“I know God forgives me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” I’ve heard it 1,000 times. Sometimes people are paralyzed by their past actions because they simply cannot forgive themselves. Here is some good news – you can’t forgive yourself. Only the Lord can forgive you. Once you have received His forgiveness you must live in His forgiveness. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” God does not hold sins against you any longer once you have confessed them. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He (Jesus) is faithful and just to forgive our sins and purify us of all unrighteousness.” This means Jesus will forgive you of your sin and Jesus will help you change your life so you don’t commit that sin again.
But what if you don’t “feel” forgiven? Romans 8:1-2 remind me that in Christ there is no shame, guilt, or condemnation for what I have done wrong if I have confessed my sin. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” What most people feel is the guilt and shame of their past sins.
In these verses, “For those who are in Christ Jesus” means those who are saved are forgiven. Those who ask for forgiveness are totally forgiven. Shame and guilt are terrible motivators. They will scream at you for the rest of your life to “pay” for you sins. But even when you try you still feel terrible because you cannot satisfy guilt and shame.
Jesus can – and did! He paid for your sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). If you have sinned against someone Jesus can forgive you. It is right to ask for forgiveness and “make right” anything you have done wrong to someone else (Matthew 5:23-25). But what if they don’t forgive you? Jesus can. What if you can’t do enough to make up for your wrong? Jesus did.
Colossians 2:13-15 remind us of what Jesus did on the cross. “When you were dead in your sins and in the un-circumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” When a criminal was arrested and sentenced, a list of his charges was posted beside his cell or torture device. Jesus had that posted over His cross (Matthew 27:37). Jesus took those sins we committed and were accused of and put them on Himself. He nailed our sins to His cross. Then, He made a public spectacle of what makes a public spectacle of us. Those sins that try to linger and shame us, He shamed. Those sins that try to hold us down, He triumphed over. He forgives us so we can forgive ourselves.
Think about this: When the disciples left Jesus in His greatest time of need on the cross He forgave them. How do we know this? He had just died for their sins and after He resurrected He showed Himself to them and spent time with them just as if nothing had ever happened (John 20:19-23.
Stephen Harrison is associate pastor of Family Church at White Hall.
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