Self-Forgiveness

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I have been told that the concept of forgiving one’s self is not in the Bible.

And admittedly, you can’t find any variation of the phrase ‘forgiving yourself’ in scripture. But I have to differ with those who state that because it isn’t called out specifically, it is not a valid concept. I believe that argument comes out of a misunderstanding of biblical forgiveness.

Let’s examine.

First, we should revisit Mirriam-Webster’s definition of ‘forgive’:

“to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone): to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)”.

Forgiving means releasing the debt. As has been said, it’s not about ignoring the hurt, denying the pain, or excusing the offense. It’s about accepting reality, and then choosing not to hold it against the person who hurt us. It’s not about absolving the offender from guilt – only God can do that, as Jesus acknowledged in Mark 2:5-12. But forgiveness from our perspective is about releasing the person from the responsibility of having to make it up to me for offending me. And hence, breaking the chains of bitterness that unforgiveness brings.

I also can’t give that release to a person on behalf of someone else. I cannot on behalf of Frank forgive Bill of an offense against Frank, and declare he doesn’t owe anything to Frank – only Frank can do that. And Frank needs to do that, because it’s his heart that is in bondage given the alternative.

I hope that made sense. Because all of that is important to understand before we get to the next question…

What happens when the person who has offended me is me?

When I make poor choices that I have to live with, when I have put myself in a bad position and caused myself pain and angst – in a very real sense, I have offended myself. Given this, I can choose two avenues: (1) I can live my life in regret for that thing that I did and continue to hold myself (the offender) in bondage to self-loathing and remorse, or (2) I can choose to loose myself (the offender) from the responsibility of having to make it up to me, and break the chains.

When we think of it that way, option 2 is obviously the biblical response.

This in no way excuses what I’ve done. I can’t say “I’ve forgiven myself and so everything is okay now.” It also does not absolve me from accountability – only God can do that. (However, I can claim 1 John 1:9 that says very clearly that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us.”)

Neither am I forgiving myself on behalf of others who were offended by the same act (just like I can’t forgive Bill on behalf of Frank, I also can’t forgive myself on behalf of someone else who I hurt).

You see, it all comes down to forgiveness being a matter of healing for the hurt person, an avenue of freedom to the offended. That’s the biblical concept.

So, whether the term self-forgiveness is or is not in scripture, if one has the proper understanding of what forgiveness is about, it can and should be applied to anyone who offends us…even ourselves.

Always a Victim, Never a Victor

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We’re all victims.  None of us got to where we are without being subject to someone else’s decisions and things that are out of our control.  Maybe it was being lied to, gossiped about, taken advantage of.  Maybe it was abuse.  Maybe it was betrayal of a friend, or the enemy who did something you wouldn’t even expect an enemy to do. Or possibly rather than a person, it’s where you grew up, or a physical trait, or a propensity toward something that you or society sees as broken.

You are a victim.  You’re not exaggerating or imagining it.  You’re certainly not outside of your rights.  The evidence is in, it’s verifiable, you were a recipient of consequences you did not control.

Congratulations, you are an official member of the human race. We are all victims to some extent.  I don’t say that to make light of your situation or to say “oh just get over yourself.”  Your feelings are valid, and are actually a good thing because we can’t address what we don’t recognize.

But, before stepping into the world with your victim banner flying, let’s examine some truths.

Being the victim limits our freedom, and obstructs victory.  You are allowing someone or something else to define you, which brings with it heavy chains.

Breaking out of those chains requires action on your part.  David is a good example.  In Psalm 7, he spends the entire chapter pleading with God for deliverance from his enemies (who had, you guessed it, victimized him).  But then he ends with “I will praise the Lord…” (v 17).  He was still as much a victim when he wrote verse 17 as he had been in verses 1-16.  But it was that resolve to take action (the act of praising God) that brought David repeated victory. Action on your part is required.

If it involves another person, you cannot wait around for that person to come lift the victim label off of you by apologizing or seeking forgiveness.  They may never even realize or acknowledge that they wronged you, let alone seek reconciliation.  And you seeking reconciliation with them may not be possible or productive either.  But forgiveness is possible, and freeing.  Unforgiveness gives them power, reinforcing the victim label.  The act of forgiveness takes away that power.

If it involves something in the environment or your personal makeup, acknowledge it as reality.  But also acknowledge that you don’t have to be controlled by it.

Denying the reality reinforces the victim label (I refuse to acknowledge this part of me and so it rules my life, through secret indulgence or constant striving to keep it down – or often both).  On the other hand, living it out also reinforces the victim label (it’s just the way I am and I can’t do anything about it).  Either way, I am a victim.  Either way, victory is out of reach.

