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Self-Forgiveness: What the Bible Says about Letting Go of the Past

Whether you're an older adult regretting choices you made during your life or a younger person who feels bad about the way they treated a senior loved one, forgiveness can be an important topic. Learning to let go of the past the right way helps you seek a brighter future, whether that's in one of our assisted living communities or elsewhere.

 To understand the topic of self-forgiveness, it's important to first know what forgiveness is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as the act of forgiving, and further study reveals that forgiving means to cease to feel resentment against an offender or to stop feeling anger towards someone or blaming them.

The Bible gives us numerous lessons of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22, Luke 17:3, Luke 23:34, Acts 7:60), and God commands us to forgive others so that we ourselves can be forgiven (Mathew 6:12, Luke 6:37, Ephesians 4:32). However, the Bible doesn't contain one instance of the word "self-forgiveness", nor does the Merriam-Webster Dictionary have an entry for it.

Many of the believers who struggle with self-forgiveness misunderstand the concept of forgiveness. They usually have done something wrong in the past that has deeply hurt another person, and they can't or refuse to forget their actions or to let go of the guilt or shame they feel.

Forgiveness by its very definition requires two individuals: a person who has wronged someone else and the victim that was wronged. Only the victim can offer forgiveness. The one who has done the wrong can only ask for it. They can't forgive themselves, because they did not originally wrong themselves.

In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul speaks with the church members about the wrongs they had committed and the sorrow they experienced. The awareness of their sin led them to repentance. In the same way, King David's anguish over his sins led him to pen the beautiful prayer for forgiveness found in Psalms 51.

This form of godly sorrow or self-condemnation produced healthy results because the individuals acknowledged their sins to God and asked for forgiveness, which the Bible assures us will be granted (2 Chronicles 7:14, Proverbs 28:13, Isaiah 55:6-7). Once we repent, the Bible tells us that God removes our sins as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12), and Jesus promises us that whom He sets free, is free indeed (John 8:36).

To remain in guilt and condemnation is to deny God's place as our judge and to take that role onto ourselves. The key to letting go of the past is to accept the truth that Jesus paid for our sins and trust in Him to cleanse us of unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Believers can then follow Paul, who called himself the chief of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), in forgetting what lies behind and pressing on towards God's will for us (Philippians 3:13-14).

For additional study, here are three passages that teach us about forgiveness.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 NIV

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV