Throughout your life thus far, you’ve probably done a thing or two you regret. Most people have since mistakes are typical of human growth. Still, the guilt that creeps in and stakes out space in your consciousness can cause plenty of emotional and physical turmoil.
You might know guilt best as the nauseating twist in your stomach that accompanies knowing you’ve hurt someone else. Perhaps you also struggle with recurring self-judgment and criticism related to your memories of what happened and your fear of others finding out. As an emotion, guilt has a lot of power.
Guilt helps you acknowledge your actions and fuels your motivation to improve your behavior. It might also lead you to fixate on what you could have done differently. If you’ve never felt able to come clean about a mess-up, your guilt might feel magnified to an almost unbearable degree.
What does the Bible say about guilt?
Guilt is the result of having violated a specific rule or law. We are guilty when we cross a moral, ethical, or legal line. This is true even if we did not know a line was crossed. Guilt is primarily a state or condition, not a feeling. According to the Bible, we are all guilty before God, described in Romans 3:10 and again in verse 23. The fact that a person may not “feel guilty” does not affect their guilty status legally or morally.
When Adam and Eve broke God’s law against eating the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, guilt entered human history. With that guilt came a feeling of being guilty. They knew they had violated a specific law. They were guilty, and they felt guilty. God demonstrated His plan to cover human guilt with the shedding of innocent blood. What God did in the garden was a picture of what He would do thousands of years later to cover the guilt of everyone who trusts in His only begotten Son, as seen in John 1:12, 3:16-18 and Romans 10:9-10.
Guilty feelings are helpful when they drive us to repentance. However, Satan can also use guilty feelings to move us away from God. Second Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Worldly guilt is filled with condemnation and hopelessness. It tells us that we are flawed and nothing will make us good enough. It lies to us about the character of God, insisting that we must try to earn the favor of a God who will never give it. Worldly sorrow hangs over our heads and colors our attitudes toward God.
How can a Christian let go of guilt?
Though guilt can sometimes promote positive growth, it can linger and hold you back long after others have forgotten or forgiven what happened. If you’re grappling with feelings of guilt, here are some ways to let go of guilt and forgive yourself.
Cry out to God from your brokenness.
The Scriptures are full of stories of people who blew it and then cried out to God from a broken heart and were healed and restored. Tell God you need His love and forgiveness. Psalms 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Confess to Him all that is on your heart.
1 John 1:9 tells us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the verse says He will purify us of “all” unrighteousness, even the acts we believe are unforgivable. King David committed some pretty heinous acts, including adultery and the murder of a close associate. And yet, when he was confronted with his sin, he confessed to God from a broken heart and said, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,” seen in Psalms 51:3-4. In Psalms 32, David also tells us what happened when he tried to keep his guilt and shame locked up inside of him.
Then, two verses later, David can say to God: “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance” in Psalms 32:7. While David started out hiding from God, he ended up hiding himself in God because of his sin. Once you tell God all that’s on your heart, you will find He is a refuge for you, one to run to and not from.
Claim His complete healing and forgiveness.
Scripture tells us, “without faith, it is impossible to please (God) in Hebrews 11:6. Therefore, we must, by faith, believe that when Jesus died on the cross. He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities and by His stripes (wounds). Those prophetic verses from Isaiah 53 about what Jesus would do for us when He went to the cross centuries later were written in the past tense, although they were still future when the prophecy was written. God saw our atonement as already done even before it happened. And now that Jesus has been to the grave and back to pay the penalty for our sins, how much more is it already done? Why hold onto something when, as Jesus said, “it is finished.”
Commit Psalms 103:12 to memory.
Scripture gives us this assurance: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” It may be best to write out this scripture on post-it notes and place them all over your home so you can see them and remind yourself that you’re forgiven, and your slate is clean. Then you can hold your head high knowing that you’re a new creation in Christ and no longer have to hold onto something that God has already let go of.
You may wonder why it’s important to let go of guilt. It’s essential to let go of guilt because holding on to it does nothing for you. Don’t buy the lie that you can never be healed, forgiven, or whole again. Your healing has already been accomplished through what Christ Jesus has done for you. Accept it and move on.