Dealing with our guilt

Matthew 5:8 “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God.” GNT

A pure heart is one that is free and clean of impurities. It is a heart free of all the junk that weighs us down, washed clean of all the hurts, hang-ups, and habits that plague our lives. Those who are truly pure in heart aren’t afraid of their pasts.

In order to have a pure heart, we must bring our painful past out in the open so we can deal with it, be cleansed of it, and then move on to health and happiness. This may be a scary step for some, but it’s a necessary step that separates those who just want to talk about getting healthy from those who really want to get healthy!

1) The negative effects of guilt

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes novels, was quite a prankster.  One day he played a prank on five of the most prominent men in England. He sent an anonymous note to them that said: “All is found out, flee at once.” Within 24 hours all five men had left the country.

There are many people in this world like these five men who have real problems with guilt. Many Christians today (maybe one of you) are obsessed by the memory of some sin (s) they committed years ago.  The memory never leaves them; it haunts them and hurts their devotional life and their relationships with each other. They live in fear that someone will find out what they did, so they work overtime to prove to God that they are truly repentant – and they are miserable!

We all sin!  When you sin, what do you do with your failures, mistakes, and pride, etc.  One thing is for sure, if you could do it all over again, you’d do things differently, you’d be a different person, you’d resist the temptation, but you can’t.

You may have told yourself many times, “What’s done is done,” but what you did can’t be undone, and cannot be forgotten!

I am guilty of this myself.  In the past, I would really let my mistakes bother me, I would line them up and count them again and again and again!  I would take my good and stack it up against my bad and hope that I was good enough to make it to heaven. I would ask God to forgive me for the same sin I had already confessed – ten, twenty, thirty years ago!

The truth is, none of us are faultless. We all have sins, we’ve all made mistakes. So we all have regrets. We all have remorse. We all have things we wish we could turn back the clock on and say, “I wish I would have done that differently!” But we can’t.

So we feel bad about it, feel guilty about it, and we carry it with us, sometimes consciously, but most of the time unconsciously. We may deny or repress the guilt. We may blame other people for our guilt. We may excuse our guilt. We may rationalize our guilt. But we still feel the effects of it. If our guilt is not dealt with, it will destroy us like a cancer!

A young man called in to one of those call-in radio talk shows hosted by a psychologist and said, “I’m consumed with guilt and don’t know what to do with it. How do I get rid of this guilt?” The answer offered by the talk-show host was very upsetting: “You can’t get rid of guilt. You just have to learn to live with it.”

Rationalizing our guilt is not the answer! We can say, “It’s okay, everybody’s doing it, it was a long time ago…” but in our hearts, we know what we did was wrong. That’s why we need relief “from” our guilt, because it can and will destroy us like a cancer!

David is a man who had to deal with guilt.  He had lived with his sins of adultery and lying and murder for almost a year, thinking no one knew about them.  When David tried to hide his sin, he was miserable.  His guilt was tearing him apart mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.  David’s sin caused a terrible burden on him – his guilt became unbearable!

We may think that silence is the best course of action. But there is no real freedom without confession. Silence about our wrongdoing only makes the pain worse. David describes the depression, insomnia, and stress that can come when we keep silent about our wrongs:

Psalm 32:3-4: “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.”  NLT

Psalm 38:1-8: “O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage! Your arrows have struck deep, and your blows are crushing me. Because of your anger, my whole body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins. My guilt overwhelms me—it is a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins. I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart.” NLT

Psalm 38:17-18: “I am on the verge of collapse, facing constant pain. But I confess my sins; I am deeply sorry for what I have done.”  NLT

Psalm 31:9-10: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress. Tears blur my eyes. My body and soul are withering away. I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Sin has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within.”  NLT

There’s something about sin that’s chaotic, that messes us up deeply inside. That’s what David’s sin did to him, and that’s what it will do to you and me! Sin has a terrible effect that will spread through your whole personality.  It has a mental effect because the mind is stressed with guilt.

It also has a physical effect, because the state of the mind affects the state of the body. Guilt will wear your body down like you’ve been working in the summer heat and can literally make you physically sick.

I heard of a report where psychiatrists say that probably 70% of the people in the hospital could leave today if they knew how to resolve their guilt. “When I swallow my guilt my stomach keeps score.”

If we don’t talk it out with God and others, we will continue to take it out on ourselves and others.

Guilt also has a social effect, because nobody wants to hang around a person who is eaten up with guilt and feeling miserable and sorry for themselves all the time!

