Forgiving Ourselves and Moving On from the Past

1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Forgiving others can be difficult; even grueling. However, at times, the person that we find hardest to forgive is ourselves.  At times, individuals struggle most with self-forgiveness even after they have repented, asked for forgiveness from God, and made appropriate confession. Even though they may know in their heads that God has forgiven them, they may still feel unforgiven and condemned in their hearts. Sometimes people condemn themselves because of the shame they feel or because they think they have committed a sin that God would not be willing to forgive.

Remember that Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). He may attempt to accuse and condemn you even after you have received forgiveness for sin. Satan’s attempts at accusation should not be mistaken for the Holy Spirit’s conviction (i.e., true guilt).  Self-punishment and trying to continually “pay” for or “offer sacrifices” for what occurred doesn’t bring forgiveness.  As it says in Hebrews 10:10-12, “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;” Don’t underestimate the extent of God’s forgiveness.

Walking through steps below may help you receive self-forgiveness.

  1. Trust the Word more than your emotions: Read through Scriptures related to God’s forgiveness and believe they are true even when your feelings don’t confirm it.  For example, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Choose to believe it is true, even if it doesn’t feel like it is.  God is able and faithful in forgiving us when we come to Him.
  2. Don’t fight alone. Talk to a family member, friend, or mentor who understands forgiveness and who can help support and pray for you as you work through this.
  3. Accept that you are imperfect and that you will make mistakes during your life on earth. While each of us desires to live a life that is free from errors, mistakes, and sins, we just can’t. Thankfully, we can remember that God understands. Note the comforting words of Psalm 103:13-14, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”
  4. Seek help sooner rather than later. At times, clinical depression, perfectionism, or other emotional issues lead to issues with self-condemnation and an inability to move on. Seeking advice from a minister or Christian counselor may help you discover barriers to self-forgiveness and tools to overcome them.

For Further Information:

True Guilt and False Guilt   [ACCFS]
This graphic highlights the differences between true guilt and false guilt. While true guilt can be helpful if it leads us to correct wrong behavior, false guilt leads to an endless cycle of shame, hopelessness, and despair.

From Shame to Hope [ACCFS]
This resource traces the path from shame to hope and provides instruction on how to help others navigate this path.

Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past [Everett Worthington, PhD]
This free, downloadable, workbook is designed to promote self-forgiveness. It is a scaled-down version of the Everett Worthington, PhD’s complete book by the same title which is available here.

Video Scribes

What Do I Do With Regret?   [ACCFS]
We typically handle regret in one of two ways. Only one, however, sets us free from regret. This resource shows us the difference.

We Feel… The Reality Is   [ACCFS]
We may feel our confusion separates us from God, but He is with us in our confusion. This resource helps us to see that He is with us.