So often, when we are struggling to forgive ourselves, the obstacle we face is a deep awareness of our own guilt. We KNOW we are guilty. We did it. Forgiving ourselves can feel like the moral equivalent of saying 1+1=3. It’s just not right and saying that it is right doesn’t make it so. We know we’re guilty. Saying that we’re not just doesn’t sit well. As long as we are examining self, this will be our conclusion. But God, in forgiving us, doesn’t examine us. He examines Jesus. He declares us innocent, not on the basis of examining our righteousness (or lack thereof), but on the basis of examining Jesus’ righteousness. If I want to begin to see myself as righteous, the way God sees me, then I must begin to examine the right person. If I’m struggling to forgive myself, then very likely I am evaluating my own righteousness instead of Jesus’ righteousness.
2. You must receive grace at the level of identity.
Through the cross, God has provided an offering for our sin. Payment has been rendered for our guilt. God’s wrath toward sin has been propitiated through Jesus’ blood. It is possible to fully embrace this and still struggle to forgive self. We understand that payment has been made for what we’ve done, but we also retain a deep awareness that we are the kind of person who would do such things. We know we have a guilt problem. But we intuitively know that our problem is deeper than that. It’s not just that I commit sins; it’s that I am a sinner. It’s not just that I do bad things; it’s that I’m the kind of person who would do them. Our problem isn’t simply a behavior problem, it’s an identity problem. So though we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as God’s provision for our guilt, we remain aware of who we really are and live continually under that burden of shame. We need a revelation that on the cross, Jesus provided for more than just our guilt. Jesus took my guilt to the cross, but he took more than just my guilt. He took me to the cross too (see Gal 2:20). Once I begin to receive Jesus’ death, not just as God’s answer for my guilt, but also as God’s provision to make me a brand new kind of person, then I am able to see the old me as crucified, dead, and buried and can embrace God’s perspective about who I am in Christ.
3. You must exercise your will.
When I choose to examine my own lack of righteousness and judge myself guilty as a result, then I am, in that moment, exercising my will to agree with the accuser (the devil) about myself. When I choose to bring my guilt to the cross but not my identity, I am exercising my will to hang on to identifying myself with the old man/sin nature instead of identifying myself with Christ. In both cases I am exercising my will in disagreement with God’s truth. To truly forgive myself, I must exercise my will to enter into agreement with God’s valuation of Jesus’ blood on the cross for me and God’s identification of me with Christ in his death and resurrection. What might it look like to exercise your will in this way? Pray something like this right now:
Heavenly Father, today I choose to agree with you about the sufficiency of Jesus’ blood. I agree with you that Jesus’ righteousness is perfect in every way and that my status before you is solely based upon your examination of Jesus’ righteousness imputed to me on the basis of faith alone. You are not examining my righteousness so neither will I. I also choose to not only bring my guilt to the cross. Today I choose to bring who I am to the cross. Thank you that when Jesus died, my old sinful nature died too. Thank you that in Christ, I am a brand new kind of person. Thank you that you’ve given me a new nature, your nature. In Jesus name, Amen.