But the main effect of sin is the “destruction” it brings to our relationship with God. Sin separates us from God, erecting a barrier between God and us that only the blood of Jesus can break down:  Isaiah 59:2 – “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.” NLT

2) What guilt does to us

Guilt destroys our confidence!  You cannot be at peace with God and yourself if you have guilt in your life that is hanging over your head like a dark cloud. Carrying around your guilt is like carrying a heavy weight around your neck.

It makes you feel insecure because you’re always worried, “What if somebody finds out about that skeleton in my closet? If people really knew the truth about me, if they knew that deep dark secret that only I and God know about it, then they may not like me, they may reject me!”

Guilt damages our relationships!  Guilt sabotages our relationships by causing us to respond in harmful ways. We sometimes overreact out of impatience or anger towards other people, or we explode without reason because of some buried guilt. Have you ever seen somebody overreact in anger over something minor?  Often that’s motivated by guilt (King David and the rich man).

“People who are eaten up with guilt are the most unforgiving people you will ever know – they can’t stand for someone else to sin and will look for anything to attack someone else. When you find someone who only criticizes and attacks, you will find a person eaten up with guilt – they don’t understand God’s grace, can’t accept God’s grace, so they don’t give God’s grace!”

Guilt can also cause us to spoil and indulge people unwisely. Parents often feel guilty over poor choices they have made and overcompensate by indulging their children by buying them things.

Guilt can cause us to avoid commitment. We wonder why we won’t let people get close to us. We allow ourselves to get just so close but no closer. One of the main reasons is guilt.

Past relationships push their way into the present and taint the future. Many marriage problems are the result of guilt over things that happened prior to or early in the marriage.

Guilt keeps us stuck in the past! Luke 9:62 – “…No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” NKJV

Jesus says we cannot keep living in the past, yet that is exactly where some people are! They are being held prisoner by the guilt they feel over something they did in the past, and they are stuck! Guilt tries to keep us focused on what’s behind us by replaying over and over in our minds all the things from our past we wish we could change!

It’s like driving a car by always looking in the rearview mirror. A rearview mirror is helpful, because it gives us perspective. Looking at our past gives us perspective, too, but if we look only at our past, we never get to see the “present” or look forward to the “future.” Some people focus on the past to the extent that their rearview mirror gets bigger than their windshield. With this kind of driving, forward progress is nearly impossible – a crash is likely in the near future.

Spiritual growth is the process of “expanding” that windshield and “shrinking” the rearview mirror so you can get on with the present.

We need to learn from past mistakes, but we can’t allow them to control our lives in the present. Instead, we must get to the point where we say:I’m going to get on with my life. I want to get well. I want to grow. I want to let go of the past. I want to be able to close it. I want to bury the past.” You can’t bury it as long as it’s alive.

  • The Purpose of Guilt

Do you know and understand the God-given purpose of guilt? God uses guilt to correct us through His Spirit when we are wrong. That’s called conviction! And conviction hurts!

John 16:8 – “And when He comes, He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” NLT

The proper response to guilt is repentance! Once we have made the decision to become a Christian and accept Christ’s perfect forgiveness and turn from our sins, as far as God is concerned, guilt’s purpose – to make us feel bad about what we did in the past – is finished.

But we like to hold on to our guilt and beat ourselves over the head – repeatedly – with it! That’s condemnation! But it’s not from God; it’s from the devil and ourselves.

Romans 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” NKJV

If we are to ever recover from the hurts, hang-ups, and habits in our lives and know the joy of a pure heart, we’ll have to learn how to let go of our guilt and shame!

If you want to change your life, if you want to get well, if you want to grow and let go of your past guilt once and for all, you have to come clean with God:

Psalm 32:1 “What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven. What joys when sins are covered over! What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record.” TLB

The steps described in the next section will help you move past your guilt. While the process is fairly simple; it isn’t easy to actually do – it can be scary, and it requires a lot of courage. But it is very important – the results will change your life forever

3) How to deal with guilt

  • Identify the problem

First, we must ask and answer these questions: “What is wrong with me? What do I feel guilty about? What do I regret? What do I feel remorseful about? What are the faults in my life that I know need changing? What are the things I consciously feel guilty about, and what are the things I unconsciously feel guilty about that I don’t know about but are messing up my life?”

