04 November 2010

How to forgive yourself; or instead....

by Dan Phillips

Tuesday, we springboarded off a WikiHow article on "How to Forgive Yourself." I concluded with this:
So where does this whole idea come from? I think a lot of it comes from psychologized, man-centered nonsense.
But I also think some of it doesn't, at least not as directly. I think some of it comes from Christians who have sinned, who know they've sinned, and who nonetheless continue in guilt and misery. What shall we tell them, then?
So, what of those situations? Since I'm not writing a book on the subject, let's just dart into some of the possible causes of a lingering, unassuaged sense of guilt:

FIRST: Given that "lingering" is a relative term, one possibility is that this is a normal part of the conviction process, part of the Holy Spirit bringing one to a full grasp of the enormity of what he's done. After David's sin with Bathsheba, the brief narrative alludes to no inner conflict within David; merely that he marries Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:27). Yet he himself gives us a window into his internal life in that period, in Psalm 32:3-4 --
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
I take it, then, that David was feeling the pressing weight of conviction for his unrepented sin during this period. The closeness he'd enjoyed with the Lord was gone, and he was haunted with nagging guilt and restlessness (cf. Proverbs 28:1, 17).

In this case, the confrontation by Nathan was the lance that pierced the boil and released the infection of truth-based guilt (2 Samuel 12:1ff.). The spear went straight into David's heart, he accepted the reproof, humbled himself, and repented. David found sweet relief when he confessed and acknowledged his sin, and knew the purifying and forgiving grace of God (Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11; 51). The genuineness of his repentance was shown in part by how he accepted the consequences of his sin.

SECOND: injured pride. In this case, the stinging, lingering pain is not a heart aching over the affront done to God, and God's name and glory -- but the embarrassment of letting myself down. Here I'd thought of myself as such a fine Christian, and I did that. My friends so look up to me; what will they think? What will happen to my reputation? How could such a great guy/gal do such a thing?

All the worse if we've resisted rebuke for awhile, insisting that our sewage doesn't stink, that the sin we sinned wasn't sin when we sinned it. Then we feel we'd have to eat humble pie... which is exactly what we need to do. But our defense and attempted prettification of our sin didn't un-sin the sin, and if'we're Christians, we know that at some level.



In this case, Satan has successfully misdirected us. We've lost the whole focus of the situation. Sin is sin because it is an affront against God. What makes it awful is what it does to His glory, and what it cost Him to redeem us from it. There is no excuse and no buffer for it. Getting our eyes on ourselves and our own wounded dignity and majesty indicates that:
  1. We think far too highly of ourselves; and
  2. We think far too lowly of God
Only with such an orientation can we let loose with nonsense about needing / being unable to forgive ourselves.

In such cases, we must humble ourselves before God, ask Him to open our eyes to see our sin as He sees it, start analyzing it Biblically, and take it to the Cross.

THIRD: works-righteousness. This is related to the previous, though it feels more like humility. I cling to the feelings of misery and guilt and shame, because I have an unspoken (and perhaps unconscious) belief that I am myself atoning for my sin thereby. I am not bringing bulls or lambs or chickens to any altar; but I am bringing my frowns and moans and sighs and moroseness. Maybe enough of that will satisfy... will satisfy....

Well, whom? See, here's where we so often get mired in the bottomless swamp of our own subjectivity. Do we really think we'll appease God by these sacrifices? Odds are we don't really think it out that far, as we're being ruled by our emotions. The truth is, however, that it is ourselves we are trying to appease, and we cherish murky hopes of reaching some point of satisfaction that we have "suffered enough."

In this case, we must repent of our "repentance" that is not repentance. If we feel that our feelings (of misery) can atone for our feelings (of guilt), we haven't yet grasped the weight of sin as objective wrong against the holy God.

What is more, we have not seen that there is only one suffering that atones for sin, and it is not our suffering. It is the suffering of Christ that atones for our sin (Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 3:18). How can the Father declare that He is satisfied with Christ's suffering (Romans 4:25), yet we insist that we are not?

