Recently I had (another) lapse in judgment and the resulting guilt. Although “understandable” given the situation and likely with minimal damage, nonetheless I began to kick myself with regret. Sweat covered my forehead. I had a hard time focusing on anything else as I tried to figure out how I had been so irresponsible and what the repercussions might be.
This was just one of my small lapses. At other times I have had to deal with guilt from major mistakes, miscalculations and outright sins.
Some of my mistakes have mostly impacted myself. But for the most part, they have also impacted others: my family, my wife, my church, my friends, my colleagues. Injuring myself is bad enough. Injuring others has brought tremendous guilt, regret and sometimes outright self-loathing.
Perhaps you can relate?
How can we handle such failures? How do we deal with the guilt and grudges we hold against ourselves? Is guilt our “just reward” for mistakes and sins?
Here are 8 ways to deal with our guilt and find forgiveness:
1. Identify the Origin
Guilt comes in two basic forms:
False Neurotic Guilt
With this we feel a greater sense of guilt than is warranted for our wrongdoings. It is an over-abundance of guiltiness. The devil condemns and shames us (see Revelation 12:10). Some people are more prone to this than others.
Genuine Constructive Guilt
This comes when we have committed a true wrong. Appropriate guilt is absolutely vital to life. If no one ever felt guilty for wrongdoings, society would quickly crumble. Thankfully, God reaches out, calling us back and offering forgiveness, as explained below.
2. Test the Validity
Is our guilt genuine or neurotic?
We can test the validity of our guilt by:
Using the Bible as our standard for moral conduct
Identifying Bible verses that confirm wrongdoing or not
Determining if underlying principles of right living have been violated (not directly addressed in Scripture)
Asking the Lord to reveal truth
Speaking with trustworthy and mature Christians
Examining our feelings, but only secondary to Biblical and Christian counsel
Be careful not to just let your conscience be your guide. Scripture says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT)
3. Check Your Motives
Checking motives can help us get to the heart of the issue.
To check motives, we can ask questions like:
Was it my intention to do wrong?
Were my actions unethical?
Did I violate God’s Word?
Was it an accident?
Was my behavior allowable yet still questionable?
What part did pride have in my actions and response?
False guilt can be dismissed. However, even in cases of accidental wrongdoing we may have to make restitution and face consequences.
4. Accept Responsibility
Proverbs 28:13 says “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
We must admit when we are genuinely guilty, owning our wrongs and accepting responsibility for them.
5. Refuse to get Stuck
Some struggle to let go of guilt for reasons such as the following:
We are afraid to change.
Guilt motivates us in some way.
We feel unworthy of forgiveness.
We think our particular sin was too great to be forgiven. (This is not true and is a favorite trick of the devil!)
We have never accepted God’s forgiveness through Christ (see below for a prayer to do so).
It is healthy to ask for forgiveness when we have hurt, offended or wronged someone.
In addition to apologizing, we should make amends, if possible.
I wrote an article that has been helpful to many: How Can and Should a Christian Apologize?
7. Ask for and Accept God’s Forgiveness
The Bible says that we have all sinned and that we can all be for given by God: “If we say that we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But, if we confess our sins to Him, He can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” (1 John 1:8-9)
This verse, written to Christ-followers, is a wonderful promise of release and forgiveness!
God will cleanse us from every wrong when we ask for His forgiveness.
8. Learn and Turn
Our goal is not to become sinless—that is impossible. But we must strive to sin less.
Learn from mistakes and turn in the right direction.
Isaiah 43:18-19a says “Forget the former things: do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing!”
Allow God to do a new thing!
Isaiah 53:6 (GN) tells us that “All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.”
Jesus is the Sacrificial Lamb who took our punishment on the cross for our sins.
God’s forgiveness is available right now for all past, present and future wrongs.
Here is a prayer to pray to receive Christ’s forgiveness and eternal salvation:
“Lord, thank you for forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Thank you for freeing me from guilt and taking away the stain on my heart. Help me not to take back the shame and guilt that you have taken away. In Jesus name, amen.”
For more help, check out these articles I’ve written:
Quote card: Andy Rooney on Bitterness