WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT GUILT AND SHAME
The Bible has numerous examples of people who felt guilt, shame, and regret over their past. Those who overcame looked to God—and found that God’s solution to their problem of sin was forgiveness.
Shame tends to isolate us as we feel alone and outside of society. It leaves us feeling vulnerable as we believe others can sense our shame. Some come to accept it as punishment for violating cultural and moral values, but its effects are always damaging to our self image.
God did not create you in shame, or for shame, nor did He create you to be alone. He created you for fellowship with Himself and others. It is Satan who feeds your mind with thoughts of worthlessness, and thus he works to isolate you. Most people with low self-esteem believe they are the only one in their predicament. This is always Satan’s work.
Reading the Bible reminds us of just how many of God’s “chosen” people failed Him in some way. The human condition of imperfection is known by all people—not just you!
The gospel shows us the way—the way to a new and better life in Christ. Parables were written to show us the positive changes that God’s forgiveness brings to all people regardless of their shortcomings, sin, shame, or guilt.
The Bible is our present-day guidebook. We draw strength and encouragement to turn from our past life of sin, and receive God’s forgiveness when we humble ourselves and ask Him to forgive us.
Jesus heals us from the deep and long-lasting effects of disgrace. His forgiveness frees us from the degradation that holds us captive and makes us slaves. No one else can do that for us.
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14-15).
HOW GUILT AND SHAME ORIGINATED
If you will recall the story of Adam and Eve, you will remember what sin brought into their lives. One of the first results of sin that Adam and Eve felt was shame.
He (Adam) said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10).
Adam and Eve’s sin spoiled the perfect environment God created for them. They lived in a perfect world, had perfect minds, natures, abilities, and bodies, and had perfect fellowship with God. But the first couple was given something that could turn their perfect world upside down—and that was the power of choice!
By choosing to sin against God—by disobeying Him—they subjected all of God’s creation to the effects of sin. This includes guilt, shame, disease, death, broken relationships, selfishness, and knowing and doing evil. Later Adam and Eve had to deal with regret over the loss of the life they once had with God their Creator.
As descendants of Adam and Eve, every person since has been born into this world with a natural “sin nature”—or the inclination to sin.
But God was not surprised by man’s choice to sin against Him. Since God is sovereign (supreme ruler), He also had a plan to redeem man back to Himself. This would be done through His Son Jesus Christ. Now, humans could be redeemed, but only if they individually made the choice to choose Him in return.
Today we have little excuse for not knowing God. God has put a conscience into each individual. The Spirit of God speaks to us through our conscience, which provides us with an integral sense of right and wrong. This is God’s law written on our hearts and minds. What’s more, God has put awareness into us of His being through His Creation, and revealed Himself to us through His Word and through His Son, Jesus Christ.
All of us were born with an innate knowledge of God. From a very young age, we know that there is a God. We have an appreciation of our own being and we end up asking, “Who made me?” If we seek God’s truth, we conclude, as the Psalmist did, that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Today we have God’s written Word to read, and we have opportunities to hear the spoken Word in church, through the radio and TV, the internet, conferences, and many other means.
But rebellion, pride, and willful ignorance keep many from knowing God in our present day. Paul says of those who come to deny the existence of God:
“Although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).
“A fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).
PETER’S SIN AND REGRET
The Bible gives us another example of shame and regret through the life of the apostle Peter. John 13:37-38 describes the night of Christ’s betrayal. Following the Passover meal, Peter tells Jesus that he would lay down his life for Him. Jesus responds by telling Peter that before the night is over, he will deny knowing Him three times. True to Jesus’ word, later that evening, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times. Fear over losing his own life prompted Peter to deny the One he professed to love so much. (See John 18:15-27; Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75).
What a bitter pill to swallow. Peter had no idea he had such an appalling character weakness. Since Jesus knew Peter intimately, He saw and spoke of it to warn Peter. But Peter thought he was stronger and better than that, so unconvinced and prideful, he failed to heed the warning. Scripture tells us that after this incident, Peter wept bitterly (Luke 22:62).