So this label of ‘victim’, whatever its source, has tremendous potential to define you, and to steal your ability to live victoriously and free.

But don’t you allow it.  You have a choice.

Nothing to Prove

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    I have two dogs.  An 85-pound Black Lab and a 17-pound Jack Russel Terrier.   

    Shadow, the Labrador, has nothing to prove.  She doesn’t get worked up about much of anything.  If we pass a barking dog while we’re out walking, she doesn’t feel the need to respond.  She may stop and stare for a minute, but then will just move on leisurely.  As we’re walking, she is content to mosey along at her pace, with no ambitions to take the lead.  Shadow is secure in her ‘doghood’ and doesn’t feel like she needs to prove anything to anybody.  The other day while we were out walking a poodle got loose, ran up, and began to jump and nip near Shadow’s ear.  Shadow stopped walking and waited patiently until the other dog’s owner came and got her.  No attempt to  nip back, protect herself, or establish dominance.

    Maggie, the Jack Russel Terrier, on the other hand, is a little Napoleon with a major ‘alpha dog’ complex.  She retorts at any animal that dares be vocal toward her.  She has to be in the lead and will literally choke herself pulling on the leash until she secures the forward position.  It’s always a competition with Maggie, and she has to be winning.  Maggie has everything to prove.

    As my wife and I walked the dogs the other day, amused at this dynamic, it occurred to me how representative that is of our freedom in Christ. 

    When we are striving and working in an attempt to gain freedom, we are like little Maggie.  We are relentlessly putting one foot in front of the other, responding aggressively to every threat, straining against the chains to get in front of the pack.

    Contrast that to when we are resting in Christ and relying on what He says: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).  When we trust Him at His word, we no longer have anything to prove.  

    Just take a moment to review Ephesians chapter 1: Jesus says you are blessed (1:3), chosen (1:4), without blame (1:4), adopted as a son/daughter (1:5), accepted in the Beloved (1:6), redeemed (1:7), forgiven (1:7).  He says He is the guarantor of our inheritance (1:14), and backing us up is the power that raised Christ from the dead (1:19,20).  With all of that on our side, why should we ever feel the need to prove ourselves to anyone on this earth?

    So when the ankle-biters of life run up on you – whether they be poodles or accusers or gossips or Pharisees, or your own guilt and shame – you don’t have to push back.  Rest in Him and know that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Temptation Does Not Equal Transgression

One of the most clever ploys of the enemy is blurring the lines between temptation and transgression.

Let me set up a scenario.  Say you have had an issue with lust.  You’re in the grocery store picking up a few things.  You walk past the magazine rack.  Inadvertently, a certain magazine cover catches your eye, and there staring back at you is one of the most beautiful bikini-clad ladies, or speedo-clad men, you have ever beheld.  Your eyes linger.  You feel that all-too-familiar stir within you as admiration quickly begins to turn to lust.  You want to pick up the magazine and see more, your mind wants to go racing to other images in your memory banks, or you want to go home and get online to find some ‘old haunts’.  But what you choose to do is lift it up to Jesus and ask Him to take it away.  You turn your eyes from the magazine cover, walk a little faster down the aisle, block out past images, douse the budding flames of fantasy, and vow to definitely not turn on the computer when you get home.

Yet you come away from this situation feeling dirty, wicked, sinful.  Why?  You did everything that you could have done to walk away from the temptation.  You had no control over what crossed your field of vision, and that initial lingering gaze was more automatic response than conscious choice.  Realistically, you reacted well.

But here’s the deal: Satan is very adept at convincing us that temptation is equivalent to transgression.  Especially when it comes to things we’ve struggled with in the past.  He has drawn more people back into sin patterns with this tactic than we’d care to count.  He leverages labels that we have assigned ourselves – pornography addict, drugee, alcoholic, relationally dysfunctional, sexually deviant, uncontrollably angry – and an in-the-moment urge toward that habit or lifestyle suddenly becomes a reason to say “this is the way I am.”

But this is not the way you are.  Paul says you are “beloved of God, called to be saints” (Romans 1:7).  Peter says you are a “His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9).  And John says whoever “is born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4).  You are not destined to be defined by your weaknesses.  You are destined to be “more than conquerers through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

From freedom’s perspective – being tempted is never the same as transgressing.  The determining factor regarding victory is what you do with the temptation, not that you were tempted in the first place!  Don’t let the lure become the lie that reinforces the label. Stand in His truth, and live free!