FOURTH is pretty obvious: we simply have not repented. Instead, we have rationalized our sin, redefined it in some way that it is not sin, made excuses and distractions and dodges and scenarios. God does not forgive rationalizations, He does not forgive excuses, He does not forgive dodges and blame-shifting. Those, we keep, until they neutralize our prayers and destroy us (Proverbs 28:9, 13a; 29:1). God forgives sins, when we repent of them as sins (Proverbs 28:13b; 1 John 1:9).

Nuts, isn't it? By our refusal to deal with sin as sin, we cling to it and all the miseries and harm that it brings in its train.

So we must repent, which is Bible-oriented and God-centered and involves specificity and mortification, and possibly a commitment to restitution (an essential element of mortification).

FIFTH, a simple lack of faith. Twenty-five years ago, I would have felt this was far too simplistic. But I've come to see that it's dead on the money.

Jesus announces that He is about to pour out His blood to establish the new covenant, with its element of the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). He does pour out His blood, forsaken by God for our sins (Matthew 27:46), and announces that "It is finished" (John 19:30). He is buried. When He rises from the tomb, He signals the Father's acceptance of His sacrifice as sufficient to bring us a righteous legal standing before Him (Romans 4:25). In His blood, through faith, we have forgiveness and a fully-righteous standing (Romans 3:25; Ephesians 1:7).

It is for this reason that John says that, when we confess our sins, He is faithful and just/righteous to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Though we need not sin and should not sin, if we do sin we have an attorney to plead our case before the Father -- Jesus Christ, the righteous.

I want to close with that though, as developed to my own great comfort and encouragement by Charles Spurgeon. It comes from his meditation for the evening of October 4, and it's worth quoting at length:
“If any man sin, we have an advocate.” Yes, though we sin, we have him still. John does not say, “If any man sin he has forfeited his advocate,” but “we have an advocate,” sinners though we are. All the sin that a believer ever did, or can be allowed to commit, cannot destroy his interest in the Lord Jesus Christ, as his advocate. The name here given to our Lord is suggestive. “Jesus.” Ah! then he is an advocate such as we need, for Jesus is the name of one whose business and delight it is to save. “They shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” His sweetest name implies his success. Next, it is “Jesus Christ”—Christos, the anointed. This shows his authority to plead. The Christ has a right to plead, for he is the Father’s own appointed advocate and elected priest. If he were of our choosing he might fail, but if God hath laid help upon one that is mighty, we may safely lay our trouble where God has laid his help. He is Christ, and therefore authorized; he is Christ, and therefore qualified, for the anointing has fully fitted him for his work. He can plead so as to move the heart of God and prevail. What words of tenderness, what sentences of persuasion will the anointed use when he stands up to plead for me! One more letter of his name remains, “Jesus Christ the righteous.” This is not only his character BUT his plea. It is his character, and if the Righteous One be my advocate, then my cause is good, or he would not have espoused it. It is his plea, for he meets the charge of unrighteousness against me by the plea that he is righteous. He declares himself my substitute and puts his obedience to my account. My soul, thou hast a friend well fitted to be thine advocate, he cannot but succeed; leave thyself entirely in his hands.
Amen.

Dan Phillips's signature

30 comments:

aufdurchreise.com said...

Thank you, this is a very helpful post (especially "Second" and "Third" were an admonition to me). I'm afraid, the pyromaniacs are my "paper pastors".

Greetings from Switzerland

René

Patience said...

Fantastic Dan!
Thanks for another poke in the eye. I know I certainly needed it.

"Getting our eyes on ourselves and our own wounded dignity and majesty indicates that:
We think far too highly of ourselves; and
We think far too lowly of God
Only with such an orientation can we let loose with nonsense about needing / being unable to forgive ourselves.

In such cases, we must humble ourselves before God, ask Him to open our eyes to see our sin as He sees it, start analyzing it Biblically, and take it to the Cross."

