A State of Being: Guilt and Shame


I, even I, am He who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.
-Isaiah 43:25

From the Bible’s point of view, guilt, real guilt, is first and foremost not a feeling. It’s a state of being. It’s the position of being out of line with our God by virtue of our sin. It can be fixed only by being placed into a right relationship with him, a solution that’s brought about only by God himself, not by us. It is his specialty to fix this problem. Resorting to our own measures only makes things worse.

God solved our estrangement with him by absorbing all our guilt and shame in the life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus his only Son. In humble obedience, Jesus paid the price that we couldn’t pay and paved the way for us to return home to our Creator.

Through the death of his Son, we are able to approach the Father in freedom and boldness. We are free because Jesus bore the weight and penalty of our sins and offenses against God.

It’s done.

Nothing more can be—or needs to be—added to it. We can’t make it better or earn it.

The practical result of this transaction in the spiritual realm is this: the heavenly Judge removes our guilt and shame, and we are declared free to go. Through confession of our sins, repentance (turning away from them), and forgiveness, we are released to live a life without guilt or condemnation. The apostle Paul explains in his letter to the Romans, those who abide in Jesus Christ live a pardoned and guilt-free life.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
-Romans 8:1

All this is referred to as grace and mercy. Essentially, grace is getting what we don’t deserve and mercy is not getting what we do deserve. It attests to the loving character of God who decrees our salvation just because he is merciful and gracious. He aims all this goodness our way out of his free choice. It’s been called “amazing grace” because it’s supposed to amaze us—it always astounds us when we realize that God’s pardon is far out of proportion to our expectations. His forgiveness is too extravagant to measure and humbles us into joyful and grateful service to him.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
-Psalm 51:1-3

Being aware of our guilt is a very good thing. King David was very aware of his guilt and turned to God for his help. A sense of guilt lets us know that something is wrong and needs attention, like the pain receptors in our skin that tell us that a stove is hot. Guilt feelings are designed to serve as a warning. As such, they aren’t intended for more than a few minutes, just enough time to bring us to God for confession. They’re not supposed to last any longer than that. Not dealing with true guilt as quickly as possible can threaten our emotional and physical health.

If you feel guilty much of the time, or if you make mistakes and keep thinking about or continuously apologizing for them, get them off your back immediately. You aren’t designed to carry guilt or guilt feelings long-term. If you do, you could end up with various debilitating traits—low self-esteem, inability to let go of anger against yourself or to forgive others, anxiety, obsession for perfection, and so forth. Remember, there is no sin too perverse for our God to forgive or mistake too great for him to fix.

If you’ve already confessed offenses against God and forsaken them, but still carry guilt feelings, then there’s something else that’s wrong. Don’t think that having guilt feelings necessarily means that you’re guilty. See your pastoral counselor and get at the root of the reasons. It may be due to poor advice you’ve received in the past, or it may be that you don’t really have a clear grasp yet of what Jesus has done for you. But try not to carry the guilt-load an inch farther than you need to. Believers in Jesus are supposed to be the least guilt-ridden and most emotionally free people on the earth.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
-2 Corinthians 5:17

John I. Snyder
Comments 3
  1. Good post. Shame is also a state of being. Where guilt is a state of deserving justice shame is a state of lost identity and lost inheritance. The answer is rebirth and adoption into the family of God with a new name, identity, eternal inheritance. Romans 8:14

  2. Thank you. Reading this has brought so much comfort to me. I keep hearing about sin, less about God’s grace. I wish this message could be read out by youth who are very hurting and Christians who feel like they’ve failed.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This comfort is especially true if you’ve been raised in a guilt theology. That was my background—legalistic, rigid, unforgiving. I often felt like walking away from the church and finding something else. But then, I remember when I first heard what grace really was, it changed my entire life. This is what energized me to want to become a pastor and share this life-giving truth with those burdened down with the inability to get “right” on their own—to share God’s love and forgiveness—something we offer to our loved ones and all who hurt us. The grace we receive is the grace we extend, it’s an outward action of an inward precious gift. The word of grace undiluted is like clear mountain water to the thirsty.

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