The Warrior’s Freedom

Galatians 5:1 – “It is for freedom that Christ set us free.”

That is the tagline of this ministry.  It is the core idea that everything in Freedom Rising Ministries is built around.

Rising into freedom means understanding that our freedom does not come from our win/loss record.  Our freedom comes from God’s declaration that we are free.  From there, the fight commences from a position of freedom, not from a position of trying to gain freedom.

We are never going to escape temptation in this life.  We will always deal with the weaknesses of our flesh, though Christ gives us renewed strength for the fight as believers.  There will be bad days, and there will be failures.  When we fight from a position of freedom, we can take them in stride and acknowledge that we are still free because our freedom is based on Jesus’ declaration and not our achievements.

But we must be cautious not to fall into the trap of resigning ourselves to failure.  That is not God’s intent.  There is no growth or fulfillment in that.  If we look further down in Galatians 5, verse 13 says “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

In other words, don’t use your freedom as an excuse to indulge sin.

If you are actively indulging in sin patterns, address it.  Christ’s freedom is not a call to continue on in your sin with a prayer and a shoulder-shrug and a ‘that’s just the way I am’.  Because He replies “No, this is the way you are…free!”

After writing extensively on the subject of the free gift of God’s grace, Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

And later in Romans 6:14-15, we find:  “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  Certainly not!”

A warrior is free to fight on the battlefield.  The battle will not always be easy (even for the best of us…see Romans 7:15-23).  And the warrior will not always win.  But that doesn’t mean he hoists the white flag at the first sign of setback.  A good warrior, recognizing the position of freedom from which he fights, picks his sword up and charges back into the battle.  So pick up your sword and get back in there…every time!

Think of the particular temptations and struggles that you combat daily.  Are you just letting them win because you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that you can’t attain real freedom, or are you standing firm in the promise of Romans 6:14 and Galatians 5:1 and fighting from a position of freedom?  What battle techniques work for you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dealing with Ugly, Part 1

Sin and temptation are ugly things.  Sometimes we try to dismiss or discount them.  For example:

  •      We shrug off lust by saying ‘it’s just the way I am’ or ‘doesn’t everybody struggle with some form of that?’
  •      We reclassify anger issues as justifiable or the other person’s fault.
  •      We excuse an addiction with ‘it helps me cope’ and ‘I can quit anytime I want.’
  •      We write off a proclivity toward gossip as ‘sharing a need’ or ‘something people have to know about.’

But in the end there is no valid way to ‘pretty up’ the temptation or dismiss the sin.  If it doesn’t honor God, it’s ugly – plain and simple.

I speak from experience.  I wouldn’t assume anything I write would be worth paying attention to otherwise.  My issues will not be the same as yours.  My perspective on certain issues will not be the same as yours.  We all travel different paths.  But rest assured my path has been littered with its share of mistakes and hurt.

I will not go into detail on what my sin is, any more than I would care to know the specifics of yours.  Details are often not productive to the general discussion.  Suffice it to say that my faults and failures are ugly and have left deep stains.  Where they began I do not know – and honestly that is irrelevant on today’s battlefield.  With so many things there are large debates of nurture vs. nature.  I don’t discount any side of those discussions, but one thing I do know is that when you’re in the heat of battle, you often don’t really care how the war began.  You are in survival mode.  If your struggle is with alcohol or drugs and you recognize their destructive power, how it got a hold on you is really not relevant – you want to defeat it.  If you deal with unwanted homosexual attractions, it doesn’t matter whether there is a ‘gay gene’ or your desires developed through environment or experiences – you just want victory.  And to different degrees the same can be said of countless other things – addictions, compulsive behavior, domestic violence, and on and on.  Granted, some of these have more proven theories regarding causation than do others.  Regardless, today’s battlefield is where the fight is fought.

So, where does that leave us?  It leaves us in the midst of a fierce battle for freedom, and in need of a battle strategy.  I propose a three-part strategy: (1) realizing the inherent ugliness of our struggles, (2) realizing that we need to deal with that ugliness appropriately, and (3) how to deal with it.

This post has intended to deal with (1).  The next two posts will delve into (2) and (3).  Together, this will hopefully form a solid groundwork for recognizing, acknowledging, and dealing with whatever ugliness haunts you.

Whether it is something in your past that you carry deep-seated guilt about, something recent that has left an open gaping wound, or an ongoing struggle…that ugly thing is being leveraged by the Enemy to hold you down.  It’s time to get the upper hand.