We all carry some baggage with us. Past mistakes, guilt, resentment, previous hurts. How can we forgive ourselves for those things we've done? This week we look at the kind of baggage we may be carrying, and we look at how we can forgive ourselves so we can move on.
Last week we started our sermon series on Forgiveness. We all struggle with forgiveness. We don’t really understand it. We don’t really want to think about it because it can be so hard to forgive, especially when somebody hurt me, maybe even hurts me over and over. But yet the Bible makes it clear that forgiveness is necessary. Christians must be forgiving people. We must learn to forgive. We have to get good at this. And next week, as we look at how we need to forgive others, we’ll see how important it really is.
While forgiving others can be hard sometimes, there is another level of forgiveness that we’re going to talk about today, and that’s forgiving ourselves. Because we all have baggage that piles up. We’ve all made poor decisions, and those poor decisions can box us in, and control the direction of our life. And to get back on track, we’ve got to get beyond the effects of these bad decisions, and to do that requires forgiveness. We’ve got to be able to forgive ourselves.
To forgive somebody means that we don’t hold it against them anymore. We don’t have to forget what they did, we just aren’t mad at them anymore, we don’t hold it over them anymore. So forgiving ourselves doesn’t mean we forget what happened, those missed opportunities, those ruined relationships, those lost jobs or even careers. We just put it behind us. We stop beating ourselves up over things that happened years ago, or maybe just happened, and we move on. We give ourselves permission to move on. We don’t let those mistakes control us anymore.
Do you need to forgive yourself this morning? Do you feel disappointment over missed opportunities? Regrets over past mistakes? Lost dreams? Guilt? Shame? Fear? Self loathing? Maybe you just don’t like yourself very much. The solution, the only solution is forgiveness.
Now there is a difference between the forgiveness that God gives us, and the forgiveness we can give ourselves. In Ezekiel 33:16, God says, “None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him...” That’s how God forgives us. God can truly wipe our slate clean, and He won’t even remember our sin anymore. You and I can’t do that. We can’t turn off our memories, we’ll always remember. But what’s important is that we don’t let those memories gain control over us, or even paralyze us. Which brings up the question, “How can I do that?” “How can I forgive myself?”
We can look to Peter’s example in our reading this morning. He did something that’s so out of character for Peter, and he was so upset by it, that he wept bitterly. He had promised to stand by Jesus to the very end, no matter what happened. He was even more than willing to die with Jesus if it came to that. But when push came to shove, he couldn’t do it.
You see, when Jesus needed him the most, Peter denied even knowing Him. He turned his back on the Son of God and immediately felt regret and shame and guilt. Now remember last week, God will always forgive us when we come to Him. This wasn’t an issue of whether God would forgive Peter. God would forgive Peter, and God will forgive us when we come to him. The question is would Peter be able to forgive himself and move forward.
You see, in our lives, our issue might not be that we denied Jesus, it might be that we ruined a relationship and now we’re feeling guilty. It might be that we blew a job, or even a career, and now we’re feeling regret. It might be that we lived our life so far outside of God’s will that now we’re feeling shame. It’s not important what it is, it’s just important that we understand that when we bring it to God, He will forgive us. And once it’s forgiven, God won’t hold it over us anymore. In fact, He won’t even remember it. So remember, it’s not a question of whether God will forgive us.
The question is, “will I forgive myself?” You see, there are some of you here today that have been carrying around a lot of guilt and shame and regrets for a long time, because you have been unable or unwilling to forgive yourself. Today is the day to get free from that. Today, we’re going to see how to get out from under that. We are going to look at Peter, not just this passage, but what happened from here. And we’re going to identify three necessary steps for forgiving ourselves. I’ve boiled them down to the three C’s. Here’s the first one.
1. Come to God for Forgiveness. This is what we talked about this last week. We looked at the parable of the prodigal son to see the steps involved in seeking forgiveness from God. And those, if you remember from last week, were the three “R’s”: We have to recognize our need for God, return to God, and receive His forgiveness through Christ. But I think maybe the most important part of last week’s message was the understanding that coming to God for forgiveness is the most important thing we can do; no matter what you’ve done, no matter how far you have run from God, it is never too late to come back to God, God’s forgiveness is always available to you. All you have to do is turn to God and ask Him to forgive you, and He will forgive you every time. Something that we didn’t talk about last week is that receiving God’s forgiveness enables you to forgive yourself. I can never really forgive myself, until I’ve received God’s forgiveness.
In our reading, Peter had really messed up. He denied knowing Jesus during Jesus’ most critical time. Before being able to forgive himself, he had to receive forgiveness from God. Do you think God forgave Peter? Do you think God still had a plan for Peter? If you’re following along in our notes, you’ll see our next passage in Mark 16. This took place on Easter morning. Jesus had been buried and now it’s the third day and some of the women had gone to prepare Jesus’ body, but when they got there they looked inside the grave, and it was empty.
We’re going to pick it up in verse 6, there was an angel sitting there, who said, “‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter...” Circle that part, and Peter. The angel specifically told the women to tell Peter. Let Peter know that even though he messed up, God will forgive him.
