Handling Guilt or Shame
The Most Tortured Conscience Can Find Peace
None of us have an infallible conscience. In fact, most of us have consciences are at times wildly inaccurate. If you want Scriptural proof of this, youíll find plenty.
So when facing guilt feelings, the most important thing is to establish whether your guilt is real or imaginary. Tragically, most people stand guilty before God and are hardly aware of it. They wrongly imagine that if there is a heaven, they have a good chance of going there. On the other hand, there are countless thousands whom God regards as spotlessly pure and innocent, and yet are riddled with guilt feelings.
We must clearly differentiate between deceptive feelings and spiritual reality.
You have every right to feel guilty and fearful before God if:
1. You have not asked Godís forgiveness for your sin, trusting Jesus to have paid the full penalty for your sin by dying on the cross for you. Christ alone is capable of the divine miracle needed to wipe out all guilt.
2. You are unwilling to ask God to take your sins from you. To refuse to be delivered from your pet sin is like a drowning man stubbornly refusing to let his rescuer drag him from the water. If you have no intention of giving up a particular sin, youíll die in that sin. The sins you love are as deadly as the sins you despise.
Everyone who is not trusting Jesus for forgiveness, or does not want a sin-free life, remains guilty before the Judge of the universe, until he or she has a change of heart.
If, however, you have met these two conditions, Godís smile is upon you. Any pangs of guilt or fear you suffer are simply an illusion Ė like fearing thereís an intruder in the house when it was only the sound of the wind. The feelings might exist, and they might be most unpleasant, but they are groundless. They have no correspondence to reality.
Just to be sure, letís briefly expound these conditions for spiritual cleansing. Then weíll move to some exciting facts.
1. You must believe the Scriptures that teach that Jesus, and only he, can remove your sin. (He alone can pay sinís penalty because he alone has no sins of his own for which he must suffer.)
2. Once you put your faith in God, trusting that he is infinitely wise and good and always has your best interest at heart, [more] the only logical thing is to resolve to follow his leading on every matter, regardless of how scary and costly it may sometimes seem. This is simply a decision. A state of mind. It means that despite some sins still seeming attractive, you decide that Godís way is best and sign over to him control of your life. It means refusing to enjoy the Ďbenefitsí of past sin. You will repay money you have stolen, not let people to continue believing a lie you have told, and so on. And it means shunning the hypocrisy of wanting Godís forgiveness while refusing to forgive someone else. (The issue for forgiving others is so crucial that it is dealt with in detail in a special webpage.)
Sinís full penalty is death, and the sinless Son of God died for you. Why punish yourself? Heís already taken your punishment! Are you morally bankrupt? No way! Paid in full is stamped over your every account. By joining yourself to Jesus, a divine exchange takes place in which Jesus takes your sins upon himself (thatís what killed him) and his perfection becomes yours. The holiness of Jesus floods your entire being, flushing out every trace of sin. That makes you spotlessly pure and perfect in Godís eyes. Almighty God can embrace you and delight in you as intimately as he does his own eternal, sinless Son. Every whiff of sin is obliterated because Jesus died for your every sin. This central spiritual truth is expounded over and over in Bible. Scripture repeatedly promises this to you, but no where does it say you will feel that it has happened. The whole of Christianity is about choosing to believe spiritual reality instead of your inner feelings.
It is worth prayerfully studying, and even memorizing, the Scriptures listed in the above link, because this is a crucial area of spiritual attack. Just as Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and he overcame by believing and quoting the Scriptures, so you will be tempted over this matter and you can overcome by clinging to the dependable Word of God. Satan will disguise the true nature of the temptation, but it is actually a temptation to believe God is a liar. The Deceiver is trying to fool you into believing that God lied when he said that all your sins are forgiven, when Jesus said that all that come to him he will not cast out, etc. Donít blacken Godís name by entertaining such a thought.
No one can be any more guilty than the nicest person
No matter how horrendously evil you might have been, by Godís standards, you are no more guilty than anyone else. We were all dead in our sins, says Scripture. You canít get any deader, than dead! Without exception we were all a total write-off.
Relative to each other, some of us seem fairly innocent and some seem very guilty. But this is by our sinful standards. Itís like someone who has murdered twenty people feeling superior to someone who killed two hundred people. Perfection is Godís only standard. We get just one shot at living a perfect life and we have all blown it. We have all missed the mark. Whether we missed the mark by a millimeter or a kilometer, means nothing. We all missed, and thatís all that counts.
On the other hand, when you receive divine forgiveness through Jesus, no one can be more forgiven than you. Although outside of Christ, we all stand condemned, in Christ, we each stand spotlessly pure before the Holy One.
Simple logic suggests that our spiritual enemy, whom Scripture calls the Deceiver and the Accuser, would muster all his evil cunning to distort this simple truth. If the Evil One wanted to keep people from the wonderful forgiveness that Jesus offers, he would try to convince them that they are not bad enough to need forgiveness. Or failing that, he would try persuading them that they are so bad that they cannot be forgiven. Either way, the result is the same. If he utterly lost that battle, and people became Christians, he would then try to get them to feel less sinful than others Ė producing bigots, arrogant fools and hypocrites. For those resistant to this attack, he would try the opposite lie, hissing that they are too sinful to be fully blessed by God or be mightily used of God. Either way, it would render them powerless. So itís obviously to the Deceiverís advantage to make you feel that total cleansing is impossible for you. Donít let him get away with such lies.
