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Roy has a temper. He knows it. He wants to please God, but keeps losing his temper. He is seeing a counselor who has told him that due to his hard past and personal failures that he needs to “forgive himself.” Roy asks, “I’m told that before I can really love others, that I first need to love myself. I tried to find that verse in the Bible, but haven’t been able to. Can you tell me where it is?” Roy wants this verse so that he can write to some people he has hurt, to help them to understand why he does the things he does.
Roy, there are no Bible verses that command you to forgive yourself or to feel love for yourself. You forgive other people whenever they sin against you, and you ask for forgiveness from God and if need be, from others, when you sin. When it comes to personal forgiveness, you are either forgiven or you are not. If God has indeed forgiven you, then you need to accept that. Don’t wallow. It is your decision whether you are going to believe God or your feelings on this subject. After messing up, you may feel badly for some time because feelings last longer than actions, but forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a legal term. You are either pardoned or you are not. To say, “I just can’t forgive myself,” when the Lord has forgiven you is disagreeing with God’s judgment. And there’s nothing dutiful or noble about that. Agree with God.
Did you sin? Do you take responsibility for that? Then you go to the Lord and you confess your sin to Him (expressing your faith in Christ’s work on the cross). The blood of Jesus purifies us from sin. You shouldn’t wallow, but accept the suffering that Jesus took upon Himself for you. That may feel harder on the pride, but it’s humble and right:
“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
When you are convicted of sin, act swiftly. Cry out to God, and ask for His forgiveness. And then if you need to, you go to those whom you have wronged, and you ask for their forgiveness. God forgives you through Christ. They will then have to forgive you for their sake, but if you come to them humbly and truly repentant (eager to forsake the sin that you won’t continue in), then you will have done your part to repair the damage. And don’t be slow about it. Don’t kid yourself into thinking anything to God is more important than this. God would even rather you make this right first, than to worship Him. Get it done! Jesus said:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
Matthew 5:23, 24
I have heard Christian songs that talk about the need to love one’s self before they can love others. That is more a reflection of our culture, than it is on what the Bible says about love. Love is not a feeling. Love is an action verb. You do not need to feel anything in order to show love. Of course, your name isn’t “Tron X-3,” and so you will be feeling things while showing love and forgiveness (and for when you see your need to be loved and ask for forgiveness from others). The sooner we just recognize that all of this is part and parcel of living on earth after the fall, the sooner we can get on with the real task at hand, and that is serving the Lord in the ministry He has commissioned us to; to reconcile the world to God.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.”
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
There is something that seems so pious about feeling badly for our sins. It is as if we are afraid that if we move on too quickly, that that means we are not sincere in our repentance. And while certainly some quiet humility or tears of pain are appropriate when we have sinned, (godly sorrow) the work that is required for forgiveness and moving on, was finished on that cross a long time ago. Our wallowing and struggling to come to terms with our sin is not going to increase the power of the blood of Christ. The way some lament their failings, you’d think God forgave us based upon how sorry we are for our sin. No, but it was the blood of Jesus that paid the horrible price for our sin. There is nothing that can wash away sin except Christ’s blood. So what is needed is not coming to a place of forgiveness for ourselves or feeling love for ourselves. The thing to do is to agree with Christ that in faith, we will obey Him and love Him and that we will actively love others.
Verses like Matthew 19:19 are not commanding us to love ourselves. These verses assume that we already love ourselves. God commands us to love others.
“Jesus replied, ’Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-."
Yes, I know that we live in a sick world, where there are those who, for whatever reason, mutilate their own bodies and starve themselves because they have a distorted body image. I’m not saying that people love well. We need Christ every step of the way, to show us how to love. I’m just saying that our focus in loving is to be outward. We must love others. We needn’t strive to love ourselves. We are commanded to love God and our neighbors, regardless of how we are feeling. I have found that my feelings for others change, after I start showing them love. Love first, regardless of how you feel. It is nice to feel loving, but it isn’t required. Really, when you love others before you feel good about yourself, you are obeying God and expressing your faith in His rightness.
I remember once when I was wallowing in this whole self-forgiveness thing. My Theology Professor wasn’t going to indulge me this. “Tom,” he said, “the only one who is surprised when you sin, is you. God isn’t surprised when you sin. I’m certainly not surprised when you sin…,” (Hey, the tuition was free!) “The only one who is surprised is you.” I was to decide then and there, if I were going to accept as fact, and to live according to God’s forgiveness or not. When it comes to self, we are simply to agree with God, and receive what He has for us, be it love or forgiveness. Our wallowing in here just shows that we have too much pride. As for others though, we are to forgive and to love them, remembering:
“We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19
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...in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them... 2 Cor 5:19
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