Very true!

Amen Brother

Thomas Louw said...

I find the fifth one to be right on the money.
The cause of lingering guilt feelings after true repentance is self pre-occupation. Self focus. Turn thoughts toward God and what he has done.
Ponder the glories of God.
Thanks Dan

Eric said...

I find reason number two springs up frequently in my thoughts as I consider sin. Far too often my reason for avoiding sin is thought of the shame and humiliation that might come with being caught in that sin, rather than thought of the affront the sin is to God's holiness. Thanks for the reminder and admonition, Dan.

olan strickland said...

Amen! Your post made me think of Augustus Toplady's hymn Rock of Ages and its second stanza which says, "Not the labors of my hands can fulfill they law's demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; thou must save and thou alone."

O what an Advocate!

DJP said...

Perfect, Olan. Exactly!

witness said...

Dan... thank you in a big way for helping me "see" myself.

donsands said...

"If we feel that our feelings (of misery) can atone for our feelings (of guilt), we haven't yet grasped the weight of sin as objective wrong against the holy God."

This is a key isn't it.

My reading this morning was of Achan. God's wrath burned against this man, and his family for his sin of thievery, or really disobeying God's clear command.
Achan was stoned and burned, and only then "the Lord turned from his burning anger." Joshua 7:26

As I read this, I realized Christ took God's wrath that was upon me, for all my sin.
And there's nothing more great and wonderful as Christ our Savior being crushed for our iniquities.

Thanks for the excellent lesson on forgiveness.

I remember back when I was a young Christian Charles Stanley teaching that we need to forgive ourselves. But it never registered with me, just didn't seem to make sense.

Scooter said...

In this case, the stinging, lingering pain is not a heart aching over the affront done to God, and God's name and glory -- but the embarrassment of letting myself down.

Wow, this quote is spot on. It really brought the focus on a hazy reality that I have been struggling to grasp.

In this case, we must repent of our "repentance" that is not repentance. If we feel that our feelings (of misery) can atone for our feelings (of guilt), we haven't yet grasped the weight of sin as objective wrong against the holy God.

What an idol-exposing quote! This is me so many times. If I could just wallow in remorse and self-pity long enough, my feelings will show God how sorry I am. Throw some ashes on my head and the faux-repentance is complete.

Thanks for a convicting post that forces to look outside myself for salvation.

wv: mouni - someone who thinks his moaning will atone for his sins

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan,

In point 4 you wrote, "God forgives sins, when we repent of them as sins (Proverbs 28:13b; 1 John 1:9)."

Not sure how you mean that, but...

This is a common teaching which I believe is part of the problem of folks supposedly not forgiving themselves.

It muddies the waters by implying that if one does not confess a particular sin at a particular time, that the sin is not forgiven.

In actuality, all of our sins, even those not yet committed are forgiven totally when we are saved.

1 John 1:9, which you cite above, is not a sin-by-sin condition for forgiveness of individual sins (nor a condition for the "forgiveness for fellowship", as is often claimed).

It's merely, in the context of John's letter, indicating the habitual practice of a true believer, as opposed to an unregenerate one (a large purpose of John's letter).

That is, a true believer is one who confesses ("says with [God]" or "agrees with [God]") his sins as a practice of life.

The unbeliever says we have no sin (1 Jn 1:8), and deceives himself and the truth is not in him.

But if it's even implied that we must confess (or repent of) individual sins before those individual sins are forgiven, we deny the "it is finished" fact of our forgiveness and exacerbate the "I can't forgive myself" mess.

Not to mention, we commit so many sins that we aren't even really aware of at the time, we could never keep track of them to confess.

Which means, of course, that the typical [wrong] interpretation of 1 John 1:9 would doom us all.

We are forgiven, past, present and future, period (if we're born again).

Regarding 1 John 1:9, MacArthur preaches rightly, "...that is not a command, that is a statement of fact.

"True believers are habitual confessors who therefore demonstrate that their sins are continually being forgiven.

"We are still known as penitent. We are still known as eager to repent, as confessors of sin."

DJP said...

If you're taking the Bob George approach to 1 John 1:9, we certainly will not connect.

I am speaking of existential, daily, relational forgiveness. I think the same sort of thing is in mind in Matthew 6:14-15, and John 13:10.

Stefan said...

Dan:

This all makes sense, but somehow there seems to be a piece missing, unless I am not seeing something.

What I mean is, I understand why the concept of "(not) forgiving ourselves" is so misguided and unbiblical. And in the context of repenting for specific instances of grievous behaviour before God, all that you say makes sense.

But I can't let my mind wander for 5 minutes before it begins to turn to pride, anger, resentment, envy, self-righteousness, and worse. And the more I come under conviction of my own wretchedness and humble myself and repent before God, the more I discover the idol factory of my own mind, and so I hate myself when once more I get angry at a slow driver, or irritated because the bus is late, or pride myself for being less prideful than someone else, or puff myself up for having the right theology, and so on.

Yes, praise God that Jesus Christ died once for all upon the Cross for our sins—past, present, and future. Praise God that we are to look to Christ and Christ alone for our salvation, and for our ongoing sancticification. And praise God that we are made new creatures in Christ, even as the "old man" still lurks within us.

So my question is...where does a healthy distrust of our own wicked inclinations, and a healthy acknowledgement of and attitude towards our sinfulness before God, fit into this whole picture—while at the same time having joy in Christ, as the adopted children of a loving Father?

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan,

"If you're taking the Bob George approach to 1 John 1:9..."

No, the John MacArthur approach actually.

Curious though, what phrase in my comment would lead you to a smear-by-association link to Bob George?

DJP said...

Boy, Terry, for a grace-guy, these posts sure do make you cranky! At least you haven't said I was "insane" yet today.

No GBA smear intended, honestly. Just time-saver; you know how I like brief. (And btw, I don't care who would agree with Bob George, I would disagree with that man.)

So, where are you on this after my last clarification?

donsands said...

"If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts." -John

I agree with Dan that this is a ongoing confession of our sins. Every Sunday we confess that we have not loved God as we should, and have not loved our neighbor as we should. And we know we are forgiven in Christ's death, and yet we say to our Father, forgive us. It's a good thing to ask for forgiveness, even though we know we are clean and forgiven.

I think of Peter denying his Lord and Friend three times, and he went and wept bitterly, surely pleading for forgiveness, and surely Peter knew he was forgiven in that he just partook in the holy moment of the passover, where Jesus spoke those words to them, and they ate bread and drank wine together.

"I am speaking of existential, daily, relational forgiveness. I think the same sort of thing is in mind in Matthew 6:14-15, and John 13:10." Dan

This nails it down pretty good for me.

Stefan said...

Dan:

Please help me out.

If I am coming under regular (daily) conviction of sin, and regularly (daily) confessing of my sins, on the basis of Christ's death on the Cross for our sins, is there something wrong with that?

Between today's post and your posts two weeks ago on repentance, I'm getting the sense that you think that this is self-indulgence, or works righteousness, or that one hasn't repented properly in the past, or hasn't properly mortified one's sin.

This cannot possibly be what you mean. Why am I misreading this? What, to you, is a healthy and right (as upposed to unhealthy and wrong) way of viewing our own sins, and bringing them before God?

Anyhow, John MacArthur's sermon on 1 John 1:8-10 (which Terry linked to) actually goes a long way in clearing this up...that we have positional forgiveness in Christ through our forensic justification, but that we are also to seek daily forgiveness for our sins, as part of our ongoing sanctification.

DJP said...

Can't tell you anything about MacArthur, I've read/heard relatively little.

But "we have positional forgiveness in Christ through our forensic justification, but that we are also to seek daily forgiveness for our sins, as part of our ongoing sanctification" isn't different from anything I've said.

