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I have sinned and I cannot forgive myself and so cannot move on. I'm living each day with regret, what can I do?
Thank you for your honest question. I am sorry to hear that you are struggling like this, but am glad of the opportunity to help you in your quest to move on from your past. I can assure you that in the Lord Jesus Christ there is a very real solution to your problem - He has done all that is necessary that you would have complete freedom from all sin, and I pray that He would help you to accept the gift that He is offering to you today.
I don’t know where you are looking today to find the forgiveness you seek, but I want to urge you to look nowhere else other than to Jesus Himself. You speak in your question of trying to forgive yourself, but if we’re honest that shouldn’t be the issue at all - your sin hasn’t primarily been against yourself. You have sinned against God, and you have almost certainly sinned against other people. Yes, your sin will have harmed you in some way because sin always brings destruction, but it is not your own forgiveness you should be seeking - it is the forgiveness of those you have wronged.
Ultimately it is God’s forgiveness that you are looking for as it is He who is the judge before whom every single human being will stand and give an account of the life that they have lived. When we speak of forgiving ourselves it may indicate that there is something twisted about the way we think. It could imply that what we’re trying to do is somehow make ourselves feel better about ourselves despite what we may have done in the past. We may be trying hard to justify ourselves rather than forgive ourselves, and prove to the world that we’re not such bad people after all. We may feel that we can earn forgiveness by the good that we can do, and then we’ll be able to move on from the past.
The root of all of this kind of thinking is pride - we’re ultimately trying to solve the problem we’ve caused ourselves, and when we’ve managed to ‘forgive ourselves’, if that ever happens, we’ll feel a great sense of self-satisfaction that we’ve fixed it all. The truth is, this is nothing like the attitude that God wants us to have. In fact, the Bible says that God hates pride, and He opposes those who live by it (Proverbs 8:13, James 4:6).
What God wants from us is humility - He wants us to acknowledge the mess we have made of our lives, and then rather than trying to fix it ourselves, He wants us to bring it to Him to fix. He’s more than able to clear up any mess we might make, but the first, and sometimes the hardest step is to bring it to Him - to humble ourselves to the point of acknowledging that we can’t fix it on our own, but we desperately need help. Before we move on, I hope and pray that you will come to that place of humility, and be able to accept the amazing news that we are about to look at.
What many people would reach for at this point would be a God who would just be willing to forgive and forget the things they have done in their past. Many people believe that this is exactly what God is like - if you ask Him He will just forgive you and you needn’t worry about anything that you've done. However, this isn’t at all what God is like. You see, if we think that God can just sweep sin under the carpet and forget about it like we want to do we’re completely wrong. What that would do is completely diminish the seriousness of what has been done, and God will never do that - He is holy, just, separate from all that is evil, and He must punish sin to remain consistent with His character. He will never just pat us on the head and say ‘never mind, it doesn’t matter’.
How about the people that your sin has hurt along the way? What would they think if God just let you off for the things you’ve done? They would feel a great sense of injustice that God could just forget all you have done with no consequences, and they’d be absolutely right. No, God doesn’t work this way - He in no way wants to diminish the seriousness of the sin that you have committed (and the sin that I have committed - we’re all included here), but He does want it to be dealt with.
That may all sound like bad news up to this point, but believe me, there is even better news for us than a God who just sweeps things under the carpet - we have a God who is willing to deal with our sin once and for all. That’s why the whole teaching of the Bible revolves around the death of Jesus on the cross 2000 years ago. As Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, hung on that cross He was doing something amazing for all those who would trust Him - He was making it possible that our sin could be dealt with forever.
The Bible says that our sin is most probably much worse than we even know. The punishment we deserve for the sin we’ve committed is to be separated from God forever in eternal death, and when you’re separated from the source of all that is good there is no possible worse place to be. You and me, and in fact all humanity deserve to be dying the criminal's death that Jesus died 2000 years ago. Jesus was completely innocent, but we are guilty and ought to be condemned for what we’ve done, and that’s exactly why Jesus was there. When Jesus hung on the cross, He didn’t hang there paying for crimes He had committed because He had none, He was hanging there for the crimes that you and I have committed. In an amazing exchange, Jesus took our sin upon Himself, and allowed Himself to go through terrible sufferings in our place. Jesus effectively suffered hell as He hung on that cross, and He did it so that we wouldn’t have to. The Bible says it like this:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
How can you and I be forgiven of the wrong that we’ve done? It can’t be ignored, the punishment has to be paid.