You have to approach this step with this attitude – “I’m going to be dead honest, quit pretending, I’m going to lay out what’s wrong with my life!” You can’t just say, “God, I’ve blown it in life.” Of course you have!  We all know that. We’ve all blown it in life!

As you analyze yourself, you must be ruthlessly honest with yourself – no more pretending – be specific!  This helps you to face reality, and helps you stop denying problems in your life.

Open your heart and mind to God and let Him reveal what you need to see: Psalm 139:23–24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” TLB

As you begin to see the truth about yourself, you can rely fully upon God’s grace, knowing that He has forgiven you – no matter what you have done.

  • Accept responsibility for your faults

Proverbs 20:27 – “The Lord gave us a mind and a conscious. We cannot hide from ourselves.” GNT

You will never have inward peace or tranquility, until you accept responsibility for your actions and deal with your guilt. To do this we need to:

Be radically honest: We ourselves are generally the greatest barrier or holdup to the healing of our own hurts, hang-ups, and habits. That’s why our healing starts with us being radically honest and saying, “I’m the problem – I accept responsibility for my faults!”

We can’t keep saying, “If I just change relationships, just change jobs, or just change towns, just change locations, then everything will be fine. The only problem is, wherever I go, there I am. And I keep messing it up.”

Don’t rationalize: We can’t keep saying, “It happened a long time ago” or, “It’s just a stage” or, “Everybody does it.” We need to be honest and face the truth about ourselves. Don’t minimize it, or say “It’s no big deal.” If it’s no big deal how come you still remember it twenty years later?

“Rationalize = rational lies!”  That means telling your mouth and head what your heart knows is wrong.  Just admit you messed up!

Don’t blame others: We blame others by saying, “It was mostly their fault.” It may have been mostly their fault, but God holds us responsible for whatever part is our fault. It’s time to stand tall and accept responsibility for our part in our life’s problems.

Don’t deceive yourself: We just need to admit where we messed up. What are you pretending to not feel guilty about? Don’t you think it’s time to finally deal with it and get over with it so you can get on with your life? Don’t you think it’s time to say: “Yes, that’s me—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I accept responsibility for my faults.”

 “If you really want to stop defeating yourself, you have got to stop deceiving yourself, and pretending that it’s everybody else’s fault – when the issue is really you.”

Special note: If you have been physically or sexually abused as a child or adult, I want you to know that I am sorry that you suffered through that abuse. There is no way I can know the pain it caused you. When you start writing down your list of wrongs, simply put the words “NOT GUILTY” for the abuse that was done to you. No part of that sin committed against you was your fault. Renounce the lie that the abuse was your fault. Do take responsibility for how you may have hurt others because of your reactions to your past abuse.

  • Admit you messed up

1 John 1:8 – “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” NKJV If we say we haven’t sinned, we are living in a world of illusion!

  •  Ask God for forgiveness

The basis for forgiveness is not how good or bad you’ve been.  The basis for forgiveness is God’s nature.  He cannot lie, and if He says He will forgive you, then He will forgive you.

The only sin God can’t forgive is the one that is not confessed:  1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” NKJV

A woman came in to see her preacher and said, “I’m depressed. I’ve been in bed for weeks, and I no longer have the energy to get out of bed and live.”

Sensing her deep pain, the preacher asked her, “Is there something in your life you really regret?”

She began to pour it out. “Yes. My husband travels. I had an affair and got pregnant and had an abortion. I have never told my husband about it.”

The preacher shared God’s promise that no matter what we have done, God can forgive us. Distressed, she replied, “It just doesn’t seem fair. Somebody’s got to pay for my sin!”

“Somebody already has,” the preacher assured her. “His name is Jesus Christ. That’s why He died on the cross. He died for that sin and every other one you’ve committed and confessed and ones you’re going to commit.”

She cried and asked, “How do I ask God for His forgiveness?”

4)  How not to get forgiveness from God

Don’t beg: You don’t have to beg God to forgive you. He already wants to forgive you. God wants to forgive you more than you want to ask for forgiveness, because He is a forgiving God.

Psalm 86:5 – “O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.” NLT

Don’t bargain: Don’t say, “If You’ll just forgive me, I’ll never do this again.” You don’t have to bargain with God to get His forgiveness. You don’t have to make deals with God.

Don’t bribe: Don’t say, “God if You’ll forgive me, I promise to do a bunch of good things. I’ll go to church, I’ll do this or that…”

5)  How to get forgiveness from God

We must confess our sins to God and ask for forgiveness! To admit or to confess means to “speak the same thing” about your sin that God says about it! We must say, “God, You’re right. What I did or am still doing is wrong.”

