We have all sinned (Rom 3:23) and all need the forgiveness provided by Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9). You are not unique in this and we all need to know that our God is merciful and full of grace and compassion for everyone no matter what we have done.
The real challenge is when we get weighed down by past sins where the guilt and shame never leave our mind. Legalism and guilt keep lists of sins and lists of things we need to do whereas we need to know God’s grace in which there are No lists.
Guilt & Shame from the past?
There are those who carry guilt or shame for things done in the past, sometimes decades past. We might even go round in circles sometimes knowing we have been forgiven by God and then have guilt feelings return the next day.
We first need to choose to believe God’s word. 1 John 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Guilt from the accuser?
It is helpful to know that the enemy (Satan) wants you to feel guilty and is called “the accuser of the brethren.” He may have you falsely believe, that feeling ongoing guilt, is a way to make things right.
Revelation 12:10b (NIV)
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night,
It is not God who is accusing you.
If you find it difficult to deal with guilt, then you will find it helpful to talk and pray with someone. Another believer can speak the truth to you which can counter the enemy’s whispering. Confessing your sin to God with someone who can verbally affirm to you God’s forgiveness will reinforce the Word in your heart that you are forgiven.
Living with consequences
You may need to live with consequences of sin, for example, a relationship that can not be repaired, but you do not need to live with the guilt.
If you have a broken relationship as a result of something you have done, it is good to apologise and make an effort to be reconciled where this is possible. It might need some form of restitution to repair a relationship and time to rebuild trust. For example, if you betrayed your spouse, then you may need to make an extra effort in certain areas of your relationship. This is where a support person may help and give you guidance.
Sometimes these things cannot be restored or recovered from and we have to live with the consequences. Either way, you personally need to move on from guilt, even if the other person is not able to move forward.
The apostle Paul would have lived with the consequences of knowing he had been party to the murder of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and it is believed other believers lost their lives in the same way and then he was saved. (Acts 9:1-19) Everyone would have known Paul’s history and everyone learned to live with this, especially Paul.
Forgiven and cleansed
There is nothing you have done for which the blood of Christ is not sufficient to cover. As 1 John 1:9 says, we are not only forgiven but we are made clean.
You may have failed hundreds of times, yet Jesus is still there waiting to forgive, cleanse and reestablish fellowship with you. (If you have trouble with ongoing temptation then check out coping with ongoing temptation.)
Jesus provided for everything
Jesus took on all our sin that we might have His righteousness. Isaiah 53:5
Jesus took on our shame that we might share His glory. Hebrews 12:2
There was a great exchange at the cross when Jesus died and was resurrected. Jesus provided for everything we need and He has immeasurable power toward us who believe, and it is more than sufficient to meet our needs. Ephesians 1:19, Hebrews 4:16
There is no reason for us to feel ashamed or guilty when our Lord understood completely who we are and what we do and He provided for it all. It is a gift that can’t be earned (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Hebrews 8:12 / Psalm 103:12
9 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
It is impossible for the east to meet the west and so that is how far away God has removed your sin.
If you are plagued by recurring thoughts of guilt, then tell the Lord each time the thought comes to mind. Then ask the Lord for new thoughts to replace them.
2 Corinthians 10:5
5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
A guilt trip is a downhill journey to further pain and suffering so take some action.
Pray and tell the Lord how things are, confessing your sins. Thank the Lord that He has taken your sin and made you righteous and taken your shame and given you His glory.
Every time guilt or shame thoughts come to your mind, tell the Lord, don’t bury them and over time they will no longer affect you.
Ask the Lord to help you think in a new way, reminding yourself regularly of the truth. You might find it helpful to pray this through with someone else.