Craig Groeschel - Why Can't I Forgive Myself?
Hey, I'm so glad to have you with us today at all of our Life.Churches, our churches around the world, and Network Churches, our online family, watching on YouTube, listening on a podcast. If you're new with us, we're in a message series called "The Grudge". We're talking about overcoming offenses and how do we forgive. Week number one, that's what we talked about is how do we overcome the smaller offenses that weigh us down or hold us back. The second week we talked about the bigger betrayals, when someone lies to us or lies about us or deceives us in a significant way. How do we forgive that?
Last week we talked about forgiving God. Technically we know God never sins so we don't technically forgive Him but there are people that hold a grudge against God. How do we reconcile with God and make things right? Today I want to talk about forgiving the person that may be the most difficult for many people to forgive and that is forgiving yourself. How do you forgive yourself when you let yourself down or let God down or hurt somebody that you love?
When you think about it, this can be so difficult because we know what we did that we shouldn't have done and we wish that we could undo. We know the words that we said, that we didn't really mean. I mean, maybe we kinda meant it at the time but we didn't, it's really not our heart and we said it and now we really hurt somebody. We know what we think about when nobody else is around and we carry the shame. We carry the guilt. How can I forgive myself after what I did or after who I am in this particular situation.
This was a real issue for me especially as a new Christian. I was in college, very very far from God and I did a lot of things that hurt a lot of people. And the guilt and the shame of the things that I did, the people that I hurt, it weighed so heavily on me and so I became a follower of Christ and I started to understand the forgiveness of Jesus. Okay, so He forgives me but I couldn't forgive myself. I ended up getting invited to go to this church. It was unlike any church that I'd ever been to.
I grew up in a traditional United Methodist Church with pews, hymns, stand up, sit down, do the Apostles' Creed, sit, sing verses one, two and four of every hymn. I don't know what's wrong with verse three but we didn't sing verse three in our church. And this church was way way way different. There weren't hymns. There were people like jumpin' up and down and dancing and lifting their hands up in the air. I'd never seen anything like it and it was bizarre to me, confusing but there was something about it that was also, like wow, these people are into it, this is different.
And the pastor preached a message and I'm telling you, I don't know if you've ever had this but it was just like God, him and me and like God was giving him the things to say to me. It was about forgiving yourself. And at the end of the message, he said, If you can't forgive yourself, why don't you come forward to the front? I'd never thought about going forward to the front in a church ever before but without even thinking, it's like I just stood up and started walking forward, thinking I was the only person in that church that was feeling such guilt.
Well, little did I know, there were a lot of other people. I just happened to be the first person. I guess I was the guiltiest one and I got up there and there was a line of people and the pastor came to me first because I was the first person there and he just started, you know, the music's playing and there's all these people and I'm cryin' and he said, "Do you feel guilty"? I said, "Yeah, I feel guilty". He said, "Lift up your hands". I'm like, I didn't do this at First Methodist Church but I lifted up my hands and then he did this thing. He said, "You're forgiven" and he stepped forward and he hit my hands really hard.
When he hit 'em so hard, I almost fell backwards. Like whoa, fellow, you hit hard. Well, he came in a second time to hit my hands again. I thought, oh, I'm no dummy. We're supposed to high five. And so when he came in to hit my hands again, I stepped into it. I high fived him back. I was ready. He looked at me like I did something wrong. I didn't know. He went to the next person and high fived them and said, "You're forgiven" and they fell to the ground. And the next person fell to the ground. And everybody fell to the ground.
First, I felt incredibly guilty for my sin. Then, I felt guilty because I didn't fall to the ground like everybody else. What is wrong with me? Maybe Jesus has forgiven me but how do I forgive myself? I don't know what it might be for you. Maybe you drank too much one night and you did something you can't undo or you said something you can't unsay. Maybe it was years ago you were in your teens or your early 20s and you felt cornered in a very desperate situation. And you made what you thought was the right decision at the time but you have regretted it ever since.
Maybe in the name of loving your family you did what you thought was best. You poured yourself into work. I'm gonna be a good provider. I'm gonna be successful for my family. And then years went by and suddenly you're disconnected with your kids and you think, what did I do? Why did I do that? The whole time the most important thing was right in front of me and yet I just poured my life into something else. I can't get over the guilt that I neglected my family.
