Read: John 8:1-11

Guilt over doing something that violates the conscience is a normal emotion. However, living under a cloud of remorse for no discernible reason is not. The Lord designed feelings of culpability and regret to serve as a reminder that a person has done wrong and needs to repent. But Satan twists those emotions to imprison men and women: those living in shame are uncertain of God’s love and often lack self-confidence.

“If I were your enemy, I’d constantly remind you of your past mistakes and poor choices. I’d want to keep you burdened by shame and guilt, in hopes that you’ll feel incapacitated by your many failings and see no point in even trying again. I’d work to convince you that you’ve had your chance and blown it–that your God may be able to forgive some people for some things, but not you… not for this.” (Fervent: Your Past: Ending the Reign of Guilt, Shame and Regret)

Good guilt–the Lord’s effective tool for prompting repentance–is a gift that helps us find the right path. However, the Devil encourages false guilt, which involves taking responsibility for things outside our control and then suffering self-condemnation for not changing the outcome. This unhealthy type of guilt is also a widespread problem for those in legalistic churches or lifestyles–certain behaviors or thoughts are labeled as wrong, and then people feel ashamed for doing or thinking those things.

Self-condemnation stunts a relationship with Jesus. Instead of enjoying the peace of God, people who are trapped by shame fear His rejection and feel driven to prove their worth. Trust is nearly impossible because they are waiting for God’s judgment to rain down. Their guilt even colors how they see themselves: rather than saying, “My action is wrong,” they say, “I am bad.”

He (Satan) carefully archives footage from our history so he can pull from those files and remind us what our days of defeat, sin, and failure looked like. Every time he cues it up again, it’s with the fresh intent of mocking and maligning us, making us feel as unforgiven and unforgiveable as possible. And that’s how, instead of living with assurance, we become bombarded with shame. Instead of celebrating God’s grace, we feel undercut by continual guilt over the same old things. Instead of experiencing the ongoing, residual blessings of being regenerated by His Spirit–all things new–we’re caught in the spin cycle of ceaseless regrets.

Jesus did not come to accuse or condemn us. Christ restored our souls and made us righteous before God so that our guilt is removed. If our Savior forgave the woman caught in an adulterous relationship, just imagine how ready He is to take your shame away too (John 8:11).

The glory our God receives, and will eternally receive, from having saved our souls doesn’t come from all the good things we do for Him. His glory comes from creating people of purity and spiritual passion who once did things like that.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)

See also Spiritual warfare: Defeating guilt and shame

Sources: