Friday, January 15, 2010

How Do I Forgive Myself?

Chapter 16

Will I Ever Be Able to Forgive Myself?

"I know that I can't change the past, but I can certainly change the future. I want to live the rest of my life free from guilt and I believe God wants this too." Anonymous

“I know God has forgiven me, and I've forgiven those involved, but I just can't forgive my­self!" This statement has been repeated to me dozens of time by people who are working through past sin in their lives. Then follows the question, "Is there a way to forgive myself?" The answer is "yes." Let's look at what is involved in "forgiving yourself."

What does it mean to forgive oneself?

Forgiving yourself means that you accept your past sin, for example, your abortion, as over and done with - finished. A part of your past, a terrible part of your past, but a part of your past. Forgiving yourself means you refuse to dwell on your past sinful act of abortion. As discussed in an earlier chapter, this does not means you forget what you have done. You will never forget, in the sense of losing all memory, what you did. But you can learn to say with the Apostle Paul, "But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). That doesn't mean you talk about your abortion casually or flippantly. An abortion is a serious offense against God's law. However, you are now free to discuss your abortion when opportunities arise in order to help others. None of us are proud of what we did. But we must learn to let go and go on.

It is interesting to note that the act of forgiving oneself is not mentioned in the Bible. We are instructed to forgive others and to seek forgiveness from others. Never are we told to forgive our­selves. Psalm 51:12 records David crying out for restoration, "Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, And sustain me with a willing spirit." In speaking of forgiving ourselves, we are talking about regain­ing the joy of our salvation. That can happen only when all is right between you and God and between you and your fellow human beings. Think of that special moment when you first trusted Jesus for salvation. That initial satisfaction of knowing all was right is what we want to regain.

Why am I having such a hard time forgiving myself?

Perhaps this question, submitted on my survey, more accurately phrases this question: "What right have I to peace and happiness when a child was killed to achieve these goals?" Paulette Hawkins wrote, "The hardest thing for me to do after my abortion was to forgive myself. I felt that I deserved to be punished. I would ask God to forgive me, but then I wouldn't accept His forgiveness. Mentally I was beating myself to death. I had been praying for God to take me, to let me die because I couldn't stand living anymore. Since I killed my baby, why should I live? I told God if he didn't let me die, then I would do something about it myself. That's when my husband had me hospitalized. He didn't even know about my abortion at that time. He just knew that for some reason I deeply hated myself."

One woman who has never had an abortion, but only contemplated one, asked: "Is it normal to feel guilty for so many years having only contemplated abortion at one time?" The very act of considering abortion has left this woman feeling guilty. Yes, it is normal to feel guilty over some­thing we have thought or done which is wrong. What is not normal is to continue to carry the guilt once we have asked God to forgive us.

Sometimes our actions have caused irreparable damage. The baby is gone. People have been hurt. You must understand that what is done is past. You can't undo it. You can only accept God's forgiveness and go on.

I think we sometimes try to hang on to our sins. We feel we must in some way "pay" for our abortion. We looked at this in Chapter Thirteen which deals with punishment. If God has forgiven you (and He has if you have asked Him), you have begun a new life in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is not within your "rights" to punish yourself for a forgiven act.

What is necessary now is to thank God for freeing you. The Bible tells you, "If therefore the Son [Jesus] shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." (John 8:36). The weight of your abortion is gone. Think of the freedom God has given you. "How blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered! Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him, and in whose spirit is no deceit!" (Psalm 32:1-2 NIV). Rejoice! Your sins are covered by the pre­cious blood of Jesus - completely and forever.

How do I justify having done something so horrible?

To justify means to make something right. You can't justify your abortion. There is nothing you can do to make it right. Only God through Jesus Christ can make it right.

How can I expect God to forgive me when I can't even forgive myself?

God's forgiveness is not contingent upon your feelings. God extends forgiveness to all people. Some choose not to accept His forgiveness. Receiving God's forgiveness is contingent only upon your trusting in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient to pay the penalty for your sins.

How can I get over feeling like a bad person instead of feeling as though I've done something bad?

This is a good question. The answer lies in understanding that God views people separately from the things they do. Did you know that God loves people who do bad things? How do I know this? Because no one does good! Does this surprise you? Read these words from Romans 3:12: "There is none who does good, there is not even one" (see also Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-4). Then God tells us some great news in Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." I'm so glad God loves people even though we do bad things (sin). Romans 3:25 says that we are "justified [accepted by God] freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

Therefore, once you trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour, you are a good person (through Christ) who still sometimes does bad things.