Maybe you found yourself in a really odd spot in your marriage and instead of stepping into your marriage, you stepped out of your marriage. And you did something, betrayed your spouse and you just can't get over the guilt that you feel. Maybe it's the clicking, the looking at things you know you shouldn't look at. And you really do, you love God. And if you're married, you really do love your spouse. But you keep going back and back and back and back again and the shame and the guilt is just overwhelming. What do you do when what you did haunts you? When the guilt just simply won't go away? That's why I've called this message "Why Can't I Forgive Myself"? Why can't I forgive myself? What do you do with the guilt?
I want to start today by acknowledging something that I think is very important and that is this. That not all guilt is created equal. Not all guilt is created equal. Some of you are living under what we might call a false guilt. In other words, you're feeling guilty for something you shouldn't feel guilty about. I don't know what it might be for you but maybe you were a kid or a teenager and your parents divorced and you feel like somehow in some way, that was your fault. I should have done something. If I had, my parents, it's all my fault they divorced. That is not your fault. That is a false guilt.
Tragically I come across so many people that were victims of someone who abused their power. There might be those of you that someone that you trusted and loved took advantage of you and maybe physically or emotionally in some way they abused you. And so often it's so tragic and so sad but the victim often feels a shame and in some way like I must done something wrong. In some way, it was my fault. It was not your fault. That was not your fault. Don't buy into the devil's game of shaming you with the false guilt. For me, the false guilt that plagued me for years was the loss of my friend that I told you about a few weeks ago.
I had a very close friend of mine who ended up in a dark place and when we were not getting along in that season, my friend took his life. And for years this weighed on me. It must have been my fault. If I only hadn't have said that. If I only had done this. What if I had reached out to him? On and on and on the guilt just wouldn't go away. It took help from somebody saying, That is not yours. He mentally wasn't in a good place. Spiritually he wasn't a good place. Emotionally he was out of whack. He made the wrong decision.
False guilt is always dangerous, it's always non-productive. It's not from God and we need to let that go. It's a false guilt. Not all guilt is created equal. There's another type of guilt and this guilt can actually, believe it or not, can be a gift when you let it draw you closer to God. The right type of guilt can actually be a gift when it draws you into the presence of God.
In fact, 2 Corinthians chapter 7 tells us this. Verse 10 tells us, Godly sorrow, somebody say, godly sorrow. Godly sorrow. Godly sorrow, Scripture says, brings repentance. A sorrow that says I wish I hadn't done that. That wasn't the right thing. I dishonored God, I hurt somebody. I would give anything to not do that over again. That brings repentance that leads to salvation and it leaves no regret. A godly sorrow, it leads to repentance. I'm so so sorry. It brings about salvation and it leaves no regret. But there's another type of guilt or sorrow that's a worldly sorrow and the worldly sorrow brings death.
Let's talk the godly sorrow. This is a feeling of conviction. Oh my gosh, I did something that's not right. I am so so sorry. This type of conviction can actually be good and it can be helpful because it can take you off of a wrong path and it can put you onto a right path. This is a godly sorrow that says, you know what, I don't want to live that way anymore. I don't want to be like that. I don't want to say what I said anymore. I want to change directions. I want to change my behavior. I want to apologize. I want to live in freedom. I want to express God's love and heal from what happened in the past.
There's a big difference between a godly sorrow and a worldly sorrow. A good example of godly sorrow is Peter in the New Testament. Many of you can probably relate to Peter. I know I can. Peter was a guy that had a lot of good qualities and then he would just do something like stupid on steroids. How many of you can relate to that, okay? You're like, you're going the right direction, you're honoring God, you're doing good things, you're in the zone and then one day, boom, dumber than dumb dumb dumb. Where'd that come from? This was Peter. Unfortunately this can be me.
Peter, he's kinda bragging on himself. Jesus, I'm Your guy, man. He walks up to Him, he gives Him the hand, you know, the guy hand to hand, the bro hug. Everybody else denies You, not me, I got Your back. I'm in Your corner. I'll always be there for You. If everyone else lets You down, hey, if You're in a battle, Jesus, You want me in Your army. I will never let You down. And then Jesus kinda sees through his pride and sees his weakness and Jesus said, prophesies, hey, Peter, chill down a little bit because before the rooster crows, you're actually gonna deny Me three times.
That's exactly what happens. Jesus gets arrested and a little girl walks up and says, Hey, weren't you the guy that was with Jesus? And Peter's like, Jesus who? I don't know who you're talking about. Another woman comes up to him and says, Hey, weren't you one of the disciples? Weren't you walking with Jesus? And Peter's like, I don't know who you're talking about. I wasn't there. I don't know what you're talking about. I was home doing crossword puzzles or whatever.
