Biblical Approach to a Guilty Conscience

I lived in guilt and regret. I second-guessed every choice, looked back and dwelled on past mistakes that I had made, and based my future on my past failures. I physically cringed thinking about my sins. It left me miserable and out of the place of joy God had meant for me.

This is not godly guilt. To heal from this detrimental way of thinking, we need to better define what guilt is and what it’s proper place is in the Christian’s life.

The Truth About Guilt

“Good” Guilt

Guilt isn’t all bad. In the Christian community guilt of any kind is quickly pushed off and smothered by words of comfort.

“Guilt has no place in your life!”

“That’s just the devil trying to deceive you; you need to tell him to get lost!”

“Satan is just trying to make you think you aren’t saved, but clearly you are!”

To an extent these are true, but I think we are giving Satan way too much credit in this. I don’t think Satan wants us to feel guilty; if you feel guilty, you might stop living in that sin, which is the exact place Satan wants you—in sin! So why would he convict you and bring your conscience into the picture?

The Holy Spirit through Scripture and godly people convicts you, which produces a form of guilt. Because this guilt is a direct result of sin, there is nothing wrong with it. Guilt and conviction are God’s ways of telling us we are in sin and not living in the Spirit.

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” 2 Corinthians 7:10-11

Bad Guilt

This can easily be taken out of context and misused. The problem is not when you feel guilty for your sins, but when you are living in your guilt and remaining in that place of misery and sadness. That’s where I was. Along with that, I used those past mistakes to judge how my future would turn out. I lived in fear of becoming the old person again, and thus believed I was useless for any good work because I would eventually mess up again.

Not only that, I believed that I deserved to be as miserable as I was. I thought about all the people that I had hurt, all the ways I had rejected God after what He had done for me, and I believed that it was only just that I felt the way that I did and that I suffer.

It wasn’t until I realized that holding onto and beating yourself up from the guilt of your sin does not glorify God and depreciates the truth of Christ’s sacrifice for you. Remember, “the sorrow of the world produces death” not life and contentment.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:1-2

Healing Your Guilty Past

The Self-Help Approach

I thought that the key to recovering from my addiction to regret was forgiving myself. I mean, it’s always preached at us; you can’t forgive others if you can’t forgive yourself, you can’t move on from the past unless you let go and forgive your past sins, Jesus wants you to be free from regret which requires self-forgiveness. Being part of a Christian community, it’s one of those classic clichés that I have heard more than enough.

However, is this idea truly biblical? Does God really require us to practice self-forgiveness? The answer is no. You can search the Bible through and through and you will not find a single verse that tells you to forgive yourself. That is not your job, it’s God’s. God does not command us to forgive ourselves, but instead to trust in His grace and forgiveness of sins (Acts 3:19).

Who are you to say whether or not your sin or mistake is forgivable? God is the Perfect Judge therefore He is the one who deems you forgivable—which you totally are! God forgives your sins when you turn to Him to be your Saviour (Isaiah 1:18, Isaiah 43:25, Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 26:28, Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:13-14, Hebrews 10:17, 1 John 1:9).

Furthermore, I would go as far as to say that this idea of self-forgiveness is sinful. Why? Because you are trying to take the place of God in your life. When you hold onto those sins and try to “punish yourself” by feeling miserable over them, you are becoming your own judge and refusing to accept God’s judgement of forgiveness towards you. You are saying that Christ’s sacrifice is not enough for your sins, and you are instead trying to pay for them yourself.

When I was stuck in my rut of regret and self-condemnation, I had decided in my mind that my sin was unforgivable, refusing to believe that Christ could forgive it. I then softened it with a lack of “self forgiveness”. Through doing this, I allowed the enemy to throw chaos into my life as I lived under the condemnation of the belief that I couldn’t forgive myself and trying to be god of my own life—which in essence was actually unbelief.

Submission to God

When your conscience brings on those guilty feelings, do not dwell morbidly on your mistakes and sins, but recognize the wrong and do something about it—confess, repent, and make things right with those you hurt. Once that is done, you can move on and rejoice in God’s forgiveness and in the joy of salvation.

Are you caught in the trap of self-condemnation and inability to forgive yourself, my friend? Are you weighted down by a sin that you believe is just too unforgivable? Take hold of this truth: No sin is unforgivable. Your job is not to forgive yourself but to believe by faith that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for every single one of your sins. If Jesus Christ is your Saviour, He has faced the wrath of God on your behalf. He took your punishment. Any kind of affliction you bring upon yourself can never accomplish what He did to set you free in His life, death, resurrection, and on-going intercession.

Remembering the Gospel

My hope is that you will take hold of the salvation that God offers. Don’t hold onto your past and fears. Decide today that you will not live under the weight that you need to somehow dig deep within yourself and haul up some will-power of self-forgiveness. Instead, trust in God’s saving grace and seek out His forgiveness—not your own—when you mess up. Accept Jesus’ perfect sacrifice and decide that today you are going to submit to Him in every way. I promise, you will not regret it.