A Weight of Grace small group facilitator recently called with a question. A group member, who obviously understood the Gospel message that Jesus Christ had died for her sins and that God had forgiven all of her sins, still insisted, “But I will never forgive myself.”
The other group members all chimed in to help this troubled woman, telling her that if God had forgiven her, she should forgive herself. But she was adamant that she would never be able to forgive herself. The facilitator believes that this unwillingness to forgive herself is a contributing factor to this woman’s struggle with overeating—that she is, at least in part, overeating as a form of punishing herself for the sin she sees as unforgivable—even though Christ’s blood was shed for her total atonement. The group facilitator wondered what more could be said to help this woman.
Why would anyone refuse to agree with God that her sin is forgivable? Why would anyone persist in holding against herself what God no longer holds against her?
There is actually a very good reason: It is because she thinks that if she forgives herself, she will probably just do whatever it was again. She sees her continued guilt and self-punishment as disincentives to repeat the offense.
Is there hope for this woman to ever forgive herself if she feels sure she needs to continue in self-recrimination and self-punishment to ensure she will not sin in that way again? Yes, because she can come to the understanding that she is not the one upon whom she should rely in order to stay away from sin. God has not only promised that he will provide a way of escape from every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13) , but also he has promised that he will empower us to want to escape the temptation, as well as make us able to escape the temptation (Phil. 2:13).
With an accurate understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16) in the life of the believer, who is a “new creation in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24), it is possible to shift from using self-punishment and guilt as motivators to “stay in line” and instead rely on God and his grace at work within us to enable us to live godly lives (Titus 2:11-12).