Editor’s note: The following is a guest-post by The Philippian Jailer, whom I referred to in my last post as “my friend, the Jailer”. Aside from being a dear friend and brother, the Jailer sometimes helps me with the technical side of blogging and social media. His family and mine go back a quarter century, and they are very dear to us. More immediately, the insights he shares below first appeared on his site after the Facebook interaction which prompted my last post. — Dr. Deb
Quick, how many books, sermons, Bible studies, blogs, and pithy social-network posts revolve around the concept of self-forgiveness? Any guesses? A quick Google search revealed 13,400,000 hits. Needless to say, it’s a hot topic for the church as well as for popular culture.
Now … how many verses in Scripture tell us to forgive ourselves? I’ll give you a hint: the answer rhymes with “hero”. That’s because self-forgiveness isn’t a Scriptural concept; it’s part of the Oprahization of modern Christianity.
Frankly, who really cares if I forgive myself?
Okay, now I’ve just offended (or terrified) several groups of people. But hear me out:
1. For those true followers of Christ who struggle with guilt over past sins … relax! Stop worrying about forgiving yourself. Instead, live in the joy of God’s amazing, transforming grace! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) In other words, you’ve been forgiven by the Lord and King–the only being in the universe with the authority to truly and effectively forgive sins. So follow Him joyfully and gratefully, like one who’s redeemed from the grave! Jesus paid your entire debt; stop wasting the life He redeemed trying to charge yourself a meaningless surtax.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death … Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:1-2, 33-34)
2. For the true followers of Christ who struggle with guilt over current sins … er, don’t relax. We call that “conviction”. You’re supposed to feel guilty when you rebel against God. The Holy Spirit is trying to get through to you. Confess, repent, and seek the counsel and accountability of your fellow believers–the best of whom will not judge you, but will respect you more for the transparency and maturity you display by facing your sin directly and Scripturally. As I’ve mentioned once before:
Guilt, like pain, is unpleasant. If we are in great pain, we understandably want it to go away. We want relief quick! But pain also alerts us to some medical malady. If by treating the pain we mask the malady and leave it untreated, the results can be catastrophic. For this reason, those who suffer from leprosy and lose their nerve endings learn to very carefully monitor their extremities. Because they may not feel the pain of a simple cut, infection can set in before they realize they’ve been injured.
Guilt plays a similar role with respect to sin. Its primary function is to alert us to a deeper problem. David needed to feel the guilt of his sin with Bethsheba. Denying it merely prolonged his rebellion. In the end, God used Nathan to apply the scalpel to David’s conscience, revealing David’s guilt and enabling him to repent.
3. For those who are more interested in “living victoriously” than taking up the cross and following Christ, pay attention! Self-forgiveness is self-delusion; it may help deliver “Your Best Life Now“, but it won’t save you from the judgment to come! This guilt of the unredeemed is not merely valid, but entirely necessary:
For him to feel no guilt is self-deception of the deadliest sort, since there is then nothing to chase him into the arms of Jesus. “… to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” (Titus 1:15) Guilt for the lost sinner is the smell of gangrene in the wound, warning the patient that his infection will claim his life if he does not seek aggressive treatment. To provide him superficial “healing” in the form of soothing words and psychological comfort is not ultimately to love him, but to watch him die of negligence.
The bottom line is this: the concept of self-forgiveness is not Biblical, but secular-humanist at its core, because it idolizes the self. If I have the power to condemn or forgive myself, then God is irrelevant to my salvation. Self-forgiveness is not merely unnecessary and redundant; it is foolish, delusional, and self-idolatry.
Not long ago I shared a quote on my Facebook page from a fairly well-known American pastor about being able to forgive one’s self. The quote was:
“‘I can’t forgive myself’ is another way of saying ‘Even though Jesus forgives me, there’s a god above Jesus whose opinion matters more—me.’”
On a cursory level, this seems perfectly true. However, then my friend, the Jailer, made some interesting observations about self-forgiveness on his blog that made me think deeper on the topic. (The Philippian Jailer, “Does God Want Me to Forgive Myself,” http://networkedblogs.com/NiedC)
Now, let me begin by saying that as a minister, I counsel quite often. In this counsel, as well as from personal experience, I know the necessity of letting go of the guilt from past mistakes. Often the burden of who we are and what we are capable of seems to completely negate any possibility of forgiveness. For this we look to the cross and try desperately to understand the concepts of justification and propitiation as they have been given to us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)
Here is the issue, then, as I see it: The phrase, “Forgive yourself,” has become blurred by a worldview that puts self as center.
