Guilt, Shame and Remorse. These can be terrible feelings, and for Christians, who are supposed to be forgiven, they can be crippling for your faith if you don’t know how to deal with them. So, today, let’s see what we can do about that! If you like, consider this a practical application of the teachings in my recent blog post, ‘Left in the Grave!‘
First up, let’s take a look at some definitions.
Guilt is feeling bad because of what you’ve done.
Shame is very different, and is defined as feeling bad because of who you are
Remorse is different again – it’s feeling regret for the actual things you’ve done wrong
Let’s deal with these things by looking at what Jesus has done for us.
Guilt. Everything you have done, everything you are doing, everything that you ever will do, that is or was or will be wrong – call it ‘sin’ if you like – its all been nailed to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Your sins are taken away, destroyed forever, forgotten. Psalm 103:12 says this: ‘As far as the east is from the west, this far has He removed our transgressions from us’. Hebrews 8:12 echoes Isaiah 43:25 in saying, “For I will forgive their wickedness, and I will remember their sins no more
Shame. Everyone’s heard the phrase, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”, and in one sense that’s correct because ‘yourself’ is the only thing you can feel ashamed of [feel shame for] is yourself. You don’t feel ashamed of things you’ve done (that’s Guilt); no, you feel shame for who you are. The feeling of ‘what sort of person would do the things I have just done’ is Shame. It’s feeling bad about who you perceive yourself to be – maybe as a result of things you’ve done, of course, but it’s still about who you are. And the answer? Again, it’s found at the Cross of Jesus. In an earlier blog post, I describe how Holy Spirit revealed to me that I was ‘crucified with Christ’ when He died on the Cross. And He did the same for you. Your old self – the self that causes you to feel shame – that old self was included in Christ when He died. In Galatians 2:20, it says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. And in Romans 6:5-7 it says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin“.
Do you feel as if that old self, of whom you feel ashamed, deserves to die? Do you feel that there’s nothing you’d like better? Well, too late! It’s already been done! And this means that you can walk in freedom from shame; that freedom is yours by right. 2Cor 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new is come!” You – yes, you! – are a completely new creation. A new creature, completely separate from the old. And this is what counts. [Rules are of no] value; what counts is the new creation – Gal 6:15. So you can be free of shame because, again, it’s all been dealt with at the Cross. Both your guilt, and the cause of your same – the old self – have been nailed to the Cross.
Now isn’t that something?
And another thing: Shame has the effect of making you feel worthless. Nobody could value a person like me. But God loved you so much that He came in person to do something about it. He came to show you the Kingdom; He came to heal you; He came to die for you and to give you abundant, eternal life! Now if that doesn’t put the shame into perspective, I don’t know what will….
So, you see, you don’t need to own your guilt and shame any more. You don’t need to give them any space in your life, ever again. Sin is dealt with; shame is defeated. Don’t give them another moment’s thought!
But, you might say, I hurt someone. I murdered someone. I [did whatever to] someone, and that harm still exists. That person is still hurting; that person is still dead. I wish I could undo the past; I wish I could make things right again after what I did. And I feel so bad about that.
Right. This is what is called Remorse. Think of it like this: once guilt and shame have been dealt with, what is left is remorse. And it too can be dealt with. But first you need to deal with the guilt and shame. So, bring the sin before God. Ask His forgiveness; you have assurance of this forgiveness because all your sins have been forgiven through Christ’s work on the Cross, as we have seen. And then deal with the shame; reassert your new creation, stand up and leave behind the shame which has been nailed to the Cross. It’s in the grave; it was not resurrected with Him! Remember these feelings have no place in you any more!
So now, the effects of the sin on you – the guilt and shame – have been dealt with and your path is now clear to deal with the remorse. Perhaps you’ll need to apologise. Perhaps you need to put things right. You need to judge each situation individually, prayerfully, and according to the circumstances. Some things cannot, but some things can, be put right; you will have to be the judge for your particular situation. Ask Jesus to give you wisdom.
But sometimes you still have to live with the remorse. And in that case, decide to use it for good, rather than letting it destroy you. Remorse can be a healthy thing, for example if it prevents you from doing the same thing again.
Say, for example, you injure a person because you are driving too fast. Believe me, you will most likely be so affected by the remorse that you will never speed again, and your driving will most likely be more careful from then on.
You see, life is a learning curve, and providing you can deal with your guilt and your shame effectively, your remorse can actually be a good thing. And I believe that this is sometimes the reason why remorse does not always go away, because it can be a positive force for change provided it has been cleansed of the guilt first. So, once again, because of the Cross, this can be positive – because the Cross takes away the guilt, so that the remorse can now be constructive. In the new life, Holy Spirit is in the business of (amongst other things) transforming us into Christ’s likeness. So, ask Him to use it to effect His changes in you.
Offer the remorse up to Jesus and ask Him to take it and use it. You will most likely feel the difference straight away, if you really let go of it. In that way, it’s just like any other burden you feel; if you “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1Pet 5:7) then He will take it if you’ll let Him.
You may never forget the remorse; the memory will fade, and its burden is gone, but you may not forget. But you can use it for good, so that one day it will be a jewel in your crown rather than a stone in your shoe.
And be encouraged. You can never lose your salvation, no matter what happens. Jesus is walking close to you; even if you can’t feel Him, He’s there. Romans 8:18 says that, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us“, and this is true. Guilt and shame have no place in the Christian’s life. Remorse can be useful but only as an aid to growth, when it is committed to God.
If this is for you today, if you are struggling with these feelings, then I sincerely hope that you’ll find this piece helpful.
For an interesting take on how to deal with Fear and Guilt, check out this article on RedeemingGod.com
5 thoughts on “Dealing With Guilt, Shame and Remorse”
Tony, this is golden: ‘Once guilt and shame have been dealt with, what is left is remorse.’ But I don’t think remorse should ever go away. It shouldn’t consume us, but it should never go away. It isn’t because we failed God, but because we hurt someone that the remorse should always be there.
I liked your key phrase, “It shouldn’t consume us….” Yes, that’s the thing. It shouldn’t be allowed to do us harm, but I take your point. Hopefully the remorse will help prevent us from making a similar mistake later – and remember that life is a learning curve!
That remorse thing–every time one of those people only regret the things they didn’t do or “my greatest regret is not….” come up, I just completely don’t understand it. Sure, there are things I would like to have done, but the things that haunt me, that I would give anything to change, are times I hurt people. Even if I never hurt anyone again, the effects of my actions remain.
That’s the thing, Guy – I sometimes wonder if remorse is more about our inability to change the effects of our actions. But, y’know, God is the Great Healer. He can put things right where we can’t. I don’t pretend to understand the mechanism of that, and sometimes things don’t get put right, but we can do our bit in terms of reconciliation/apology/healing to contribute to the process. I guess it’s part of the great mystery that God can do anything, but He chooses to use us (sometimes) in the process too.