Posted on Sunday, Oct 24, 2021 by Scott Savage
The hardest person for me to forgive is often myself.
I preach God’s grace on Sundays as a pastor. I sing songs about the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus during the week. There’s even a print that hung in my office for years about how God’s voice never condemns us.
But, truthfully, it is often hard for me to have faith in God’s forgiveness.
My friend, Leanna, once described a mistake in her life and it felt she’d typed these words from within my brain.
“Yesterday, I opened a kitchen cabinet, and sitting right there on the bottom shelf was the coffee pot, half full of cold coffee. The day before, I was anxious. My body and my mind were a semi-mess because of the anxiety, and unwittingly—in the midst of that tangle—I poured myself some coffee and put the coffee pot away in the cabinet. You’ve got to be kidding me, I think to myself, immediately rigid with annoyance. How is it possible that I am this insane?”
You might think that after teaching thousands of people about forgiveness I’d have figured out how to practice it on myself. But, the truth is this struggle is very real for me.
Jesus once told a story about a man who lacked faith in God’s forgiveness and missed the application of it within a very significant moment. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a story about a man with a massive debt, more than the man could ever make and repay in a lifetime. The man was brought in front of the king to whom the debt was owed. After pleading for mercy, the king chose to forgive the debt. All in attendance were in awe of this act of forgiveness.
The man who had just been forgiven walked out of that moment and found a man who owed him a little debt in comparison. When the debtor pleaded for mercy, the one who had just been forgiven refused to do the same and had the debtor thrown in prison. When word of this unjust act reached the king, he summoned the man to whom he had recently shown mercy. Enraged, the king questioned how he could have failed to give what he had just received. In concluding the parable, Jesus said that this is what His Father would do if His disciples failed to forgive others, just as they’d been forgiven.
Jesus’ story invites us to not just hear about forgiveness, but to experience it ourselves through faith. If you’re someone who struggles to have faith in God’s forgiveness, if you struggle to forgive yourself, here are three steps that I’m working on taking to strengthen that faith in my own life.
First, start with faith that God can forgive. When I’m struggling to forgive myself for a simple mistake, a grave error, or something in between, I tend to accept a lie that my failure is fatal and final. I allow my mistake to define me and think that it’s too big to be overcome. But, when I revisit the parable recounted above and recognize that God can forgive just like the king did, I begin to realize that my failures are not fatal, nor final. They don’t have to define me.
Second, consider how the cross of Jesus invites us into faith that God can and does forgive. The cross has become the central symbol of Christianity because it’s a picture of, and the reason behind, our faith. On the cross, Jesus took the spiritual and eternal consequences of our sins and absorbed them. Our salvation is possible through His death. In the same way that in the days following His resurrection Jesus forgave His followers who abandoned Him, Jesus can and does forgive our worst moments. If Jesus has forgiven His closest friends who betrayed Him to His face, then He can and does forgive you and me.
Third, consider what rejecting Jesus’ forgiveness means for your worldview. I love how author Timothy Keller summarizes the gospel. ““The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” In other words, Jesus knows us better than anyone else and He loves us more than everyone else. You and I can forgive the worst in us because Jesus already has.
A friend of mine confronted me once on my struggle to forgive myself. He said, “Are you saying that you know more than God? If God can and does forgive based upon complete knowledge of what happened, why can’t you? Are you saying you know better than God?”
Faced with those hard and challenging questions, I realized that I was at a crossroads. I could have faith and trust in God’s forgiveness in the face of my own struggle, or I could reject faith in God’s forgiveness because of my faith in myself. It might seem simplistic or without nuance, but those hard questions and stark options led to a breakthrough for me.
If you’re struggling to forgive yourself…
If you’re struggling to embrace God’s forgiveness…
If there are some deep wounds that need healing…
I’ve been there too, too often to count.
I encourage you to go and play that song for yourself. Close your eyes and really listen to the words. Whatever it is you are needing today, God’s mercy is enough. His forgiveness is available. Trust in His forgiveness over your own struggles today!
Scott Savage is a pastor and a writer with the coolest last name ever. He leads Cornerstone Church in Prescott, Arizona. Scott is married to Dani and they are the parents of three “little savages.” He helps hurting people forgive others through his Free to Forgive course and you can read more of his writing at scottsavagelive.com