Now look at how Paul describes God’s forgiveness in Colossians 2:13-14. I used the Contemporary English Version because I really like the way it said this, “He forgave all our sins. God wiped out the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses. He took them away and nailed them to the cross.” Circle that last phrase--nailed them to the cross. You see, Jesus settled this issue of forgiveness on the cross. Forgiveness is available to us because of the cross. But until you realize that you are completely forgiven by God, you won’t be able to offer that same forgiveness to yourself. The first step in forgiving myself requires that I first come to God for forgiveness.
2. Change my pattern of behavior. This is the repentance component. We didn’t talk about it last week, but when we go to God for forgiveness, he forgives us. But he expects us to repent, to change our behaviors so we don’t keep doing the same things over and over again. He expects us, when He forgives us, to at least work on turning away from our sin when we seek forgiveness.
Same thing when we forgive ourselves. We need to turn away from the issues we’re struggling with, it’s sin. There’s underlying sin. Let me use an obvious example. Let’s say you had an affair. And you’re really feeling guilty, and beating yourself up over it. If you’re going to ever forgive yourself so you can move on, you have to stop having affairs. You’ll never be able to forgive yourself for a previous affair, if you’re still out there having affairs. Now that’s a really obvious example, but the point is that you need to turn away from those things you’re struggling with before you can honestly forgive yourself for them. You have to repent, turning away from your sin, so you can turn toward God.
Let’s look at the life of Peter and see if we can find any evidence of repentance in Peter’s life. Now the sin he committed was denying he knew Jesus. Look in Acts 4, and understand this is just seven weeks later. Peter was preaching about Jesus to a massive crowd in Jerusalem. After Peter preaches, over 3,000 people became believers. Later, Peter and John were arrested for preaching in the temple court, and they’re brought in front of the Sanhedrin, and this is where we pick it up.
In Acts 4:13 says, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” I want you to underline three words--courage of Peter. This is the same guy who just seven weeks before had been so cowardly he denied even knowing Jesus to a slave girl. Now he was preaching Jesus in front of a multitude and speaking in front of the Jewish counsel. He’s not a coward anymore. He’s not afraid. And he’s certainly not denying knowing Jesus.
Peter had repented of the cowardice that he showed on the night of the arrest. He became very bold, nothing could stop him from standing up for Jesus now. He turned 180 degrees from what he did. We need to make the same change. Whatever we did, we need to turn away from it. So the first requirement is to come to God for forgiveness. The second requirement is to change our behaviors so that we turn away from the sin that caused it.
3. Create a new future for myself. Do you realize the role that you play in creating your future? I’m not sure a lot of us think about it. God has plans for you, but He isn’t going to do it all for you. You have to be serious about following Him. In Matthew 16:18, before this any of this happened, Jesus tells Peter, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” This was Jesus’ plan for Peter. Jesus chose Peter to lead His church. That didn’t mean the matter was settled.
Peter had to go along with it, he had to follow. And after Peter denied Jesus, and he felt so filled with grief, he could have easily curled up inside himself and withdrew from everybody and never grown into the church leader Jesus called him to be. I know a lot of people who have taken that option. They just withdrew, unable to forgive themselves. Peter had a choice. Let this control him, or create a new future according to God’s plan.
You have the same choice. God has plans for you, too. God knows your potential. You see, nothing can happen that will limit the plans that God has for you, as long as you are willing to follow Him.
Let me change direction just a little bit. Because there’s something important I need to cover before we close. We saw that when God forgives, he forgets. And we know we can’t forget. We’ll always remember those things that hurt us. Why? Why can’t we forget? Wouldn’t it just be so much easier if we could just forget those big mistakes in our lives, the big sins that hold us back? If we could just receive forgiveness from God, forgive ourselves, and move on with a clean slate? Here’s the thing you need to understand: We remember because God has a purpose for it. We are given a new start but God allows the scars to remain because He has a purpose for those scars. If you’re following along in the notes, this is your next fill in.
God has a purpose for my past. You see, we all come to Jesus with scars, broken bones, wounds, hurts, past mistakes. And God’s intention is to heal our past wounds, to bind together all of the hurts that we’ve had in our life, but He allows the scars to remain. Why? I think it’s because he has a purpose for them. I think it’s so He can use us to go out and help those who are struggling with the same thing. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” That’s how God is glorified. That’s how people are helped, when we receive comfort from God, and then allow God to use our weaknesses and our mistakes to bring comfort other people.
There are people struggling with the same things you’ve struggled with. You know what they’re going through. Better than anyone else, you know. And you can help, because you know the way out, they might not even know there is a way out, but you got out. And you can help them. And that’s why God doesn’t take away our memory of those struggles. He needs us to feel compassion for others going through that. He needs us to use those memories to help them.
So whatever is holding you back this morning, come to God for forgiveness, change those patterns of behavior, turning away from the underlying sin, and create a new future for yourself, a new life free from that sin and the baggage that life caused. Forgive yourself. Allow God’s plans for you to come to fruition. And remember, that God wants to use your past to help others who are going through the same things.