Confession means agreeing with God: Psalm 32:5 – “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” NLT

God wants us to come clean and admit that wrong is wrong, that we are “guilty as charged.” He wants us to “own up” to our sins. For the person who confesses, shame is over and realities have begun.

Proverbs 28:13 – “You will never succeed in life if you try to hide your sins. Confess them and give them up, then God will show mercy to you.” (GNB) 

Many of us are reluctant to tell God the truth. We may want to pretend that God doesn’t know about our faults. We may not want to confess our sins to God because we don’t know how God could love someone who behaves as we do.

We may try to convince ourselves that we can bury our wrongs and never have to admit them. But sooner or later we will have to face the fact that dishonesty does not work to our advantage – that we eventually pay a high price for our self-deceit.

Our guilt cannot change the past just like worry cannot change the future – it just makes you sick and miserable today. But there is something about confession, about lining ourselves up with the truth of God, about repenting and turning away from sinful actions and attitudes that straightens us out. “Pain is inevitable for all of us, but misery is optional.” When we admit our wrongs to God, a great weight is lifted.

If you ask me to sum up the benefits of this choice in one sentence it would be this: “In confession we open our lives to the healing, reconciling, restoring, uplifting grace of Jesus Christ who loves us in spite of ourselves.”

You say, “I could never be forgiven for what I’ve done, I’ve gone too far, I’ve sinned too much, there is no hope for me, there is no way that God could ever love me or forgive me.”

You’re wrong! There is no sin too bad, too dark, too great, or too shocking, that God can’t and won’t forgive, every single time!  If we can truly repent, God will surely forgive no matter what!

Isaiah 1:18 – “Come, let’s talk this over, says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool!”  TLB

  • How does God forgive

God forgives instantly: He doesn’t wait. The moment we confess, we’re forgiven. It’s done. He never makes us wait or suffer for a while. He loves us way too much. Humans do that, but God doesn’t: Micah 7:18 – “Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” NLT

God forgives freely: When we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable. He forgives our sin and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. He freely takes away our sins. We don’t deserve it; we can’t earn it; we can’t work for it – it’s free:

Romans 3:23-24: “Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard, and all need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ.” NCV

He forgives completely: God’s forgiveness is not in stages; it is not partial; it is absolutely complete. When God forgives, He wipes the slate clean and makes it like we have never done anything wrong: Romans 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” NKJV

  • Conclusion

Is there any sin in your life you haven’t confessed that is causing you to have a guilty conscience?  The good news today is that you can be free of guilt – you don’t have to live with that burden any longer.  Open your heart to God with honesty, no deceit, sham or make-believe.

Acknowledge your sin, confess it before God, and see it as God sees it.  Turn from it, and avoid it at all costs. Bring it out in the open before Him, and renounce it.  Then believe it when He says you are forgiven! Hebrews 8:12 – “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” NLT

Every Christian has suffered from the guilt that comes after sin, but the blood of Jesus covers every sinevery single time!  Don’t let guilt drag you down after you have been forgiven.  Accept God’s forgiveness, forgive yourself, and live with a clean, forgiven conscience!

Many of us have learned to respond to our own failures, shortcomings, and wrongs with judgment and shame. Now we have an opportunity to show mercy to ourselves, and to face our failures with the same compassion that God extends to us. “Is it possible that all the horrible things you’ve done have been forgotten by everyone – except yourself?”

God hates our sin, but He loves us even more than He hates our sin. So, if there is anything from the past that you may still be carrying, take a moment and call on His faithfulness, call on His mercy, ask for His forgiveness. Let Him refresh and restore your soul right now.

Then praise Him and thank Him for the work He is doing in your life and enjoy a fresh new beginning today! Somewhere, sometime, somehow you got tangled up in garbage, and you’ve been avoiding God. You’ve allowed a veil of guilt to come between you and your Father.

You wonder if you could ever feel close to God again. God is not avoiding you. God is not resisting you. The door is open, and God invites you in. Besides, “the softest pillow you will ever sleep on is a clear conscience!”

God’s mercies are new every morning. He’s not ever going to run out of compassion. He’s not ever going to run out of forgiveness. He’s not ever going to say, “Well, this is the last time I’m going to give you mercy.” 

You can have a new beginning every single day! Lamentations 3:22-23: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.” NLT


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