The only way we can be forgiven is if someone takes our punishment for us, and that’s exactly what Jesus did - He was beaten to death so you wouldn’t have to die, He suffered hell so you could go to heaven, He was forsaken by His Father so we can be accepted, and He was condemned so that we could go free.
So how can you know freedom from the guilt you appear to be plagued by? It can only happen if you first come to know as a reality the forgiveness that God can give you in His Son Jesus. How can we obtain that forgiveness? The Bible says we simply need to trust in Christ - put our faith in His death in our place, and give our lives over to Him. We need to turn away from the sin we’ve committed in the past, and begin to follow Jesus as our Lord and King.
Without Jesus we are completely without hope, but when we come to that place of acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God, and as the only one who can save us from sin, we are transferred into God’s family and given a new life that stretches on into eternity. We don’t need to fix ourselves in any way to come to Jesus, but we do need a complete change of direction - we need to walk towards God rather than away from Him, we must trust Jesus to forgive and change us not ourselves, and we must start looking towards heaven rather than trying to build a great life in this world.
So, at this point I must ask you the question - have you personally come to this point of bowing the knee to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord? If not then you must do so now - your sin is dragging you to a lost eternity in hell, and without Jesus there is no other way out. Humble yourself and cry out to Him today to save you, and I can assure you that He will not turn you away no matter how badly you have lived in the past. That’s why Jesus' death was so horrendous, so He could pay for and forgive any and every sin - not ignore it, but take care of it so it never need be mentioned again, and so that you no longer need to live with the guilt of what you’ve done.
If you have already come to that point of trusting Christ, then all I urge you to do is to receive the gift of complete forgiveness that God has already given you in His Son. No longer live in that place of beating yourself up for all you’ve done, but live in the freedom which Jesus bought for you on the cross. Stop thinking in any way that you have to do something to fix all of this - to do so is to belittle the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. There was nothing you could do to be free from the penalty of your sin, so don’t even try, just rest in the forgiveness that you have been given.
It may not seem fair for you to have this kind of peace and rest, but that’s because it isn’t - it wasn’t just for Jesus to take the punishment for your sin, He did it because He loves you. You have two choices - you can continue to live in the bondage that your guilt brings you into, or you can humbly accept the great work that Jesus has done on your behalf - I obviously urge you to do the latter.
So, once you’ve trusted Christ, and accepted the gift of His forgiveness, where do you go then? Well it sets you free to live the life that God always intended you to live, a life where we can love God, and love our neighbour (Mark 12:30-31). You see, when we’re totally bound up in trying to deal with the guilt of our past, there is no way we can ever live a life of love towards others, we’re just too consumed with our own lives to really think of other's needs. Jesus sets us free to live exactly this kind of life - to look outwards and to serve, love and meet the needs of others rather than ourselves. This is the way God is, and it’s the way He wants us to be - in a world where looking after ‘number 1’ is the primary virtue, those who follow Jesus are to be those who don’t just look out for themselves, but demonstrate the same love that God has shown to us to the world around us.
As I close, let me once again urge you to make sure of your standing before God before anything else. If you know Him as your Father, then you can know complete freedom from the guilt of past, present and future, and can live with a clear conscience because of what Jesus has done. Not only that, but knowing God as your Father gives a great assurance over the future - we will one day go to live with Him in glory.
I do hope this general answer to your question goes some way to helping you find peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: www.lookingforGod.com
In closing, I want to encourage you to get more involved with your local church. It would be good to speak to a Christian leader or another trusted church individual regarding your question. I know they would be delighted to further answer you as well as offer prayer and support as you continue your spiritual journey:
Please use our Interactive Answer Matrix and feel free to ask another question. Our helpful staff are praying for you and waiting to try and answer to you from the Bible, and will be delighted to tell you more about Jesus Christ the Lord, the Saviour of the world.
Here are some more Bible Verses for your further consideration:
- 1 John 1:5-2:6
- John 3:1-21
- Luke 7:36-50
*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
*If anything in this answers affects you directly, then please feel free to call our confidential prayer line in the UK on 0845 4567729, where trained Christian volunteers will take your call and pray both for you and with you. If you are outside of the UK then you may submit your request for prayer on line at http://www.ucb.co.uk/prayerline
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