For example, when I counsel someone who is struggling with acknowledging Christ’s complete forgiveness of her transgressions, the problem is that for as long as she lives on this earth she will look in the mirror and see herself. She knows what she’s done. She knows the depths to which she has sunk. It is absolutely impossible for us to view ourselves as God views us once we’ve been justified by the blood of Jesus. We still sin. We still have sinned. We know this.
Consequently, my objective is always pointing her to God’s Word where the truth of what it means to be justified comes clear. From that we can hopefully move to accepting that we have a God who is that gracious and that merciful, and that the only way to live a joyful and purposeful Christian life is to know that we are justified, even though we can’t imagine why. We shouldn’t imagine why. There’s no reason other than God’s grace.
The problem is when someone begins to think that there ismore to it than that. The problem is if people look into the mirror and come to the point where they actually forgive themselves of their sins—deeds committed against the Lord of all creation.
Dictionary.com defines forgive as:
“To grant pardon or remission; to give up all claim on account of.”
According to the very definition of the word, I can’t forgive myself. It’s fully and completely out of the realm of my power. Only God can pardon me. Only He can justify me when I’ve done nothing to deserve that clean slate.
As believers then, we have to be supremely careful of throwing phrases around like, “Forgive yourself,” because although I know what I mean and another Christian might understand the context of those words, there’s a world out there that has no concept of answering to the Judge and Ruler of everything. When the world says to “Forgive yourself,” it literally means “Forgive yourself.” “Pardon yourself.”
“What you did is okay. You’re good. Forget it and move on.”
I know that not only can’t I pardon myself, but there is relevance in remembering my sin as I seek to live under no condemnation because of it. It is good for me to remember how precious is my Savior and how gracious is my God to forgive me, a sinner. There is a unique balance in remembering and not living under condemnation because of it, of course, but correct perspective in regards to me and my Lord is vital.
So, after some contemplation, study, prayer, and lack of sleep, I still agree with the pastor whose quote I posted, but in principle and context only. It’s the words that perhaps need to be altered. The issue for all of us who are sinners saved by grace is accepting the reality of the greatest of all gifts—justification—even if it defies all human reasoning.
Shouldn’t it defy all human reasoning?
Why exactly did Jesus come into the world? Clearly He said in Matthew 9:13 that it was for sinners—those who know they have a terminal disease, those who are desperate, those who are hurting, those who are hungry, those who are broken, those whose lives are shattered. He came for sinners who know they are sinners.
“Lord save me from that wicked man, myself.” (quoted from MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1 & 2)
Peter said it when he saw the glory of Jesus in Luke 5:8,
Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
And then Paul declared in 1 Timothy 1:15,
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
How often I have heard, how often I have said that my sin is simply too horrible. Why would Jesus call me, someone so very loathsome, to do His work? Yet Jesus said that He came “not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13) His call is on the most wretched of humanity, and what I love about the testimonies and accounts of the Bible is that these truths are absolutely demonstrated there.
Think about the disciples He first called in Peter and Andrew, the fishermen. If you’ve ever watched the popular television show on Discovery, “Deadliest Catch,” then you have a good idea of what kind of men these were. Fishing is notoriously one of the roughest and toughest professions known, and fishing on the Sea of Galilee required some seriously hard men. Picture the men on “Deadliest Catch” and you’ll get a pretty good picture of these men. Jesus walked right past all of the educated, well-mannered, well-dressed men of Capernaum and went straight up to the dirtiest, smelliest, and probably least educated men around and simply said, “Follow me.” (Matthew 4:18-19)
Jesus came to call sinners.
Most of us are unaware of the astounding move Jesus made when he said these few, simple words to Matthew, the tax collector. In Matthew’s own humble account, the brevity in his description is almost misleading. He wrote simply in Matthew 9:9,
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
However, we know more of the specifics in Mark’s and Luke’s accounts. First, be sure you have the picture painted in your mind. Jesus had been teaching in most likely Peter’s house in Capernaum by the seashore. The meeting is over where Jesus had just healed the paralytic who has now gone home to his four friends. Then Jesus walked along the shore on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee with His disciples following Him along with a multitude of people.