If, after God has forgiven us, we wonít forgive ourselves, we are implying we have a higher sense of justice than the Holy One. Anyone having the impertinence to make such an accusation is on dangerous ground. We are also implying that Jesus is inadequate Ė that he didnít suffer enough for our sins, or that his sinlessness cannot swallow up our sinfulness. There is no shame in a forgiven person feeling guilty. That is simply the Deceiver at work. For a forgiven person to believe he or she is guilty, however, is a concern.
The rest of this webpage assumes you have made the decision referred to above, yielding to Christ your present life and your eternal destiny. If you are undecided about this, youíll appreciate the following webpages:
Some dear people are so aware of the seriousness of sin that they donít feel itís right that God should let them off scot-free and so they try to punish themselves! The most common self-imposed punishment is to deliberately feel miserable and deny oneself certain legitimate pleasures for a period of time. (This generally includes not allowing themselves the right to enjoy their relationship with God.)
On the surface, it seems a noble thing to punish oneself for sin and it indicates a strong desire to please God. However, it is important to realize that your life is not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19). Youíre Godís child (John 1:12) and you belong to him. The way a parent disciplines his child is solely the parentís concern. Just as it would be wrong for you to interfere and punish someone elseís child, so itís wrong for you to play God and try to punish yourself for your own failings.
Some people even punish themselves in the vain hope that it may help to secure their Lordís approval. But this only insults Jesus by implying that his death wasnít sufficient to gain your full forgiveness. Furthermore, believing you can help gain the Lordís approval by punishing yourself, puts yourself in a spiritually dangerous situation. It is vital to your forgiveness that you place your complete faith in Jesus alone. Only Jesus is able to obtain Godís approval of you, and so you must place no faith in your own futile attempts to please God.
Unforgiven sin separates us from our Holy God (Isaiah 59:1-2). The sooner this rift is healed, the better. So if you happen to sin, return to God straight away, sincerely ask his forgiveness and trust him for the strength to overcome that sin, so that you will not commit it again. Once God has forgiven you, you are obligated to forgive yourself, because you should have Godís attitude towards all things. To refuse to forgive ourselves is to imply we have holier standards than God!
Letís explore some of the many wonderful word pictures the Bible uses to describe forgiveness. It could prove the most thrilling experience of your life.
Some of these word pictures are from the Old Testament, penned because in Godís sight Christ was Ďslain before the foundation of the earthí (Revelation 13:8). They were written under the inspiration of Almighty God, who knew how all sin, throughout all human history, would be finally dealt with by his eternal Son.
Your sins have been removed / taken away [Scriptures]
If you had a limb surgically removed you might still suffer pain that seems to come from the missing limb. Phantom limb pain is the medical term. You could remember having that limb, but it is gone forever. It could still cause you pain, and yet it is no longer a part of you.
You can also remember your sins. Their presence can seem so real as to actually cause you pain. But despite what you feel, those sins are no longer part of you. They are gone forever. This is an important concept to grasp. Let it soak into the deepest part of you by taking time out to think about it.
In contrast to the removal of a limb, Jesusí removal of your sin does not leave you crippled. On the contrary, it heals you, like the removal of a tumor.
If you had a cancerous tumor, you would be alarmed. But if a surgeon said it had all been removed, you could have peace. You could not personally verify that every trace of cancer had been removed. You would have to take the surgeonís word. Your sins, more deadly than a tumor, have all been removed. The only way you can know this for sure is to take your Saviorís word, and that makes it not just more certain than any surgeonís word, but more certain than anything in the universe. Jesusí word has more authority than that of any other being in any world. It is his word that spoke the galaxies into existence. He is truth. He, like no other, is utterly trustworthy. If he says your sins are removed, they are removed!
To the Hebrew mind, you could travel east forever and never touch west. You were once in your sin. It was once part of you. But now, God has placed an infinite distance between you and your sins. The memory might still be with you, but the sin itself is no where to be found.
. . . he iniquity of Israel shall be sought for,
Almighty God trampled your sins under his feet, thus destroying them, then banished them forever by hurling them into the ocean depths. The Israelitesí technology was such that anything below a few meters of water was utterly inaccessible. Anything dropped into the ocean depths was lost forever. No one would ever see it again. Thatís like what has happened to your sin. Itís gone forever.
The Holy Lord has given his word to never remember your sins [Scriptures]
You no longer need try to justify your past, or apportion blame, because it is totally erased from heavenís data banks.
Retaining the blessing
The screams of a tormented conscience can be transformed into contented sighs. Iíve prepared more for you to ensure this becomes your experience. If your troubled mind is already so soothed that you feel no inclination to read further, thatís wonderful. I beg you, however, to copy or print off this page and those listed below, in readiness for when the attack resumes.
The Evil One does not give up easily. No matter how much you feel the matter has been resolved, I assure you, the truths you have just read will gradually fade from your mind and a new round will commence in the fight for your spiritual peace and enjoyment of God.
I also suggest having in readiness many Scriptures on this subject. Mark them in your Bible. You might choose a chain reference system whereby you write next to one verse the Scripture reference to another related verse and keep adding cross references until you are back to the first one. That way, once you find one verse you can find your way to all the rest. I also suggest writing the references in the back of your Bible, displaying some on your wall, and also memorizing some.
Bible Versions Used
King James Version
King James Version