What should Christians do about Guilt, Shame and Regret?

What should Christians do about
Guilt, Shame and Regret?
Pastor Stephen "Red" Shumate
April 10th, 2015
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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What should Christians do about Guilt, Shame and Regret?

At some point we have all felt Guilt, Shame and regret…And they can be very powerful emotions.

First let’s talk a little bit about what each of these emotions really are. Each one has it’s on nuance.

Guilt is that feeling of ownership of a mistake.  It was my fault, I made that mistake, the reason people are hurt is because of me.  I am to blame; I deserve the punishment.

And guilt can be crippling in that if you are consumed with guilt, you may find yourself constantly punishing yourself because you feel you don’t deserve to move forward, but living in this is not healthy, because we need to be able to move forward with our lives.

Shame is the feeling of embarrassment or disappointment.   Being disappointed in yourself to the point that you don’t even want to be associated with the mistake (and for some people it goes as far as not wanting to be associated with yourself.)

This emotion can cripple us by making us want to hide and not even try.  We get so down on ourselves that we cannot allow ourselves to stand up and move forward.  Instead, we hide behind the bushes.  But this is not healthy either.  It can prevent us from healing. (it can also hurt our witness… if we live in shame, no one will want to live the way we do)

And regret is that feeling that you would give anything to go back and undo those things that you did. But the problem is, we cannot go and change the past.

If we live in regret, then it can do two things, first is that we keep replaying what we have done over and over and we become focused too much on the past.  It would be like driving while focused on the rear view mirror. Or in every decision we make, we over think, and over analyze everything we do to the point that we are frozen in our decisions. i.e. “I’m not going to make that mistake again.”

The point is living in or getting stuck in all of these emotions can be crippling.  Especially for us as Christians.

It can cause us to feel like we don’t deserve God’s love, it can cause us to feel like God could never forgive us, or it causes us to continually try to earn God’s love by trying to make up for our mistakes.

All of these feelings, can prevent us from growing in our relationship with God, and in some cases, it may have prevented someone from ever entering a relationship with God in the first place.

Have you ever heard of someone saying…I’m not a Christian because…I’ve got to get my life cleaned up first, or I’m not a Christian because I’ve done too much, or I’m not a Christian because God couldn’t love someone like me…Many times when we hear this type of response, it is because of guilt, shame or regret.

Guilt – feeling of ownership of blame,
Shame – Embarrassment that sends us into hiding…
Regret – wishing we could undo what we did…

1. Feelings of Guilt, Shame and Regret are not uncommon.

The Bible is full of examples of people who experienced these negative feelings.

A. Guilt: Judas  
Matthew 27:3-5
Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!” 5 So he threw the silver into the sanctuary and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.

Judas betrayed Jesus and handed him over to be crucified.  And as the reality of what he had done set in, he began to feel guilt.  And his guilt won. He could have repented, and God would have forgiven him and he could have been released from that guilt. But instead his guilt, his feeling of deserving punishment consumed him to the point that it drove him to punish himself…by committing suicide.

B. Shame: Adam and Eve
At first they did not feel shame they were just there like free spirits, just letting it all hang out…with not a care in the world.

Genesis 2:25
Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.

Then, they ate the apple…and their eyes were opened.  Now, they know they are naked, and they feel shame, and what do they do?  They hide…behind some fig trees, and hide in the garden…

Genesis 3:7-8
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Here Adam and Eve’s shame, caused them to hide from God. That is certainly not healthy to their relationship with Him.

C. Regret: Peter
Luke 22:61-62
Then the Lord turned and looked at Peter. So Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

We all know that feeling where would give anything in the world, to go and undo what we just did… Fortunately, Peter did not live in that regret.  He went outside and dealt with it.  And then he went on to live his life, and preach the good news.  His regret did not haunt him.  If he had lived in that regret then his witness would not have been effective, IF he would have even witnessed at all.

The temptation would have been to beat himself up over and over saying “I couldn’t even stand up for Jesus while he was on earth, how in the world would I ever be able to stand up for him as a preacher. I am a failure, I’m not good, I’m not cut out for to be a preacher.”

Everyone experiences these emotions at some point in their life.  So, what do we do? In a perfect world we confess our sins, get them out in open and deal with them, so we can move on.

2. What happens (should happen) when we confess our sins…

The Bible teaches us that when we confess our sins
We are cleansed of all our unrighteousness

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9

We are not just forgiven, we are cleansed.  With Jesus there is no remnant of that past sin left in our lives.  We are cleansed of our sinfulness.

He cast our sins from us as far as the east is from the west Psalm 103:12

This means we are no longer associated with our sins and mistakes.  And in a perfect world, we are released from those feelings of guilt, shame and regret because God himself has released us from this and we can move on with life.

Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [the goal].  But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added)

Paul has it right, our past is behind us and God is before us.  We need to strive to move away from our past and do everything we can to move toward God.

3. But what happens when we get stuck in one of these emotions?

A) Determine false feelings from true feelings
Sometimes Satan, as a temptation, tries to hinder our witness and relationship with Christ, by making us feel these feelings, when we have no reason to.  In Revelation 12:10 he is called “the accuser”  And if he can get us living in these emotions, he can hinder the work of God in us.

For instance he tries to get us to take on guilt for something we did not do or that is not truly in our own control.  We might feel guilty we could not convince someone to come to Christ, but that is on them but Satan will whisper in our ear, we should have done better.

B) Determine if the feelings are a warning sign
These feelings can be useful.  Just like pain can be an indicator that something is wrong and we need to fix it…i.e. if it feels like something is burning my hand, then I need to make sure I don’t have my hand on the stove…

The feelings of guilt, shame and Regret can also be very useful tools for us.  Because if we have these feelings, it might be indicating something that is not right.

Sometimes when we feel these emotions there may be some un-resolved sin in our lives, that God wants us to deal with.  True guilt, shame and regret can originate with the Holy Spirit and can be a warning sign to us for something dangerous in our life, that we need to repent and ask for forgiveness of.

Or it can also help us get to a place where we don’t want to return to that sin.  Hebrews Chapter 11 talks about God disciplining us. And I can remember as a kid, when my parents would get on me, I would feel guilt and shame…and sometimes they had to spell it out for me…But the purpose of this was not to shame me, but instead it was to help me not to do it again.

So, if we determine the feelings are true, and we have done our best to resolve them, and yet we still find ourselves stuck in the rut of these emotions, then we need to…

C) Have Faith, and let it go.

This is of course easier said than done, because letting it go, should have been a natural response once we were forgiven…So how do we do that if we are having trouble?

The first thing is to pray and ask for help in letting go of those feelings. The next thing we must try to do is have faith in His word.

Romans 8:1
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

If Jesus is not condemning us, neither should we.

Galatians 2:20
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”

If Christ lives in us then our lives are not ugly anymore, but Christ’s blood has made us beautiful and we no longer have to live in Shame, Guilt and Regret.  Jesus took on our sin along with the shame, guilt and regret that comes with it.

So, when we have these feelings when we shouldn’t…
First, pray for help.  Second have faith in God’s forgiveness.

We should not live in Guilt, Shame and Regret.  When we do, they kill us.  They shut us down. They prevent us from growing in Christ like we should’

“Do you live in guilt, shame and regret?”

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