Fig Leaf Underwear

July 15, 2010

“I need to forgive myself.”

As a pastor, I often hear people say that.  They’ve sinned and feel awful about it.  In many cases they have already confessed their sin to the Lord.  Still, they’re wracked with shame over what they’ve done.  If only their shame could be removed, if only they could feel at peace with themselves, if only they could hold up their heads once again.  Forgiving themselves is the answer . . . so it is thought.

The only problem with this way of thinking is that it’s wrong.  And not only is it wrong, it’s dangerous.

Attempts at self-forgiveness are both wrong and dangerous because they are a rejection of the gospel.  I don’t mean that people who try to forgive themselves aren’t Christians; in many cases they are.  Such believers aren’t categorically denying the gospel, but they are functionally denying it.

Who alone can cover our sin?  Who alone can remove our guilt?  Who alone can take away our shame?  Who alone can cleanse our consciences?  Who alone can lift our heads?  God alone can do these things for us, through the grace of his crucified and risen Son.  Consequently, when we turn inward in order to deal with our sin and its effects, we are turning away from gospel.  We are saying, “Father, your forgiveness isn’t enough for me.  The cleansing power of Christ’s sacrifice is lacking.  I find your grace to be insufficient.”

Remember how Adam and Eve dealt with their sin and shame?  “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7).  Forgiving ourselves is fig leaf underwear.

So what is the answer?  What are we to do when shame lingers?  Simple: we go to Christ and rest there.  “But I did that already, and I still feel ashamed.”  Go to him again.  “Okay, I’m back, but I still don’t have peace.”  Go again.  “Yes, but….”  Go.  “How many times am I supposed to do this?”  Every time.  Go to Christ and rest in him every time you feel ashamed of your sin.  His promises of forgiveness and cleansing and grace and peace and righteousness, secured with his precious blood, are far better than any peace you will ever manufacture for yourself.

“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).

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3 Responses to “Fig Leaf Underwear”

  1. Ramona Sumner Says:

    I needed to be reminded to go to Jesus for forgiveness, not myself!

  2. Ryan T Says:

    I know that Psalms 119:59 says “I considered my ways, and turned my feet to Thy testimonies.” Do you think that maybe a person dealing with this shame/sin was quick to ask for forgiveness without truly taking the time to consider their ways and place it in light of the gospel therefore still dealing with the shame and needing to return?

  3. David Says:

    Ryan, I think what you’re describing happens often. A healthy dose of the gospel is the antidote for that too. Whether it’s that our confession was quick and somewhat thoughtless, or that our sin has brought deep and lasting shame into our life, the grace of Christ is our only real hope for moving on with humble confidence before God.


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