Whatever form it takes, we all know guilt and shame in some form. For days, months, or even years afterwards, depression, anxiety, emotional and sometimes physical distress may dominate our lives because of it. These thoughts can also cause us to forget the gospel message. Or even if we remember it, it doesn’t necessarily take away the pain. Maybe we wonder, “Jesus died for my sins but I still sin. How does Jesus’ death so long ago bring me any comfort when I still have to face that shame today?”
The truth is that Jesus is the only antidote for our guilt. In the midst of our shame, it is vital that we remember what Scripture tells us about what is our true reality.
1. Remember that we were born into guilt.
No one knows this better than King David. He writes in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). Unfortunately, failure is a reality we cannot escape, no matter how hard we try. We were born into sin, which means that every action, every thought is tainted by the very first failure of human history—Adam and Eve’s failure to obey God. Ever since then, we have been sinning, against God and against others. It is also important to remember that we are finite beings living in a sinful world. We can’t always see the consequences of our actions. Sometimes an action we whole-heartedly meant for someone’s good ends up being a total flop.
2. Remember whom we sin against.
Before we can have true peace, we must be reoriented towards God. Ultimately, every sin we commit, whether it be an angry comment or hurtful action, is a sin against God. King David directs us here as well. He committed adultery with another man’s wife and then had him killed so he could take her as his own wife. David sinned against the woman, and he sinned against her husband whom he had killed. Yet, when he asked God for forgiveness, David said this:
“Against you and you alone have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” (Ps. 51:4)
To sin in any way is to sin against God. Only when we have salvation from our offense against God will we find true and lasting peace and rest.
3. Remember that Jesus took upon himself all this guilt and shame.
Our sin is the whole reason Jesus had to come. He died for the guilt of Adam’s sin and rose again from the dead so that life could be freely offered to all those who believe. Jesus did not do this because we deserved it. In fact, it is the opposite. He came because we are dirty, rebellious sinners, undeserving, unlovable, and selfish.
This act of God thousands of years ago means that today, if we believe in Jesus, our sins are not held against us. Paul writes to the Corinthians that he does not judge even himself, because only the Lord has the right to judge.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Cor. 4:3–4)
In Christ, the Lord’s judgment is “free from guilt” and “righteous!” We can walk out of the Lord’s courtroom with a joyful heart knowing that he does not hold our sin against us. After this verdict, no other judgment matters or changes what God has declared. The idols we create are proven false and powerless. Our conscience is reoriented towards God and away from the judgments of others.
But, you might ask, what if I still feel the guilt and shame of my sin? What if I still have to face the consequence?
4. Remember that you are Christ’s beloved bride.
If you repent and believe in Christ, you are pure and lovely to him—a radiant bride whom he loves and considers more precious than the birds of the field. The opinions of others don't determine your worth and ultimately don't matter—even though sometimes it feels like they do. You belong to Jesus. Because you are precious in his sight, God remains faithful in his care and provision (Matt. 6:25–34; Jer. 17:8).
Sometimes God disciplines us so we recognize how we have turned certain people or things into idols. The author of Hebrews encourages us, however, to draw near to God when our conscience will not release us from the guilt:
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:19–22)
We need to turn to the Lord and repent of our sins, remembering who really determines our worth and provides for our future (Ps. 51:17). Clinging to Jesus will give you the strength to face life with humility and hope, knowing that God still loves and cares for you throughout all the ups and downs of life.