This is when Jesus happens on Matthew.
Most know that Matthew was a tax collector and so we know he wasn’t well-liked by the rest of his countrymen. However, what most people don’t know is that Matthew was categorically the vilest and most hated person in all of Capernaum. By all valuation of the time period and given Matthew’s vocation, he was the most wretched sinner in town.
And this is where Jesus stops.
You see, Matthew was a publican. These were people who served Rome. When Rome came in and took over Palestine, they wanted to exact taxes. Individuals who were living in the land of Palestine could buy franchises from the Roman government, which then gave them the right to operate the taxation system in a certain district or a certain town. When Matthew bought himself into that system, he revealed himself as a traitor to the cause of Israel. Nothing in the mind of a Jew was as heinous as being anti-nationalistic or anti-Jewish. However, Matthew had a franchise for taxation from Rome, so the Roman government required that he collect a certain amount of taxes. Anything he could collect over what they required he could keep. Tax collectors notoriously took bribes from the rich, extorted from the middle class and the poor, and they were hated.
Jewish hatred for the tax collectors was not only because it was considered anti-nationalistic, but it was also considered anti-religious. The Jews believed they shouldn’t pay anything except to God, so paying taxes to the government was wrong. Consequently, tax collectors weren’t allowed to attend synagogue. As a matter of fact, tax collectors were listed with unclean beasts of the Old Testament. They were in the same category as pigs.
In order to recognize further the extraordinary move Jesus made in this instance, we need to also know that there were two types of tax collectors. One type was the general tax collector. Their job was to take the regular taxes on property, income, and poll. This tax collector took these taxes and then generally added a surcharge onto it so that he could make his fortune. The second type of tax collector took taxes on everything else. They taxed everything that was bought and everything that was eaten; basically they taxed everything that was bought and sold. They taxed every road, every bridge, every harbor, every town….everything.
Historians write that these guys could even invent taxes. They taxed the wheels on carts, for example. The more wheels a cart had, the more taxes one had to pay to own that cart. A two-wheeled cart was less expensive to own than a four-wheeled one; a three-legged burro was cheaper to have than a four-legged one. You get the picture. They taxed every letter received and sent, every package on the road or coming in from the sea.
The first kind of tax collector was despised. The second kind was more despised. The second kinds were the ones who sat at the intersection of roads which is exactly where Matthew was sitting when Jesus saw him. The second kind was known as a mokhes. Matthew was a mokhes, the most hated of the two types of tax collectors.
Now, bear with me. This gets even more interesting.
Of the mokhes, there were two sub categories. The first kind would hire someone to sit at the tables so that they could stay behind the scenes. They wanted to keep their hands clean and keep a good reputation. These were called the great mokhes.
Then there were the small mokhes; they did everything themselves, not wishing to share their bounty with anyone else. They sat at their own tables, caring little about their reputations so long as they could make as much money as possible.
Guess which one Matthew was? That’s right. Matthew was a small mokhes, the most hated of the tax collectors and the most hated of the most hated. Matthew was the most wretched man in all of Capernaum, and Jesus walked right up to his booth and simply said, “Follow me.”
And what did Matthew do? He got right up and followed Jesus. Biblical historian, Alfred Ettershime, said it wonderfully:
“He said not a word for his soul was in the speechless surprise of unexpected grace.” (quote taken from “Receiving the Sinner, Refusing the Righteous: Part One,” Grace to You)
Luke tells us in Luke 5:27-28,
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
Matthew left everything. He would have known that to leave his table and follow Jesus meant that he was leaving everything. He couldn’t go back. Peter and Andrew and the other fishermen who followed Jesus would still be able to fish, but Matthew would never have his vocation or his riches again. He left everything.
After this, Luke went on to say that Matthew was so overwhelmed that he decided to throw a banquet—a banquet attended by the most awful people in the history of banquets. After all, the only people Matthew would know would be awful people! And Jesus is the honored guest.
This act is detestable to the Pharisees and scribes. The men in attendance were the lowest of the low, the vilest of the vile, anti-nationalistic traitors of society, and Jesus was reclining at the table with them! It was in response to the Pharisees’ grumbling that Jesus declares His mission, a mission that should make all of us weep for joy and scream in delight. Jesus said,
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32)
We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t even have to be desirable! Jesus chose to love us before we were! He came for us, His children, while we were in our weak and godless states.