Stefan said...

Okay, thank you!

Because I've gone from hardly praying at all over the summer, to being convicted that if I'm not regularly bringing my sins to the mercy seat of God, I'm like a ship's captain who isn't regularly checking his compass bearings.

Ron said...

Thanks Dan,

Point 3 was my favorite.

As per Bob George- I like him.
I think he's got a screwed up idea of God's sovereignty (he's an Arminian).
A screwed up idea of election (double election!).
A screwed up idea of free will.
A screwed up idea of reconciliation.
A screwed up idea of forgiveness.

But he said something in this area that I liked, "Until you rest in the finality of the cross, you will never experience the reality of the resurrection"- (Classic Christianity, pg. 56).
Not entirely accurate either- but I like the intent.

Oddly enough, Bob brought my cousin out of Seventh Day Adventism- when The Bible Answer Man couldn't! So Bob too is a peculiar blessing :)

Blessings,
Ron

allen said...

Terry-
This has come up often for me. The key to a full understanding is:
1)There is both judicial forgiveness that has already happened---HALLELUJAH!! (Col.2:13,Eph.4:32,etc.)

2)and there is family forgiveness that is continually going on as we "confess"-1 John 1:9; and ask for forgiveness-Matt.6:12 as our Lord taught us to pray) The latter verses teach the aspect you seem to not even allow.

Your stated position on Dan's last two posts seem essentially to be :
"Don't mortify sin-it's impossible to do so."
And, "Don't confess-there's no need."
Both of these ignore clear scriptures.

Sir Brass said...

THis post reminds me of something John Piper once said. he was talking about assurance and dealing with the lack thereof. And though what he was talking about wasn't in regards to how to act after we've sinned, but in general, the same remedy applies.

Get off of myopically looking only at one's self and worthiness (for the honest man sees he has none and despairs), and put ones eyes wholly on Christ.

The Spurgeon quote was dead ON, especially early on when he states what John did NOT say... and one realizes that that thing that John did NOT say is in fact how we can be prone to think after we have sinned. "I've lost my right to an advocate, for I have sinned and done so knowingly and rebelliously!" Instead we are told that when we sin we DO have an advocate, Jesus Christ. BINGO! Dead on! And just what I needed to read to meditate on.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

I think a lot of the issue here is that we think we need to feel forgiven. Instead of looking at Christ and saying what He did is true no matter how I feel or honestly asking if there is something we honestly need to repent of, we buy into the psychological idea that if I do feel forgiven or accepted I will not have a well adjusted personality. The result is we end up gazing at our navel rather then Christ.

Sir Aaron said...

Dan:

Spot on. I've struggled with guilt and can tell you that I've struggled with each one of those steps. I became obssessed with sins before my conversion so much that some nights I could not sleep. Fortunately, I found some wise counsel who made me understand the points you brought up here.

So now when I counsel brothers, I walk them through this as well. You can't beat yourself up forever over your sins. Confess it to God, make restitution where necessary, take measures to prevent it in the future if applicable, and then move on.

Sir Aaron said...

@Terry:

Is it really fair to Dan or MacArthur to talk about what MacArthur believes about what Dan posted without actually asking MacArthur? I mean, you are essentially pitting MacArthur against Dan. MacArthur isn't here to speak and you are asking Dan to rebut a man's writings which he apparently has not read (or read recently enough to be of use in this particular argument).

It seems to me that you could make your argument without throwing MacArthur under the bus.

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan,

I accept your explanation that you meant no smear by mention of Bob George.

You might understand my being disconcerted, though, if for example I said something like,

"Dan, if you're taking the Pope John Paul II approach to 1 John 1:9, we certainly would not connect."

I expect your thoughts would be

(1) Where in the world did that come from?,

(2) Why in the world would Terry, an Evangelical Calvinist, take a swipe at me, Dan, an Evangelical Calvinist, in an Evangelical Calvinist meta, by implying some associative connection to a disrespected off-the-reservation guy like Pope John Paul, and

(3) Does Terry even have the slightest idea of what John Paul teaches about 1 John 1:9?

