Counseling Issues: Self-forgiveness

“I know God has forgiven me, BUT  I just can’t forgive myself!”

I hear this one all the time, and it usually takes only one session with a client to help dispel this false concept that we must forgive ourselves before we can be truly free of whatever wrong we have done. Here is what I share with my clients:

There is no scriptural support whatsoever for the idea of self-forgiveness.  You won’t find it anywhere.

But—how can I stop feeling so guilty?  Don’t I need to forgive myself for what I’ve done?

No,  As I just pointed out, self-forgiveness is not in God’s Word.  So here’s the process.

First, we have to acknowledge our sin.  If we have hurt, offended, wronged someone else, we need to go to that person, if possible, and confess what we have done. We can’t say, “IF I hurt you, then I’m sorry.” That puts the responsibility right back on the person we offended. We must SAY the wrong we did, SAY we are truly sorry, and ASK the person for forgiveness.  This is a humbling and cleansing process, when done in sincerity.  Usually, the offended person will agree to forgive.  Don’t let him get away with “Oh, it’s ok, don’t worry about it.”  No, that’s not good enough. Tell him, “I need to hear you say you forgive me.”

If you have not already gone to the Lord about the issue, now is the time. “Father, I sinned against my friend.  I hurt her with my words.”  This is confession. to confess is to agree with God, to say you were wrong. Then, “I confessed my wrong to my friend, and she forgave me.  Lord, please forgive me for what I did, and thank You for always forgiving me when I sin.”

You will not hear Him say, “I forgive you,” except through the Word. I John 1:9 says that if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  So if your confession is from the heart, if your repentance is true, then you are forgiven by the only One Who has the absolute authority over sin. You are cleansed from that sin, free of it, forgiven.

Then why do I still feel so bad?  Why does the memory surface every now and then?  Don’t I need to forgive myself?

You feel bad because you are sorry, remorseful, perhaps ashamed, regretful.  Remember that Satan is the accuser of the brethren, accusing us before God day and night (Rev. 12:10).  He is the source of this ongoing sense of guilt and shame over past, confessed and forgiven sin. When these emotions surface, you go back to God and you say, “Lord, I KNOW You have forgiven me!  Please help to know right now that I am forgiven, and help me to resist Satan’s temptation to fall into misery over what YOU have erased.”

Here’s the thing. God is the ultimate authority over everything, including my sin. He is the only One Who has the power to completely forgive me. To believe that even though He has forgiven me, I still need to forgive myself, is to believe that His forgiveness is not effective or complete until I myself have added my own forgiveness to His.

In other words, we are saying that His forgiveness isn’t quite enough.  Not quite sufficient.  My own forgiveness is needed to make it complete.

II Corinthians 12:9  tells me that His grace is sufficient. It is enough!  Grace that is greater than ALL  my sin.

2 thoughts on “Counseling Issues: Self-forgiveness

  1. Lora Lupkes

    So very true! I hear this often also and used to believe that I needed to forgive myself. So thankful that God’s forgiveness is enough! I know I can’t trust my “feelings” and the verses you shared are ones that are good reminders to me when I don’t “feel” forgiven!


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