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Why You Don’t Need to Forgive Yourself (And What You Really Need Instead)

If you’re haunted by past sins and failures, and have ever confided in anyone about the shame you feel, it’s likely that you’ve encountered this piece of advice:

“You need to forgive yourself.”

Perhaps you’ve even tried to discover how to do just that.

Some Christians have walked with the Lord practically all their lives, coming to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior as young children and clinging closely to Him from that point onward.

For the majority, however, that isn’t the case. Most believers have a blemished history. A past marked by varying degrees of wickedness, often including at least one particularly heinous act that somehow keeps plaguing our minds long after our sin has been covered by the blood of the Lamb.

Do you fall into this latter category?

Do you find yourself knowing that God has forgiven you, but still longing to be able to forgive yourself?

After all, we hear everywhere, from the church pew to the psychologist’s couch, the message of how important self-forgiveness is.

Perhaps it will surprise you to know that this idea of “forgiving ourselves” is not a biblical one.

Throughout Scripture, from cover to cover, you will never find this kind of mandate. The Bible never tells us to forgive ourselves.

Furthermore, no person in Scripture ever talks about forgiving himself or herself, or even behaves in a way that indicates that they’ve forgiven themselves.

The truth is, if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ and are experiencing chronic shame over events in the past, it’s for just two possible reasons.

Do dark sins of your past keep you depressed, with the longing to be able to forgive yourself? Here's why you don't have to, & what you really need instead.

1. Holy Spirit Conviction

At the moment of salvation, a believer is forgiven of her sins and washed clean by the blood of Christ.

But some of our actions bear consequences that cannot be undone on this side of heaven. And if those actions have impacted another person, God’s desire is for you to seek the forgiveness of that person, making restitution if applicable (Matthew 5:23-24, Luke 19:8).

And so it’s possible that the continual nudging you sense about a sin in your past is the Holy Spirit prompting you to confess that sin to the person you wronged, and to ask for their forgiveness.

Perhaps the other person will grant it; perhaps she won’t. The result isn’t up to you – your part is to simply obey and do your best to make things right.

If this reason for past guilt doesn’t apply to you, there’s a second possibility, and it’s one that often flies under the radar.

2. Unbelief

When you became a Christian, God forgave every single one of your sins, removing them as far as the east is from the west and forevermore choosing to remember them no more.

There is no more condemnation. There is no more final punishment. There is no more guilt in the sight of God.

I suspect that you know that already. It is, after all, why you came to Christ in the first place. You recognized your sin and your need for forgiveness from a holy God, and you understood that the only One who could be such a Savior is Jesus Christ.

But here’s the thing…

It’s one thing to know something in your head.

It’s another thing altogether to believe it.

To stake your claim on it.

To lay hold of it, clinging to it like your life depends on it.

(Because it does.)

And this is where we discover what we really need.

What We Really Need When It Comes to Forgiveness

Christ-followers don’t need to forgive ourselves. We simply need to receive God’s forgiveness through Christ, and then to believe that we have it.

I John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

There is no gray area here. This is absolutely true.

The only question is whether you believe it.

Because if you do, you will walk in confidence of having received forgiveness.

If you need guidance in correcting your unbelief, here’s how to get started:

1.)Confess your unbelief to God.

Those things that flow out of lack of faith are sinful (Romans 14:23). Thankfully, God invites us to confess our sin and to forsake it (Proverbs 28:13).

2.)Ask God to help you believe.

One of the most relatable prayers in the entire Bible is found in Mark 9:24: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” God knows our natural skepticism and lack of faith. Implore Him to grant you a believing heart.

3.)Know the truth.

Search the Scriptures to find out what God says about His forgiveness. Write down verses. Memorize them, hiding them in your heart and plastering them on the walls of your mind.

4.)Tell yourself the truth.

Lies will continue to tickle your ear, whispered from your own deceptive heart and from the enemy of your soul. Refuse entry to the lies, reminding yourself of the truth that you know from God’s Word.

5.)Grant forgiveness to others.

A natural byproduct of being forgiven is to offer forgiveness (Matthew 8:21-35, Ephesians 4:32). To practice granting grace as lavishly as you’ve received it will reinforce to your mind and to your heart that you have been forgiven.

Dear Heavenly Father, how I praise You for the forgiveness you so graciously offer through faith in your Son Jesus Christ. Please help me to reject any lies that would contradict your truth, and increase my belief in You. It’s in the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ, that I pray. Amen.

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This post was originally published by me at Satisfaction Through Christ. It has been transferred here for archival purposes.


  1. June


  2. Libby

    Thank you for this, Jennifer. The *forgive yourself* issue has never seemed right to me.


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