Are you holding on to some guilt that you can’t seem to let go of? Maybe that guilt has a grip on you and it simply won’t let you be.
I know many women whose hearts still ache today from a decision to abort their child years – sometimes decades—ago. Some women carry the shame and regret of adultery, wishing they could go back in time and undo the unfaithfulness that eventually unraveled their marriage. Some women still bear the guilt of destructive behavior in their own lives years ago that their children witnessed and are now imitating.
But you and I were not designed to wallow in regret from past sin and become hand-in-hand partners with guilt and shame. Whether you’re dealing with the aftereffects of sin from yesterday or years ago, here is how to relieve yourself of the shame from past sin and start anew.
1. Confess your sin and ask God for a new heart.
In Scripture, we read of King David, who is described as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). He wrote many songs of love and praise to his God (see many of the Psalms in the Bible). Yet during a restless season in his life, he lusted after a woman who wasn’t his wife, committed adultery with her that caused her to conceive a child, then murdered her husband (who was one of his elite, trusted, and capable “mighty men”) to cover up his sin. Upon being confronted about his sin, he repented—grievously—and prayed for a new start, as recorded in Psalm 51:10-12: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me by Your gracious Spirit.”
If such an upright God-pleaser as David could commit a horrible sin like that, any of us can. Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But 1 John 1:9 assures us “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If you’re still dealing with guilt and shame, it’s possible you’ve never confessed it (see Psalm 32:1-5). Turn the subject of your guilt and shame over to God, admit you were wrong, and ask for His grace and forgiveness that He promises to give lavishly.
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2. Realize your guilt is not from God.
If you have already confessed your sins—whether once or a million times—and are still feeling shame and guilt, those feelings are not from God. Romans 8:1 tells us “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Spirit of God convicts our hearts of sin so we will confess it to God and turn away from it and seek to start anew in His power. But God will not continue to bring back to your mind what you did.
If you have sincerely asked for His forgiveness, you are forgiven and seen as brand new. Psalm 103:12 says “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” That means God doesn’t define you by your sin. He doesn’t continue to see that sin hanging over your head every time you try to speak to Him. He doesn’t remember that sin or bring it back in front of you when you do something else that offends Him. He removes it. It is finished, wiped away, done. He lets it go forever. Can you?
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3. Recognize that even though you remember your sin, God doesn't.
It’s a wonderful thing that God forgives and forgets. But you and I are not God and therefore we can still remember our sins, even though God, who is capable of anything, chooses to forget them.
Just because you remember that sin doesn’t mean God does. Just because you still feel badly about your sin, doesn’t mean God feels the same. Trust Him that He means it when He says He has removed your sins as far away as the east is from the west. Those two directions never meet—they just keep travelling apart from each other, infinitely. Your sins will never be retrieved or come back around to meet you. You will not see them flashed up on a big screen when you get to heaven one day. They’re gone. When you start to remember your regrettable actions, thank God that He has forgiven you and given you the ability to walk in a new direction, far from the sins of your past.
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4. Reject the lie that the Cross wasn't enough for YOUR sin.
I know many women who believe in the forgiveness of God and the cleansing power of the cross of Christ—until it comes to their particular sin. As long as you continue to hold onto guilt and believe your sin is unforgivable, you are saying to God that His perfect plan to atone for the sins of mankind by sacrificing His Beloved Son Jesus, was not enough to cover your sin. Do you actually think you are the exception to the perfected finished work that Jesus did on the cross for all who believe and surrender their lives to Him?
Any of us can unknowingly undermine the healing power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ when we believe that something we have done is outside the realm of God’s forgiveness. We are, in a sense, saying “That doesn’t apply to me.” When you have such thoughts, remove yourself from the equation and focus on the One who so adequately and sufficiently “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
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5. Receive the healing power of the cross for today, not just tomorrow.
Sometimes we remain in a state of hurt or shame because we think of Jesus’ death and resurrection in terms of how they rescued us from eternal condemnation, but we fail to realize the incredible significance His death and resurrection have for us as we continue life in the here and now! Christ’s death on the cross didn’t just provide for your eternal life, it provided healing for your everyday life.
In Isaiah 53:4-5, we read this prophesy of Jesus the Messiah:
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed (emphasis added).
The fact that each of those healing statements is given in the past tense, even though Isaiah proclaimed these prophetic words several hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth tells me God saw it as already done. Therefore, the grief you are suffering as a result of loss and shame has already been borne by Jesus. The sorrows you are feeling from a broken heart have already been carried by Him. The wounds you so want healed have already been taken care of. And just as this wounded Jesus came up out of the grave with glorious scars to show us that He could conquer sin and its devastating effect on our lives, you too can experience new life and a glorious testimony of what He has done through you.
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6. Reshape your understanding of God.
Sometimes we continue to feel guilty about our sins because we see God as a judge waiting to hammer us for what we’ve done in the past or will do again in the future. But God is not a judge to those who have surrendered their lives to Him and are in relationship with Him. To them, He is a loving Father, who is waiting for His prodigal child to come home.
Matthew 7:11 says “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give what is good to those who ask Him!” If you’ve asked for forgiveness and a new heart, as David did in Psalm 51:10, trust God to be the good and loving Father He describes Himself as in Scripture, and one who will graciously give to us whatever we ask in His name (Matthew 21:22). He is also a God who wants to enable you to live victoriously—not as a victim or a violator.
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7. Saturate yourself in the healing words of Scripture.
My friend, Christina, who was raised in the illicit drug business and exposed to a number of destructive and sinful behaviors, said she realized that true healing and freedom—from childhood hurts and the poor choices she made during her college years—came through her study of the Word of God, where she developed a true understanding of the message of the cross.
“I went through counseling,” Christina said. “I saw doctors, tried medication. None of that was effective for me. I needed the Word of God. A love and insatiable appetite for the Word of God began to grow in me, and that’s where I found victory … in the message of the cross.”
If you continue to feel shame for sin you have confessed and surrendered to Jesus Christ, stop listening to the voices of doubt, self-condemnation or the enemy’s accusations. Immerse yourself in the victorious, life-giving words of Scripture and begin living like a loved, forgiven child of God.
Cindi McMenamin is a pastor’s wife, mom, Bible teacher, and national speaker who helps women strengthen their relationships with God and others. She is the author of several books including the best-selling When Women Walk Alone (more than 130,000 copies sold), When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, and When God Sees Your Tears. For more on her speaking ministry, or books and resources to help you grow in your relationship with God, your marriage or your parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
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