Is ‘Forgiving Self’ Biblical?

By Kathy Pollard

That’s a great question! We often hear of the importance of being able to forgive ourselves, but is that actually in the Bible? We’re commanded to forgive others in multiple passages, but where is there any mention of forgiving ourselves?

While there isn’t a verse that states “you should forgive yourself,” it is certainly implied.

First, let’s make sure we understand how we’re using the word “forgive.” When God forgives us, He is removing the guilt of our sin. He is wiping away our sins (1 John 1:9). When we forgive others (or ourselves), we are not doing that. Only God can do that. When He asks us to forgive others, He is not asking us to take away the guilt of their sin. That’s His job. He is asking us to not harbor ill will toward them, to let go of our anger or any grudges, and to offer that forgiveness from the heart (Matt. 18). So when we forgive ourselves, we’re not saying we have the power to forgive our sins. That’s God’s role only. But we are saying we can release the burden we carry because of it. We can trust, from the heart, that we can let it go.

Second, consider Paul’s example. He had a “former life” he wasn’t proud of (Gal. 1:13). If we’re supposed to forgive ourselves, why doesn’t Paul say anything about forgiving himself? He may not come right out and say it but it seems like he does describe it. Paul wrote about “being anxious for nothing” and praying for the “peace of God that passes all understanding and guards your hearts and minds” (Phil. 4:6-7). He said even though he “persecuted the church,” he wanted a “righteousness of his own…through Jesus Christ.” How? By “forgetting what is behind and reaching for what is ahead.” That is the perfect definition of what it means to forgive ourselves (and others, for that matter). He then goes on to say “all of us who are mature should take such a view of things” and “join together in following my example” (Phil. 3:6-17).

Third, consider Peter’s example. Jesus told him that Satan was going to go after him and he was going to give in. Peter replied, “I’m ready to die for you!” Instead he denied Jesus. “When Jesus looked straight at Peter…he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:31-34, 54-62). How that must have weighed on him! But somehow he went on to serve as an elder in His Lord’s church (1 Pet. 5:1) and serve on mission trips (Acts 9 & 10). When struggling with forgiving self, it can be very helpful to read 1 & 2 Peter with Peter’s denial of Jesus in mind. “Grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Pet. 1:2). “Cast all your anxiety/ worry on Jesus because He cares for you…and the God of all grace will make you strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Pet. 5:7,10). Peter was able to move forward because he trusted God’s grace. And that gave him peace, strength, determination.

Fourth, what would NOT forgiving ourselves look like? It would involve hanging on to the burden of guilt and being weighed down by it. Or not being able to let the shame go. Perhaps it would include being unsure of our own salvation because of it. But it seems like all of the reassurances that God gives of His complete forgiveness are to remove those very feelings we might struggle with (Heb. 8:12; Micah 7:18-19; Psa. 103:12 and so many more!). He wants us to have faith and confidence in our salvation (1 John 5:13), in our cleansing (1 John 1:7-9), and in our righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). Forgiving ourselves just means that we take to heart God’s promises and assurances. We reach for that with both hands instead of dragging remnants of our past behind us.

Finally, why is it important to forgive ourselves? Paul wrote to Christians about how to treat a brother who had seriously messed up. He said, “forgive and comfort him…reaffirm your love for him.” Why? “So he will not be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow.” He went on to give another reason, “If there is anything to forgive, forgive…in order that Satan might not outwit us” (2 Cor. 2:5-11). Forgiveness is so important to the spiritual wellbeing of others and their ability to move forward and stay strong. Those same reasons are no less true when it comes to the importance of forgiving ourselves. Another reason it’s important to forgive ourselves is because it changes how we live, think, and act. There’s an observable conduct that points others to God’s mercy. Paul mentioned this when he called himself the “chief of sinners.” He said finding mercy allowed him to show others what Jesus is like (“longsuffering”) so others may believe in Him (1 Tim. 1:15-16). One more reason it’s important to forgive ourselves is that it will affect how we treat others. “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). One might argue that this involves how we love ourself, too (Mark 12:31), but it’s perhaps more important to note that how we handle our own past mistakes could impact our ability to love others. We need to let go of them (in essence, forgive ourselves) so that we can offer that same love and grace to others as we’re commanded.

That Perfect Married Couple

By Kathy Pollard

Do you know that perfect married couple?  They look happy together.  They’re always holding hands and seem to have it all figured out.  People look to them for advice.  They’re the hashtag-relationship-goals of social media.  I could name some couples that fall into this category for me.  I’m grateful for their example of marital bliss, and their PDA posts make me smile.

Neal and I are not that perfect married couple.  A superficial glimpse might make it appear that we are.  We do hold hands.  We do say nice things to and about each other on social media.  We’ve been asked to teach the occasional marriage seminar.  And so every now and then someone will remark on our relationship as being “exemplary” or some other thoughtful description.  I thank them because I appreciate their kindness but inwardly I cringe and think, “Far from it.”  We agree to teach about marriage because we can study what God’s Word has to say about it.  After nearly 27 years together, we can share some lessons we’ve learned from experience (some of them the hard way).  But we have had our own struggles and are still learning and growing, one year at a time.  We’ve hurt each other and let each other down.  As a wife, I’ve been guilty of lying, betraying, sulking, and manipulating.  Some of those hurtful things I knew I was doing in the moment.  Some of them I only realized later when I looked back over my behavior.  Our marriage has had rocky times because of the pressures of trials.  And our marriage has had rough patches because of the consequences of our own choices.  We’ve had to practice forgiveness, patience, and grace.  No, we are not that perfect married couple.