We can identify with Peter for we’re all like him. We fail to see our true condition, our character weaknesses, and our inclination to deny Christ. We believe that we’re better than we are. We aren’t in tune with our deficiencies until the Holy Spirit gently reveals to us what’s really lurking inside our heart. And it’s only Christ’s transforming work in our heart that changes us.
After failing Christ, Peter gives us a beautiful example of what Christ’s forgiveness accomplished for him. Peter doesn’t let this unspeakable episode ruin the rest of his life or how he views himself. Rather than falling away, we see that Peter continues to grow in his faith.
Peter did in fact “strengthen his brothers” after turning back to Christ, as Jesus had foretold (Luke 22:32). Although he may have lived with shame and regret over his very public denial of Christ, his deepened understanding of the person and work of Christ overcame his shameful position of failure. He realized that if Christ didn’t hold anything against him, neither should he.
DEALING WITH GUILT FROM OUR PAST
Eventually a new Christian may ask: “How should I deal with guilt from my past before I became a Christian?” What about the sins I commit after becoming a Christian; are those forgiven too?
Guilt is a result of sin, and since we’ve all sinned, all of us have had to deal with feelings of guilt. Guilt can actually be a good thing, because guilty feelings drive us to seek forgiveness.
Jesus takes away our guilt and sin when we turn to Him for salvation. Repentance is the heart attitude and action that brings us to faith in Christ (Matthew 4:17).
“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”(Matthew 3:2, NLT).
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
Salvation is by grace and Jesus offers it freely. Accepting Jesus means you’re accepting the forgiveness He gives!
Christ is able to blot out our most dreadful sins. Unfortunately, even after becoming a Christian, we will continue to sin. However, the will to sin should lesson as we grow in Christ’s likeness, yet, God in His grace continues to forgive us.
“But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
God is willing to forgive us of all our sins when we confess them to Him.
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who have sex with men” (1 Corinthians 6:9).
Sin only keeps us out of the Kingdom of Heaven when we’re unwilling to repent of them or turn from them. It’s our pride that keeps us from God and Heaven—not our sin.
When we repent and receive forgiveness, God not only forgives our sin, but He chooses to forget it. Although at times we may recall our sins—God does not.
While we may come to forget our sin, we have an enemy who wants to continually remind us of them, to hold us under a sense of guilt. Satan works relentlessly to bring up our past and present failures. In chapter 12 of Revelation, we are assured that our enemy has been defeated. Knowing this, we’re not to relinquish our power.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down” (Revelation 12:10).
KING DAVID’S EXAMPLE
King David, in Psalm 32, gives us a wonderful example of someone who sinned terribly against God and others, yet found freedom from his sin and guilt. David was able to experience the reality and blessings of forgiveness. Psalm 51 pictures David acknowledging his sin in sorrow and imploring God to forgive him. The result: David experienced restoration and joy once again.
David is an example of how we can receive forgiveness after sinning and find restoration to move ahead. David knew God had forgiven him. He did not continue to seek forgiveness for sin already covered. From that point on, David moved on with his life. David’s sin with Bathsheba had consequences, but he had certainty that the confession of that sin made it an incident from his past. He did not let it ruin his future or his future relationship with God.
When we come to Christ we become a new creation in Him. The “old nature” is inclined to be burdened by guilt for “missing the mark.” Yet God has said that the “new man” is to consider himself separated from the old nature that was without Christ.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Unfortunately, many Christians live their lives with the memories from their past. Sadly, this is not the new life Christ has called us to, or the life He expects us to live based on His sacrifice to free us from our past. Like David, we are to consider ourselves dead to our past sin and the memories it produced. Christ buried those sins once-for-all and we’re to follow David’s example—by remembering them no more.
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