He came to Matthew and Peter and Andrew and me and you because He desired to do so. It has always been His will and His choice and not anything about us. How marvelous.
Finding that one, true love has been the pursuit of all mankind since the Garden of Eden. Both Adam and Eve were searching for more; they were sure there was more. The allure from Satan was that God wasn’t enough. The temptation was that there was something out there that would make them happier and more complete than their Father. It was and still is a lie.
However, I believe we were created purposefully by God to long for more than this world has to offer. As His children, this is not our home, and consequently, it cannot bring us the satisfaction and joy we desire, and neither can anyone in this world. Additionally, we were created to give and receive love. Everything in our natures wants to be loved, to be adored, to be treasured. Many may claim that they don’t need these things, but they are deceiving themselves. All people, men and women alike, long to be loved perfectly.
God created us this way purposefully and then gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Lover of our souls. Christ is our Bridegroom and we, His bride. Over and over in Scripture God uses this analogy to describe the love relationship between our Savior and His people. This analogy is appropriate because in our human senses, the marriage relationship between a man and a woman is the closest thing we can imagine to the intimate nature of Christ’s love for us. And even that is inadequate.
So God chose you, each of you, from before the foundations of time, to be the bride of Christ, to be adored and loved and sacrificed for and treasured for all eternity. God says our relationships are personal ones, intimate ones, and the moment we say “I do” to the promises and relationship with Christ, that love is ours. It was destined to be ours before that even, but we can live in that knowledge when we accept Him finally as our Savior.
Why, then, do we continually look to this world to give us the love and joy we already have? Why do we believe the lie that happiness is here, in this time and in this place? Why do we look to other people to love us perfectly, accept us completely, treasure us forever?
The sadness that encompassed my life for so long and encompasses so many others’ lives now was being the recipient of perfect love from the King of the universe, of being adored and treasured and intimately loved by the Lord of lords and the King of kings and yet living in the here and now in misery and pain. The inexplicable reality for so many believers is that they already have what they seek, but they still seek it in places that will never be able to deliver.
It’s like being in the middle of the Sahara Desert, dying of thirst. There is a cup of cool, clean water right there within arm’s reach, but instead of reaching for that cup of life-saving water, we suck on the sand around us, thinking that if we just keep trying different parts of the sand, our thirst will be quenched.
When my life of sin finally came crashing down around me so many years ago, I had a succession one night of two dreams. Please know that I am not promoting dream interpretation or visions or anything like that, but I do believe that God will speak to us in whatever way He decides. At this moment, God spoke to me in two dreams. This was the moment that I finally saw the truth about how I was loved and how I had been looking to this world instead of to Him.
In my first dream I was standing in a doorway and every person who I perceived as having loved me during my life passed before me. One after another they walked past, but no one stopped. I wanted them to stop. I longed for one of them to stop and show me the love I wanted so badly, but each of them simply walked by the open doorway. By the end of the dream I was left sadder than I was at the beginning, broken and alone, feeling absolutely unloved. I woke up then and cried like I had never cried before.
You see, I had already come to the end of what I like to call my “sin rope,” and I had given my life back to God. I was seeking Him and what I perceived was His will in my life, but I was still not happy. I had given up other men and drinking and every other thing that had been my loves of choice, but my heart was still broken. I couldn’t stop feeling desperately and completely alone. So when I woke up from this dream where it was painfully obvious that not one person from whom I had sought love was really giving it to me, I was in despair.
“Why would You show me that?” I screamed at the ceiling. “Why would you show me that I was never really loved?” I wanted answers from God. I wanted to know why He would bring me even further into despair when I thought I had given up to Him.
Eventually I cried myself back to sleep.
Then I had a second dream, although it wasn’t really a dream, per se’. This one was more like a vision, a sense of things, if you will. This time I simply knew I was in a warm light, comforted and serene in a way I had never known before. I felt secure and treasured and completely loved. This dream/vision lasted about 20 minutes and I awoke again, but this time my cries to the ceiling were a little different.
“That’s what I want!” I cried. “Please just tell me what to do so that I can feel that!” I was sobbing in desperation again. I knew immediately that this love was what I had been looking for all of my life and I wanted it more than anything.