But we are a married couple and our God is perfect.

I’ve been reminded of this truth a couple of times this week.  Take a look at these “perfect” couples.


I met this couple last night.  They got married at ages 15 and 17, and have been married for 55 years.  I asked them separately what has held them together for over half a century, especially since they started out so young.  Without hesitating, each of them said, “God.”  For them, it was as simple as that.  When they were standing together again, I pointed out that they each gave the same one-word answer.  She laughed and said, “Without God, I would’ve kicked him out a long time ago!”  They went on to add other advice, like the importance of giving 100% instead of 50/50 (and making that determination each new day).


I met this couple two nights ago.  They’ve been married for 67 years!  It didn’t take long to figure out what has held them together.  She told me their first date was at Mammoth Cave.  He nodded and said, “I should’ve left her down there.”  He shared their secret to commitment:  “Divorce never crossed our minds.  Murder did, once or twice, but divorce was never an option.”  We all laughed and they looked at each other with a twinkle in their eyes that gave me a glimpse of the young couple they once were.  I loved their sense of humor and strong faith (made obvious by supporting a gospel meeting on a weeknight).  I imagine 67 years has given them a few stories of hardships and struggles but they are still together, still sharing some laughs, and still holding hands.

These are the real, perfect married couples.  I don’t know them well enough to see beyond the superficial.  But I do know that they’ve entrusted their marriages to their perfect God.  How blessed we are to enjoy life together, find reasons to smile, and keep holding hands despite our imperfections!

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us (Eph. 3:20).

Revive Me #51–Spend Time on the Mountain

Revive Me, Week 51– A Year of Growing Stronger in the Lord

Spend Time on the Mountain

Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the testimony of God and then “went down to the people to tell them” (Ex. 19:20-25).  Jesus “went up on the mountain and…opened His mouth and began to teach” (Matt. 5:1,2).  He took what Moses had shared and elevated it.  He made it a matter of the heart (5:21,22, 31,32, etc.).  What Jesus taught is easy, except for when it’s hard.

The “Sermon on the Mount” is a familiar text.  And yet there are moments when I realize I haven’t spent enough time on the mountain.  Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).  The scribes and Pharisees knew the law and they looked the part.  They were seen as religious leaders.  But they had a heart problem.  They liked to tell other people what to do while not practicing it themselves (Matt. 23).

I can talk about the command to forgive but what about when someone really hurts me?  I can say gossip is wrong but what about when my loose lips blurt out something that never should’ve been shared?  What if a sister wrongs me and I go to her one-on-one and she humbly apologizes, but I still feel angry and keep thinking of more things to say to put her in her place?  What then?  Well, I need to spend more time on the mountain.

  • Be gentle, merciful, a peacemaker (5:5-9).
  • Turn the other cheek (5:39).
  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (5:44).
  • Don’t just love those who love you (5:46).
  • Forgive others (6:14,15).
  • Do not worry about your life (6:25).
  • Don’t judge others harshly while overlooking your own faults (7:1-5).

What Jesus taught is easy, except for when it’s hard.  Does my righteousness surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees if I’m not practicing these in my own life?

Jesus said there would be those who stand before Him and say, “Look at all the religious things I did!”  But because they ignored the will of the Father, He will say to them, “I never knew you” (7:21-23).

“When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed…[and He] came down from the mountain.”

(Matt. 7:28-8:1)

Suggestions for the Week:

  1.  Read the Sermon on the Mount every day this week (Matthew 5-7).
  2.  Underline or highlight anything Jesus taught on the mountain that you personally struggle with.
  3. Pray for God to give you the humility to see your own “logs” and the strength to remove them (Matt. 7:1-5).


Revive Me #22- Clear Your Conscience

Revive Me, Week 22– A Year of Growing Stronger in the Lord

Clear Your Conscience

One of my sons, who shall remain unnamed, recently started this conversation with me:

“Mom, do you remember that time several years ago when I was sweeping the kitchen and you saw me sweeping the crumbs out from under the refrigerator?  You commended me for being so thorough and told me I was doing a great job with my chores.  Well, I wasn’t sweeping the crumbs out from under the refrigerator.  I was too lazy to get the dustpan so I was hiding the whole pile of crumbs by sweeping it under the refrigerator.”

There was chagrin all over my son’s face as he waited for my reaction to his confession.

We are entering that phase of parenting where we get to hear all kinds of confessions.  It’s a wonder any of my sons even survived their childhood based on some of the shenanigans they’re owning up to!

In this particular case, my son’s conscience was bothered by having received undeserved praise.  Perhaps there will come a day when we will receive a confession of something more “serious” than laziness or recklessness.

“Open confession is good for the soul.”