In connection with number (3) above, I checked out what Bob George teaches about 1 John 1:9, and it's some obscure reference to Gnostic vs. Christian theological clarification that he claims [rightly or wrongly] the Apostle was trying to clear up.

His conclusion is basically that Christians shouldn't bother confessing their sins, since they are already forgiven.

This is almost exactly OPPOSITE of what I wrote, which is that if one does not confess their sins, that is a sign that they are unregenerate!

Which only leads me back to my original question of you,

"Curious though, what phrase in my comment would lead you to a [scratch the "smear-by-association"] link to Bob George?"

In answer to your later question, "So, where are you on this after my last clarification?", I would say this:

I remain convinced that, in violation of the clear teaching of Rom. 8:1, a sense or feeling of "condemnation" is regularly put on Saints by a wrong teaching of 1 John 1:9.

That wrong teaching (whether it's what you are teaching or not) is that 1 John 1:9 acts as a command which makes confession of individual sins the condition for God's forgiveness of those individual sins.

As believers, we will indeed confess our sins, immediately or eventually, and as they come to mind. We agree with God that sins are bad, and that God is right.

And as "confessors of our sins", that is, born-again believers, all our sins are forgiven.

The counter-intuitive Catch-22 is that if we stand in the freedom of that total forgiveness (grace), we will be more likely to walk by the Spirit, and thus more likely to not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

But if we don't stand in that freedom, and instead have some cloud of guilty unforgiveness over our heads -- wondering if we're REALLY repentent enough and wondering if we're REALLY forgiven -- we will quench the Spirit, and be more likely to spiral downward into more sins which we wonder if we're forgiven of.

Terry Rayburn said...

allen,

You represented me as basically saying,

"Don't mortify sin-it's impossible to do so."
And, "Don't confess-there's no need."

I don't want to simply ignore your comment, but this is such a ridiculous straw-man misreprentation, that I can only say (1) to re-read my comments, and (2) be honest

Terry Rayburn said...

Sir Aaron,

You wrote,

"you are essentially pitting MacArthur against Dan."

Of course I'm not. Dan is free to agree with MacArthur or not. I'm merely zeroing in on Mac's understanding of 1 John 1:9 as a statement of fact about "habitual confessors" being true believers (which I agree with).

"MacArthur isn't here to speak"

He already spoke, which I quoted from in my previous comment, and linked to for your convenience.

"you are asking Dan to rebut a man's writings which he apparently has not read"

I'm not asking Dan to rebut anyone. I'm merely asking him to agree with me.

"It seems to me that you could make your argument without throwing MacArthur under the bus."

This is a simply goofy statement, since I...

1. Quoted Mac
2. Linked to his sermon, which I applaud, as I do virtually all his sermons, and
3. AGREE with him!

Where on Earth are you coming from?

I feel like I've walked into the Twilight Zone.

Sir Aaron said...

Terry:

You linked to MacArthur, said he believes such and such based on a singular sermon, then used it to buttress your argument as if throwing his name around makes your argument stronger.

Terry Rayburn said...

Aaron,

My argument is a biblical one, based on an exegesis of 1 John as a book written largely to contrast unbelievers with believers.

I merely quoted someone generally respected greatly in this meta, who agrees with my biblical analysis, as an indication that I'm not bringing revelation from Mars.

Hardly throwing him "under the bus".

Halcyon said...

Meanwhile, as Sir Aaron and Terry continued to duke it out, Halcyon transmitted to Mr. Phillips...

DJP:

The best part of the whole post was when you said, "We so often get mired in the bottomless swamp of our own subjectivity." That is (I think) the key to the problem that you are addressing, and it ties into Mike the Mad Theologians comment above, viz., we focus on our own subjective selves rather than the objective work of Christ.