And then we read in Scripture about a third person that confronts him, Luke 22:59. About an hour later another person asserted, Certainly, speaking of Peter, certainly this fellow was with Jesus, for he's a Galilean. And Peter replied, Man, I don't know what you're talking about. And just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. Now I'm gonna show you a portion of Scripture that you may not have noticed if you've read through this before. Just at the moment that Peter denied Jesus, Scripture says in verse 61, The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. The moment that Peter let Jesus down, Peter looked at Him and caught Him straight in the eye and Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you'll disown Me three times". And Peter went outside and wept bitterly. Wept bitterly.
A godly sorrow. I cannot believe I did what I did. I am so so so so so sorry. I was so stupid. Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt like that? In the middle of your best intentions, I'll never do that again. And then a short time later, you do it again. I truly love this person with all of my heart. And then in a moment of anger, you say something that you'll regret for years and years to come. You promise yourself that you'll always and then you don't or you never and you do. And then you wake up. I can't believe I did that. Why was I so stupid? How could God love someone like me that never gets it right?
That always falls short, that hurts someone I love in such a significant way. The moment you're there, the devil has you exactly where he wants you. The moment you're dwelling in your shame, your spiritual enemy has you in a corner because shame is the devil's playground. Shame is where he wants you. There's a big difference between a godly sorrow, a guilt and a shame that personalizes a behavior. What does guilt say? Guilt says, "I did something bad". I did something that's wrong but it's a separate act. It is forgivable. Guilt said, "I did something bad". Shame says, "I am bad". I am a bad person.
And what the devil does is he tries to use your action to connect it with your identity, to create a sense of shame. From this moment forward, the devil wants you to believe you are pathetic. You are worthless. You are useless. God will never use you again after what you thought, after what you said. You'll never be happy. You'll never be blessed. You'll never measure up. You'll never have a real ministry. You'll never have a great marriage. Your kids are never gonna honor you. You're never gonna have a great legacy. You're always gonna be marked by that thing you did because you are bad. The pain you're experiencing, oh, that's just payment for your past. You deserve that.
The moment you start dwelling in shame, your spiritual enemy has you exactly where he wants you. You can almost imagine what the devil would have been telling Peter about this time. Peter, you blew it big time. Jesus trusted you. Jesus, out of all the people in the world, Jesus selected you, Peter, to be one of His disciples and then you went off, bragging about how great you were. You'd be there for Him, and then you let Him down. You betrayed Him. You fell short. And to get, just top it off, Jesus saw you do it. He looked you right in the eye. Guess what, Peter? All the disciples are gonna know about it. You're never gonna have any credibility again. Your life is over, your integrity is shot, your ministry is ruined. Peter, you completely, look, you should be so ashamed of yourself.
Shame is the devil's playground. What does your spiritual enemy want to do? The devil wants to use your shame to drive you away from God. You're not good enough for God. You'll never measure up. After what you did, after the way you think, after the way you behave, after what you said, God could never really love you. The devil wants to use your shame to drive you away from God. But God wants to use your guilt to draw you to His grace. Come on, somebody, can you feel that the power that the godly sorrow says, I don't want that anymore. I have a safe place to turn. I have a God who loves me, a God who still cares about me, a God who receives me. His mercies are new every single morning.
The devil wants to use your shame to drive you away from God. You'll never be successful. You'll never be fulfilled. You'll never have anything significant or meaningful in your life. But our God is goodness. He wants to use a godly sorrow, a healthy guilt to draw you to His grace so you receive His mercy and you're free to do His will. Think about this. It's very similar to comparing what Peter did and what Judas did. They essentially did the same thing. If you don't know Judas' story, just like Peter, Peter denied Jesus three times.
Well, Judas betrayed Him one time for 30 pieces of silver. And instead of having a godly sorrow, Judas had what many of us have. In his shame, he had a worldly sorrow. I'm so busted. My life is over. I got caught. I'm so embarrassed. I'm so ashamed. I can never face anyone again. And so what did Judas do? In his shame, he separated himself from God and he took his own life. Shame is the devil's playground. Then there was Peter who essentially did something very similar to Judas but instead he had a godly sorrow, a godly sorrow. I'm so sad that I did this. I was wrong. Would You forgive me? And godly sorrow leads to repentance. Repentance.
