities, be willing to accept that punishment (Acts 25:11), but accept that because it comes from God (Romans 13:1-4). You, however, do not have to be your own judge, jury, and executioner. Quit punishing yourself.
Step #10: See the good that can come from your past sins.
Do not misunderstand. As Paul said in Romans 6:1, we do not sin so that good may increase. However, I can’t help but see Paul’s statement in I Timothy 1:15-16 as a great example. He said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (ESV). Was Paul sorry for his sins? I’m sure. He couldn’t have repented if he wasn’t. Only godly sorrow leads to true saving repentance. However, I often wonder how Paul felt when he met Stephen’s family. But even in the midst of that sorrow, he was able to look back and now see how his past sinfulness could benefit others. You can do the same. Because of your particular sins, you are uniquely suited to reach people in similar states and declare God’s grace to them. Again, don’t sin so that some kind of good might increase, but having sinned you can see how even that can be used for God’s glory later.
Step #11: Keep forgiving yourself.
Sadly, this forgiveness is rarely a one-time decision that you carry with you forever. Rather, Satan is going to toss your sins in your face over and over again. He is going to try to get you to doubt your relationship with God. If he can get you to do that, he can get you to abandon your relationship with God. Don’t do that. Hang on to God no matter what. When those feelings come back, just declare, “Get behind me, Satan” and hang on to the forgiveness that comes from God. Further, after going through this process, you are not going to become sinless. We are all still growing (II Peter 1:5-8); that means we all still fall. Don’t think that means you need to heap the punishment for all your sins on your head just because you haven’t become perfect yet. Instead, keep hanging on to God and through Jesus Christ, forgive yourself so that you can pick up your cross again and walk hand in hand with Jesus.
Forgiving yourself is a great blessing. It will impact your life in numerous ways.
Have I missed something? Is there something you do that helps you forgive yourself? Click on the following link to add your input: Post a Comment.