Every so often I hear someone talk about needing to “forgive themselves.” They’re holding onto the guilt of a past action and continuing to beat themselves up over it. This, to a degree, is understandable. The conscience can easily be turned against us, and conviction of sin can quickly be twisted into condemnation—even after we’ve asked those we’ve offended to forgive us.
But, in all honesty, it really bothers me when I hear people speak like this. The reason is, when we declare we need to forgive ourselves, we’re unintentionally saying there’s something lacking in Christ’s work on the cross.
Unwittingly, we trivialize Jesus.
When condemnation takes the reigns, we need to remember the answer is not primarily to forgive ourselves or seek to make recompense, but to turn to Christ. Ultimately, our sin problem always comes back to our relationship with God—specifically our need for atonement. Ray Ortlund writes in Isaiah: God Saves Sinners:
How do we make amends at the level of God’s infinite justice? How can our trinkets of morality down here, conservative or liberal, compensate God? The gospel’s answer is the perfect Lamb sacrificed for human guilt before God —and God was fully satisfied. All we should do, all we can do, is bow before Christ in our need. The answer must be that simple, or we’re thrown back on the impossible task of undoing our own guilt.
Don’t become overwhelmed with condemnation of guilt and shame. Instead, look the One who truly does wash your sins away. Don’t trivialize Christ; revere him.