Guilt, Shame and Assurance

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

The most marvelous ingredient in the forgiveness of God is that he also forgets, the one thing a human being can never do. Forgetting with God is a divine attribute; God’s forgiveness forgets.
- Oswald Chambers
“How can God forgive me for what I’ve done?” 
“If I’m really a Christian then why do I keep struggling with this?” 
“This is all my fault.” 
“This is the one sin that God will not forgive me for.” 
These are all things we might find ourself saying in moments when we are overcome with guilt. Sometimes, we feel guilt or shame for something we’ve done, said or thought. Guilt and shame have been with us since the fall (Gen 3:10); they’re are part of living in a world where sin exists in us and outside of us. Like all things in a fallen world, God uses the guilt caused by our sin to call us to repentance and restoration in the Gospel. Despite our mistakes and failures, God promises to meet us at the Cross, forgive us and help us (Jn 8:31-36; Rom 8:1).  Because of the Gospel, guilt can be used for good.
Other times, our guilt takes on forms of shame, worthlessness, false guilt and doubting our position in Christ before God. Just as guilt can be used for good, it can also become a prison that keeps joy in Christ, confident prayer and living for the Lord on the outside (Ez 9:5-6). 
Whether you are burdened with guilt because of unconfessed sin (Ps 32:3-5), doubting your assurance or stuck in the mud of shame, this is a quick guide to help you or help you come alongside a friend as you go to the Cross, where our guilt and shame were taken and paid for (Heb 12:2; Ez 16:63)

Scripture Passages for Encouragement

Psalm 32:3–5 (ESV)
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away 
through my groaning all day long. 
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; 
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 
5 I acknowledged my sin to you, 
and I did not cover my iniquity; 
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” 
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Hebrews 10:22 (ESV)
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Romans 8:33–35 (ESV)
33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Hebrews 7:24–25 (ESV)
24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Psalm 71:1–3 (ESV)
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame!
2  In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me, and save me!
3  Be to me a rock of refuge,
to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.

Micah 7:18–19 (ESV)
18  Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
19  He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.

Psalm 103:12 (ESV)
12  as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

1 John 1:8–10 (ESV)
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John 8:31–36 (ESV)
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Practical Tips

With the Word
  • Study the Biblical narratives of David (Psalm 32; 51) and Peter (Mt 26:69-75 with Jn 21:15-17). Write down what you notice about their sin, their response and God’s response. Turn your observations into prayers of praise, confession and thanks.
  • Read the following passages, and write down your understanding of why Jesus went to the cross and make a list of all the things God has done for you, including paying the price to save you.
    • Romans 8
    • Romans 5
    • Isaiah 61
    • Hebrews 7:23-25
    • Isaiah 53
With you and others
  • Practice “keeping short accounts with God”; that is, confess sin immediately when it occurs.
  • Understand that if you feel guilty after confessing and repenting, that feeling does not come from God.
  • Encourage someone else who may also be struggling with feelings of self-worth, assurance or guilt (false or true).
  • Sing any of these alone or with a friend:
    • Yet Not I, But Through Christ In Me
    • There Is A Fountain
    • Christ Is Mine Forevermore
    • Jesus Paid It All

Some Encouraging Reads and Listens