This morning I came across one of America’s favorite psychobabbles. There it was, right in the middle of an online “bio.” Speaking of recent changes for the good in their personal life, the person testified, “First, I had to learn to forgive myself.” This was the pivot point for them in their journey. The moment that “changed” them. It stands to reason, when most people say this, they simply mean that they have finally dealt with an issue of personal guilt. However, this post-modern mantra implies that being forgiven by myself matters more than being forgiven by God. On this Good Friday, as our Savior hung on the cross almost 2000 years ago, I find it ironic and tragic that our perception of forgiveness and reconciliation has become so self-centered. Ironic because this is not the gospel we believe – He died so we could be forgiven by God, not ourselves. And tragic because many, even believers, live in self-sufficiency and, therefore, without the true freedom of God’s forgiveness. Are we so unaware that we have offended God? As believers, are we so spiritually inside out that we fail to realize God’s opinion of our guilt matters more than ours? What a sharp contrast to my scripture reading this Good Friday morning and to what Christ said from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Notice, Christ did not pray, “Father, help these men to forgive themselves.” It is clear from His statement that these men did not yet understand the wrong they had done. He did pray, “ . . . they know not what they do.” He knew they lacked any objective realization of what they had done and to Whom they had done it. Though somewhere down the road in life, they may come to grips with the reality of the immense crime committed in destroying the life of an innocent man, His prayer was not focused on their mental health. It was focused on their relationship with God. Knowing His Father was offended, He prayed that God would forgive them. Jesus, full of grace, prayed that the Father would not deal with them according to their crime and wrong. Jesus, full of truth, made his plea of the one who had been sinned against, the Father, and asked Him to forgive. They needed God to forgive them. They did not need to forgive themselves. These hardened and calloused soldiers of Rome were not moping around the foot of the cross feeling bad about what they had done. Jesus was not afraid for their happiness – or lack of it. He was fearful of God’s judgment falling on them before they found the very grace He was busy providing sinners like them.
In our self-centeredness, we act as though self is the judge who must be feared. As though our “law” must be satisfied before our guilt can be resolved. When some rationalization for our actions is finally conjured up from the recesses of our imagination, we feel guilt-free. Now we “understand” and can “forgive” ourselves. The truth is, our guilt cannot be resolved until we know that God has forgiven us. Accepting His judgment (not ours) as the final pronouncement is what sets our souls free from guilt and despair. The truth is, you cannot sentence yourself to Hell nor can you save yourself from Hell. God is the Creator of your soul and the chief One against whom you have sinned.
Why repeat this mantra because we fail to discern the worth of Christ. Our trouble with guilt and shame is not a failure to forgive ourselves so much as it is a failure to grasp the immense worth of the work of Christ on the cross. Why do we assume that our guilt cannot be resolved until we say so? Isn’t His work enough? Must we now do some other “work?” The Almighty has already crushed his infinite, eternal, Holy Son who lived the only life worthy of being lived on this planet in all of its history and we look for forgiveness in our own small, finite, sin-soaked souls? Why do we cheapen the worth of His perfect obedience from manger to cross and perfect suffering submission on the cross by saying we cannot “feel” forgiven until we say so? This is all a matter of faith. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14)
Your conscience, and mine, cannot be assuaged by trivial psycho-mechanisms, a too busy life of service to others, a contrived self-righteousness, the ideas of therapy, a mind-numbing drug, another Bud-lite, or a new thrill. Only God can put our consciences at peace. When we refuse to believe His word – His Gospel – and accept phony alternatives, we suffer the consequences. We find ourselves rushing, like the rest of the world, to find some spigot to stop the drip, drip, drip of private shame. Burying the angst for wrongdoing beneath anything other than the blood of Jesus only provides soil in which it nurtures its toxic roots to one day rise again and poison the soul. Our only hope is the pure forgiveness and cleansing of the blood of Jesus on Calvary. The old puritan preacher John Flavel had it right years ago. (He did not speak in psychobabble.)
“Is Christ dead? And did he die the violent, painful, shameful, cursed, slow, and lonely death of the cross? Then surely there is forgiveness with God, plenteous redemption for the greatest of sinners, who by faith apply the blood of the cross to their poor guilty souls.
There is sufficient power in the blood of the cross to wash away the greatest sins. Before the efficacy of this blood, guilt vanishes and shrinks away as the shadow before the glorious sun. Every drop of it has a voice, and speaks to the soul that sits trembling under its guilt better things than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 10:24). For having enough in it to satisfy God, it must needs have enough in it to satisfy conscience.
Can God exact satisfaction from the blood and death of his own Son, the surety of believers, and yet still demand it from believers? It cannot be.”(The Fountain of Life; www.firstimportance.org)
Would God ask for some other effort on your part before you could be forgiven? “It cannot be.” You have been forgiven. Believe it! Why should we profane and cheapen the inestimable and costly treasure of such a rich offering as given by the bloodied second member of the Trinity? It seems profane to proclaim “I could not find forgiveness and freedom from guilt until I forgave myself?” Did I die for the sin or did I commit the sin? I did the sin, but praise God, He did the dying! May God bring back the day in our churches where we hear that lives were transformed when “Jesus forgave me!” rather than when “I forgave myself.” After all, we sing it. Our favorite lyrics speak of His forgiveness and His grace — not ours! If we would live what we sing, we could change the world. Repeating post-modern, emptied of truth mantras, does not shine light. My life changed when I accepted the forgiveness offered me by God through Jesus. How about you? Tell someone today. After all, it’s Good Friday!
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)