This old Scottish proverb has biblical backing.  Guilt has a way of festering.  God wants us to feel clean and whole.

  • James 5:16- “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.”
  • 1 John 1:9- “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Prov. 28:13- “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.”
  • Psalm 32:3-5- “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide;  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.”

Suggestions for the Week:

  1.  If you like to mark in your Bible, look up the above passages.  Circle the action (“confess,” “acknowledge”) and underline the result (“healed,” “forgive,” “cleanse,” etc.).
  2.  If you have children or grandchildren, spend time studying these passages.  Help them understand that confession is better than suppression.  Help them see that confession brings forgiveness and wholeness and is another evidence of God’s love for us.
  3.  If you have hidden sins, clear your conscience.  If it’s between you and God, confess it to Him and ask for forgiveness.  If it’s an offense against another, go to that person privately and humbly confess and ask for forgiveness.
  4.  Pray for courage, wisdom, and discernment.

Read it.  Memorize it.  Live it.

Revive Me, Week 6– Forgive Finally

Revive Me, Week 6—A Year of Growing Stronger in the Lord

Forgive Finally

“Let all bitterness….be put away from you” (Eph. 4:31).

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, your heavenly Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14,15).

Is there someone you need to forgive?  Has someone hurt you so badly that you are having a hard time getting past it?  This week’s “Revive Me” challenge is not an easy one but it is a necessary one.  If we want to be closer than ever to our Savior, we must be willing to forgive those who have sinned against us, neglected us, disappointed us, or betrayed us.  If it was a one time grievance, we must forgive them.  If it was something that happened during our entire growing up period, we must still forgive them.

And here’s the hard part…it must be from the heart .

Read Matt. 18:21-35.

We must offer nothing less than sincere forgiveness from the heart.  How was the master able to forgive the slave who couldn’t repay him?  He had compassion and mercy (Matt. 18:27).  What kept that same slave from forgiving someone who owed him?  He lacked compassion and mercy (Matt. 18:33).  If we’re struggling with bitterness toward someone, we can pray for a compassionate and merciful heart.

When someone sins against us, they are guilty.  If we refuse to forgive them, we also become guilty.  Surely a close relationship with God is worth any difficult effort to forgive.

Suggestions for the Week:

1. Pray about any hangups you might have in forgiving someone.  Ask God to help you offer the same compassion and mercy to others that He has shown you.

2. Think of examples of forgiveness you’ve personally received from others.

3.  There are many passages that deal with the topic of forgiveness.  Study them this week and write down as much as you can learn about it.  If you’d like to do a Bible-marking on forgiveness, you can find one here.

4. Remember that God knows what’s best for us.  Write down some benefits of forgiving others.



Do I Know You?

I’ve been thinking about the great Bible class we had Sunday morning taught by Will Hanstein.  The discussion centered around the warning Jesus gives about not causing others to stumble (Luke 17:1,2).  Mr. Hanstein pointed out that our actions and words can influence whether or not others go to Heaven.  He then said that Jesus tells us in the very next verse how to keep from causing others to stumble:  “Be on your guard!  If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).   Mr. Hanstein challenged us to consider how we’re doing with this difficult command.  It occurred to me that there’s one significant thing that would make this command easier for all of us, and that is having genuine relationships.  If we really know each other, rebuking and forgiving are powerful and effective.  If we don’t really know each other, we risk abusing the very safeguard Jesus put in place for His “little ones.”

If I don’t really know you, I won’t care enough to rebuke you.  Why should I?  It’s none of my business how you choose to live your life.  Right?  We don’t feel this way at all when one we dearly love is in trouble spiritually.  It takes courage to confront someone who’s entangled in sin.  But if we care about them, we’re more willing to do it, no matter how painful.

If I don’t really know you, I might misjudge you.  I might feel the need to admonish you for something because I assigned motives that weren’t really there.  Yet when we know and care about others, we will give them the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming the worst.

If I don’t really know you, a rebuke from me may appear self-righteous rather than loving, no matter how valid.  If we hardly ever talk to someone, naturally they will not welcome any sudden interest in their spiritual welfare.

If I do know you, I will humbly rebuke you in a timely manner.  I won’t wait until it’s too late.  (As Mr. Hanstein pointed out, a rebuke is needed when someone is caught up in sin and not doing anything about it, not when someone is aware of their sin and trying to change.)  When we know and care about others, we won’t put off talking to them, lest they ask, “Why come to me now, after all this time?”

If I do know you, I will be eager to forgive.  Like the father of the prodigal son, we rush to welcome back with open arms those we care about.  If we don’t really know someone, we may not be as diligent in reassuring them of our joy and love.

Genuine relationships spell the difference in how we handle Luke 17:3.  It will keep us from abusing the command (being too eager to rebuke because we see the worst in others), and it will help us carry out the command (being motivated by love to humbly rebuke and forgive those who need it).  There may be Christian brothers and sisters who sit on the other side of the auditorium that we don’t know very well.  Let’s build genuine relationships so we can give (and receive) what Jesus put in place as safeguards for our souls.

Prayer for Today:  Help me, Lord, to care enough to get to know and love my Christian family.

Image credit goes to Michael Hite

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