What is repentance? Repentance is simply changing directions. Re-means to turn, pent is kind of like a penthouse. It's turning from a lower way to turning to a higher and a better way. It's simply turning. God, I'm so sorry. I don't want to ever live like that again. I don't want to talk like that again. I don't want to treat someone like that again. I want to live in Your ways. I want to find freedom. I want to be a blessing. I want to be a voice of hope. It's a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. I acknowledge that I sinned. God, I'm so sorry. I'm not making any excuses for what I did or what I didn't do.
It's a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Jesus went on to give His life. Why? For the forgiveness of our sins. The One who was perfect became sin for us on a cross. He died in our place and the world went dark. Three days later, when some women went to the tomb to check on things, the stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. The Son of God, Jesus, was not there but God had raised Him from the dead so that we can be forgiven. So we can experience His grace.
In John's gospel, chapter 21, you can read this powerful story. Jesus shows up to Peter, the one who failed three times and failed and denied Jesus in front of Jesus' eyes. And Jesus looked at Peter and He said, Peter, do you love Me? And Peter's like, Yes, I love You. I did love You, I do love You. I just did something stupid. Isn't that the way it is sometimes? Yes, I love You. Yes, I want to do what's right. Yes, I messed up. I don't know why but I just did. Yes, I love You.
And let me tell you what Jesus did not say. He didn't say, I told you you were gonna do it. Didn't say that. He didn't say, I want you to dwell on your past. Think about it. You're in spiritual time-out. He didn't do that. He didn't say, You need to wallow in your sin for a while. You need to drown in your guilt because you now are going to hell where the worm never dies. This is my bad Southern preacher. Where the worm never dies. And there's weepin' and gnashin' of teeth. He didn't do that. No no no no no no no. Feel the power, feel the love. Peter, do you love Me? Jesus, You know I do. And I can imagine Jesus smiling, saying, Then feed My sheep. In other words, then do My will. Go show My love. Finish your assignment. Do you love Me? Yes, I do. You're forgiven. Go do what I created you to do.
Let me tell you what Peter didn't do. Peter didn't say, I just can't receive Your grace. I'll never get over it. I don't deserve it. Jesus, Your grace may be enough for John, but Your grace isn't enough for me. Peter didn't do that. But that's exactly what many of us do. You can't really forgive me. I deserve to live in shame for the rest of my life. No. He acknowledged his sin. He apologized. He repented. He received the forgiveness of Jesus. I don't know what you're holding. Something you didn't do years ago that you should have done. Something that you did that still weighs on you. Something you said. Something in a moment of stupidity. If you've confessed that to Jesus, it is forgiven and it is time for you to let it go. To let it go.
For those of you that are afraid I'm gonna break into a Disney song, it's not gonna happen. I raised six kids. I never want to hear that song again as long as I live. But I'll preach it in a sermon. Let it go. Let it go. God's Word says this in 1 John 1:9 that if we, listen to me, if we confess our sins to God, listen, our God is faithful and He is just. Watch. To forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness. All unrighteousness. All unrighteousness. Let it go. Let it go.
If you've taken it before God, Jesus has covered it. God doesn't hold it against you. He has forgotten your sin. You're free. Don't let the pain of the past rob you from God's calling for your future. Let it go. Let it go. The neglect. The lies. The words that you said. The thoughts that you had. Let it go. Because you need to acknowledge the truth no matter what you do. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you will it or how much you want it, you cannot change your past. But the good news is, our God can change your future. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. You did something that you wish you hadn't done, let it go. You betrayed someone, let it go and spend the rest of your life being faithful. You got hooked early on something you wish you weren't hooked on, but you're free now. Live and walk in freedom and help others find that same freedom. Do you love Him? Yes. Then go do His will. Feed His sheep. Let it go.
Maybe you let God down, you let yourself down, you let somebody else down. If it's covered by the blood of Jesus, don't live in the past. Let it go, whatever it is. You smoked something last night, you slept with someone last night, let it go. Let it go. Here's what's gonna happen though, and be warned. Your spiritual enemy is sly. Every now and then, he'll try to bring up your past. Well, you did this and you thought that and you said that and you weren't there for them and you let them down and you can never undo that. Anytime the devil brings up your past, just remind yourself he's bringing up your past because he's intimidated by your future. God's hand is still on you. His grace is still in you. His power still works through you.
