When we experience guilt and shame for sins that we HAVE committed, we have to face the brutal facts. We have to own our mistakes and learn from them. Assuming you are willing to admit your sin, I want to address what to do next.
The memory of your sin is very hard to forget. The consequences of your sin are also a reality you face every day. But does God want you to carry this burden? Does God want to make you feel miserable for the rest of your life because of what you did? The answer is found all throughout scripture. In fact, over and over again in his word, God cries out to us that his grace is sufficient in our weakness, and his offer of forgiveness includes the freedom of laying down the guilt of past sins.
The Bible gives us a beautiful image of the grace of God in John 8:1-11. A woman is brought to Jesus who was caught in adultery. The religious leaders were trying to set Jesus up to fail. They were hoping to trap Jesus so that they could condemn him. Imagine for a moment the embarrassment and shame this woman must have felt. Imagine how angry she must have been. Why didn’t anyone bring forth the man she was sleeping with? Evidently no one cared about his sins. All of these emotions poured out of her as she stood in front of the religious leaders. She could see the men picking up stones. She knew the stones would be hurled at her head at any second.
Disgraced. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Angry. Guilty as charged.
Maybe you’ve experienced these emotions as well. The negative self talk comes next:
How could I be so stupid!
Why did I go there?
I knew this would happen.
I’ll never find anyone to love me again.
I’ll never get over this.
No one can find out.
The religious leaders ask Jesus what they should do. Will Jesus approve of stoning her? Will he go against the Law?
Then Jesus writes something in the sand with his finger. We don’t know if he was finishing a game of tic-tac-toe or if he was writing something for this woman to see. Then, Jesus stood up and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Boom! I love it. Jesus doesn’t say what she did was okay. He wasn’t giving her a pass on her sin. He was simply revealing that her accusers were not qualified to carry out this punishment.
One of the biggest lies we believe when we suffer from guilt is that we are alone. I feel like the only person who has committed this sin. There are often many accusers in our life who are quick to judge and add condemnation. It’s easy to think I’m the worst person alive. Nobody is as terrible as I am. But that’s a lie. The truth is, I’ve done some pretty terrible things, and so has everyone else. Some are just better at hiding it. Maybe they don’t care, or they’re in self denial. The bottom line is that every person has rebelled against God in sin.
The next line is even better. Jesus says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11).
The woman calls Jesus Lord. This is significant. In this moment, she is recognizing by the grace of God that she was standing before her Savior. Jesus was qualified to carry out the sentence that day. She deserved it. And so do you and I. You see, there is a place for guilt and shame but not forever.
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). Each one of us stands before Jesus guilty. But Jesus forgives us and restores our brokenness. Jesus said, “go and sin no more.” In other words…STOP DOING THAT!
When you know you deserve guilt and shame, here are a few ways to overcome it:
1. Embrace Jesus as Lord and receive his forgiveness.
Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord of all. He lived a perfect life, making him the only perfect sacrifice for sins. By dying on the cross, he took the punishment that each of us deserved. He left heaven to suffer, to be humiliated, and to die in your place. To overcome your guilt and shame, you must experience the grace of Jesus. Turn away from sin and trust him as your Lord and Savior.
2. Embrace the promises of Jesus.
This is a lifelong journey. As you embrace his promises, you move further and further away from shame.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Reread that verse, memorize it, and ask God to make it real in your heart. Understand that God’s promises allow us to lay our shame at the feet of Jesus.
3. Embrace new life in Christ and focus on Your future.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
In Christ you are a “new creation.” That means that when you sin you are not acting like your new self. You are acting like the old you. So run to the new life that Jesus provides. Seek him first and embrace that your old life of sin has passed away; in other words it is dead, and the new you is standing in the grace of the Lord Jesus.
Philippians 3:13 says, “ Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
“Forgetting what lies behind” is often difficult but necessary to move forward. If you allow yourself to get bogged down with the memory of past mistakes, you’ll never experience freedom in the presence. If you have received God’s forgiveness, he no longer condemns you. The accusations are not coming from God; they come from the Enemy. Do not allow the enemy to accuse you of something the Lord Jesus has already paid for.
“Straining forward” and pressing “toward the goal” means that God has a purpose and plan for me, even though I’ve made some mistakes. It means that I need to be intentional about thinking about what’s next for me. What does God want me to do today and tomorrow? Sometimes that can be “straining” because we are reminded of our past. It’s a fight to move forward; that’s why many people don’t do it. They give in to guilt and shame. They let the Enemy win.
Here’s a prayer to begin the journey of overcoming guilt and shame:
PRAYER: God forgive me for ________. Give me the faith to believe your promise of forgiveness is true, and allow me to release my shame to you.