Understanding and Dealing With Guilt Biblically


What is Guilt?

Guilt is a message of disapproval sent to our minds, which says, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Sources: Guilt messages come from our own consciences or from other sources such as family, tradition, or religion. These messages of guilt can be valid or invalid.

The Nature of Guilt: Guilt leads to a feeling of self-condemnation. It is an unhappy feeling. We feel bad, worthless, wrong, a failure, because of something we have done.

As Christian Guilt is: a sin offends God. The Bible teaches that we are all guilty beings, “There is no one righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). All people are guilty in God’s eyes because all humans have rebelled against Him, gone their own way, done what is evil in their hearts, and refused to be guided by His will. God’s law says, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30), but we have all failed to do this.

The Symptoms of Guilt- The emotion varies with one’s temperament and situation.

1. Self-condemnation: This could include: self-punishment, self-defacing statements, and difficulty receiving compliments, a martyr-complex, feelings of inferiority, insecurity, inadequacy, alienation, depression , and a pessimistic outlook on life. (John 10.10, Psalms 32)

2. Self-defensiveness: This could include: self- pity, blame shifting, self excusing, a defensive spirit, and self-justifying anger.

Note: These two responses lead to turmoil and misery (personally and socially). The first human emotion after the Fall was a sense of guilt which led them to fear. When Adam and Eve heard the Lord approaching, they hid. Why? Because they knew they were guilty. Human guilt begins to develop in us at the age of two. After that, it is a constant companion lurking in the recesses of our minds.

Two dimensions of guilt:

1. Objective Guilt:  If I violate the law/Law, I am objectively guilty regardless of my feelings.

                 (e.g.: Christians who have been converted after living very sinful lives may be burdened with guilt over their past.)

2. Subjective guilt: To feel guilty when there is no valid basis for guilt.

                          (e.g.: Some Christians feel guilty because they are tempted)

Two types of guilt:

  • Constructive guilt is future-oriented and based on forgiveness.
  • Destructive guilt is past-oriented based on a refusal to receive forgiveness and move forward in freedom.

Managing Guilt  

Psalm 51, offers us the outline of a solution to the problem of guilt, as does Psalm 103 and many others”

1.  We should identify God. Is He our enemy? No, the message of the gospel is that He is now, through Christ’s work, our friend and our lover. He is not against us; He is for us (Psalm 103:8). This is the God we know. Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15). His arms are open to us.

2.  We must recognize that the Bible is the standard by which we know if our sense of guilt is valid or invalid. ‘I would not have known what sin was except through the law’ (Romans 7:7).

3.  If it is a real sin, we must not deny it, suppress it, or shift the blame for it to someone else. ‘He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy’ (Proverbs 28:13).

4.  We should define the gospel again to ourselves. ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). To get rid of guilt, all we have to do is confess it and believe that Jesus Christ died to take it away. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:7–9)

5.   We should respond to the gospel again. If we believe the gospel, we must ask for forgiveness and believe we are forgiven. We are forgiven at once when we confess with all our heart “Psalm 32:5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD "— and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Jeremiah 29: 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. Do not let the devil rob you of peace with true or false guilt. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Take that peace and enjoy it.

We must choose to respond constructively to failure and disobedience—in a grace based, future-oriented, and other-centered manner. To respond this way, we must refuse to hold against ourselves the sin God does not hold against us. The person who stays in guilt reveals that he or she does not believe that God’s grace and promise of forgiveness is sufficient for his or her sin. A person who is having difficulty fully receiving forgiveness needs to humble himself or herself under the sufficiency of God’s grace (See: Romans 5:8; 8:32).