Just remind yourself, your enemy's trying to talk you out of God's potential for your life. Think about Peter. This means so much to me. Who did God choose to be the guest speaker at Pentecost when God poured out His Spirit? God chose Peter. And what was Peter's message? It was very very simple and it was unbelievably powerful. Peter said, Repent of your sins. Just turn away from it. Call on the name of Jesus and you'll be saved. You will be forgiven. Think about who God chose to do His will, to preach His truth, to lead people to grace. He didn't choose the one who was perfect. He chose the one who was forgiven. He didn't choose the one who was always faithful. He chose the one who experienced grace.
If you've been forgiven of much, guess what? You can love so much more. Do you love Him? Feed His sheep. Do His will. You are not what you did. That's something that you did. That's not who you are. The devil wants you to connect action to identity. You did something bad. The devil wants you to think you'll always be someone bad. But Jesus makes all things new. It's what I did, not who I am. I am a child of God. Yup, that was a bad page in the book. That was a bad chapter in my life. But my story is not over yet. God is still writing my story and I am confident of this, Paul said. You can be confident of this. That He who began a good work in you will be faithful to carry it out until completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Whatever it is, the weight, the guilt, the shame, take it to the One who died for it. Confess it. Turn from it and find freedom. Let it go.
Father, we ask in the name of Your Son, Jesus, that You would do spiritual surgery, God, on hearts today.
As you pray and reflect at all of our campuses, those of you that you are Christians, you are committed to follow Christ, but you still feel the weight of something you did or didn't do, said or shouldn't have said and you want to find the freedom from that. You want to help letting it go, would you lift up your hands right now, just all of our churches, just hands going up all over the place.
God, thank You that today's the day of freedom. That whoever the Son sets free, God, we know is free indeed. And I pray, God, today for a miracle in hearts that we would step out of shame and into Your grace. Out of guilt, God, into Your freedom. That we'd recognize this is actually a godly sorrow that leads to repentance, a new direction that brings salvation and brings life. God, for whoever is living in the shame of the past, God, help us step out of that shame and into Your grace, receiving Your forgiveness, God, and letting it go to do Your will. God, by the power of the One that You raised from the dead, help us to let it go. As You have forgiven us, God, so we receive Your forgiveness and we forgive ourselves. Let it go. Your sin is forgiven. God remembers it no more. You are free from the past to do God's will in the future. Let it go. Let it go.
As you keep praying today at all of our churches, nobody looking around, just reflecting on this, there are those of you, you're gonna say, if we had a honest conversation, you might say, you don't really know where you stand with God. You really may feel the weight and the guilt of the past. This was me for years and years and years. I thought I had to be really really good, do lots of good things to make up for all the bad things and stop doing all the bad things. Then I realized the harder I tried, I just never could quite stop. I didn't understand the grace of God.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God who was perfect in every way. He never ever sinned. That's why He was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He became sin on the cross. He died in our place. His death was a substitutionary death. He died so we don't have to die. He paid the price. God raised Him from the dead, proving that death, hell it's been conquered, that Jesus is risen, He is Lord and anyone who calls on the name of Jesus, doesn't matter what you've done, doesn't matter how dark your life is, anyone who calls on the name of Jesus, your sins would be forgiven, you would be saved. The old would be gone and everything would become new.
In fact, there are those of you, maybe you're watching on YouTube or listening to a podcast or you're watching online or you're in a campus right now and you recognize you don't know where you stand with God. You're not watching by accident. You are here at this moment at this time because of the goodness and the grace of God. He's drawing you right now. And when you pray, when you call on Him, when you repent of your sins, He hears your prayers. He forgives your sins. He separates them as far from you as the east is from the west and you become spiritually new.
At all of our churches today, those who say yes, I want His grace, I want His forgiveness, I simply turn, I turn from my sin, I turn toward Jesus. Today I give my life to Him. If that's your prayer, lift your hands high now, all over the place, lift them up now. Say yes, that's my prayer. Right back over here, and up here in this section, right up here. Three of you up here, praise God for you. Others of you today. Right up here, praise God for you, and here as well. Two hands right back over here.
Come on, somebody. Can we give our God some praise? Right back over here. Church Online, you click right below me. Here in the middle section, my gosh, right back over here. Can somebody give God some praise today? If you're able, church, would you just stand to your feet in honor of those that are coming to faith in Christ? When we pray, we don't pray alone. We are family. Would you join your faith with those around you and pray this prayer aloud?
Heavenly Father, forgive all my sins. Jesus, save me. Change me Make me new. Fill me with Your Spirit, so I can know You, so I can walk in Your ways, so I can do Your will on earth as it is in heaven. Thank You for Your grace. Thank You for new life. My life is not my own, I give it all to You. In Jesus' name I pray.