Do I truly understand and accept God's forgiveness if I can't forgive myself?

First of all, there is no such word as "can't" in God's language. We may choose not to do something, but the fact is we could do it if we wanted. When you say you "can't" forgive yourself, what you really mean is you "won't" forgive yourself.

This is how I described failure to forgive yourself in Abortion's Second Victim:

In ancient times when a person was cast into prison, a list of his or her debts was recorded. When the debts were satisfied, the words "It is finished" were written across the list of debts. Now think of Christ as the One upon whom all your debts (sins) were written. Your debts were nailed to the cross in the form of Jesus Christ. When Christ, in His final words, cried out, "It is finished," He was canceling your debt by paying the price for you (John 19:30). If you have trusted Christ as your personal Savior, you now possess a receipt marked "It is finished." It's your proof that the reason for your guilt is gone. The debt has been paid.

Each time you permit yourself to feel guilty about your abortion, it is as if you were running to the cross to pound one more nail into Christ's body. You are saying to God, "I don't believe this one debt is paid." You are not trusting Christ's death as suf­ficient for paying all your sin - as though it were too big for Him to handle alone. If you belong to Christ, the debt is paid, and the reason for your guilt is gone.[1]

If you still believe you must "forgive yourself," you may understand God's forgiveness and yet have failed to apply His forgiveness to your own life. Accepting God's forgiveness is what for­giving ourselves mean. God willingly forgives all our sins at the moment of salvation when we trust Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. Forgiveness is like salvation - God extends it to us, but we don't benefit from it until we begin to appropriate it into our lives. We must learn to live what we know to be true.

If God has forgiven me, why do I still feel guilty?

The key word here is "feel." If you have truly repented of your sins, including your sin of abortion, then you are no longer guilty. The Bible tells us in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Satan would have us live defeated lives. He lost us to heaven when we trusted Christ as our personal Savior, but he wants us to be miserable as long as we live on this earth.

Peter Wilkes says, "Guilt feelings that stem from things we have done can only be removed when our actions themselves are dealt with. Dealing with the feelings alone never works because guilt is not just a feeling. We are guilty because we have done wrong. That wrongness is not a feel­ing - it's a fact."[2] Second Corinthians 7:10 tells us godly sorrow leads to true repentance. God uses guilt to drive us toward Him in utter helplessness because only Jesus can deal with our guilt.

If you still feel guilty, there may be a valid reason. Ask yourself two questions. Are you truly a child of God, having come to Him through the shed blood of Christ alone for forgiveness? If so, are there any unresolved conflicts regarding your abortion which are bringing guilt? Once you settle the account, so to speak, the guilt will be gone.

In her pamphlet entitled, . . . But I Can't Forgive Myself!, Melody Green advises us to ask ourselves if we are being convicted (by the Holy Spirit) or condemned (by Satan). She correctly states that conviction is specific. Your thoughts say, "You have just lied." On the other hand, con­demnation is vague. Thoughts such as, "You aren't any good" or "God could never forgive an abor­tion" fill your mind. If you aren't certain which it is, ask God to clarify the situation - "God, what are you trying to tell me?" Melody Green adds, "If it's the Lord, and if you are open to being cor­rected, guaranteed He will tell you."[3]

Mary Ann tells how she handles Satan's attacks: "When Satan tries to tell me that the sin of abortion is too terrible to be forgiven or brought out into the open (and the scoundrel still tries at times to induce me to believe that), I [resist] him [in the name of Jesus] and refuse to believe that lie. I am washed clean by the blood of Jesus. Praise Him forever!"

If you have trusted in the shed blood of Christ to forgive your sins, the fact is that God has forgiven you. You are no longer guilty. Live according to the facts, not according to your some­times inaccurate feelings.

Is there anything else that will help me?

The Bible says you were once alienated from God in your mind by wicked works. God has reconciled you and now holds you holy, unblameable, and irreproachable if you continue in hope and practice of what you know to be true (Colossians 1:21-23). A beautiful portion of Scripture is Colossians 2:8-15. Here we are warned to focus our beliefs and actions in Christ rather than in man because, "In [Christ] all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form." The passage continues to tell us although we were dead in our sins, "[Christ] made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt. . . . He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."

Think about this - if you have asked God to forgive you for your abortion, and then go back to God and ask Him to forgive you for the abortion again, God says to you, "My precious child, what abortion?" Hallelujah! We are free!

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Over the years my opinions have changed but this will never change: Jesus Christ, Lord, God and Savior, died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay for my sin.