In the midst of my tears I heard these words ringing in my head: “Deb, this is the way that I love you, that I have always loved you. See my love.”
Finally it was like this light dawned on me that what I had been looking so hard for in all of my life had been right there all along. I simply had to see it.
Now, understand that this seeing doesn’t happen overnight. As a matter of fact, it’s a life-long process of peeling back the layers of deception and lies so that you get little glimpses of how great a love we have received. Eventually, as I studied more and more, I began to realize the way God has described this love in His Word is intimate—it’s the intimate love as between a man and a woman in marriage. Then as I looked more and more at that, it dawned on me that there is one book in the Bible that deals specifically with this kind of love: The Song of Solomon.
This book in the Bible is a beautiful love story between Solomon and one of his wives, the Shulamite woman, but surely if God chose to put it in His Word, it must also point to Christ. And it does. Though a story of a man a woman, a bride and groom, the Song of Solomon points to the greater and more significant relationship between Christ and us, His bride.
We often stop, however, at the human story because it seems too intimate to be about our relationship to our Savior. But intimacy isn’t limited to purely physical or even emotional connections. The dictionary definition of “intimacy” is:
“Characterized or involving close, personal knowledge of another; sharing a relationship of an emotionally personal nature.” (dictionary.com)
Who is more intimately aware of us than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? And in that intimacy, He has pledged His love for us in every way possible. To put it in human terms, Jesus is intimately and completely in love with you, His bride.
The picture God gives us of this relationship is in the absolute love and emotional connection of Solomon and the Shulamite woman. It’s the closest thing we might understand, and still we really can’t fathom it. This is the love you already have, if you are a believer, and the sadness is that very few even see glimpses of it, much less know that it is there.
After realizing this, even in such a limited sense, I wanted to convey it to other women, so that’s when I taught a series entitled,“Christ, the Eternal Bridegroom” on the Song of Solomon. That seemed to help, but I knew I still needed more. I needed to find some illustration that would resonate truth to the hurting women I met every day.
Finally I told a story that compared each of us to a peasant woman who was loved completely by the king of the land, but because she couldn’t get past her own stained soul and his position as king, she couldn’t accept this love. Her inability to accept it didn’t change it—he loved her completely, but from afar. The sadness was that she lived all of her life as a pauper, deeply saddened and always incomplete when all that she longed for and needed was right there.
Enter Elizabeth and the allegory, Painted Window.
I wrote this book as a symbolic representation of the struggle we all have with accepting the intimate and complete love of the King of kings. We can see that He loves us as His people and as His church, but to know and understand that He loves each of us, individually, intimately and fully is difficult. I know that we won’t see it fully until the marriage supper when our Bridegroom comes for us, but until then I believe that is why the Song of Solomon is in the Bible—to give us a glimpse of this love.
Painted Window is an allegory, so it’s written a lot like any fictional novel.
However, the storyline and the characters represent more than their fictional manifestations. Elizabeth is meant to encapsulate all of us at one time or another. Though our situations may be very different from hers and also our sins, the struggle is the same: knowing and accepting the love of the King. Reginald, of course, is representative of Jesus, though the representation is limited in that he is human. The other characters and situations are meant to represent other times and places in our journeys, prayerfully speaking to us along the way.
It is divided into 8 sections with approximately 20-30 pages per section. Each section then ends with a Bible study that is divided into 3 sections: “Into the Allegory,” “Into the Word,” and “Into the Song.” There is a specific message about our journeys in each section and the questions are designed to lead you to discovering these messages.
We, just like Elizabeth, just like the woman caught in adultery from John 8, just like David from Psalm 51, and just like the Shulamite woman who said in Song of Solomon 1:6,
Do not gaze at me because I am dark.
Just like them we must come to the realization that although our sins are real and they deserve every horrible thing the Law says, Jesus Christ, our Savior and the Lover of our souls, said, “No. I choose her. I will die for her.”
Jesus says, as Solomon said in the Song of Solomon 1:15 to the Shulamite woman who doesn’t even want him to look at her because she is dark,
Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful.
These words are why I wrote Painted Window.
Painted Windowis available for purchase through amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, crossbooks.com, or by visiting Love Everlasting Ministries and contacting Dr. Waterbury directly. Additionally, Dr. Waterbury has taught through this series and the videos are available on the Love Everlasting Ministries Facebook page or on Vimeo.
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