Guilt over doing something that violates the conscience is a normal emotion. However, living under a cloud of remorse for no discernible reason is not. The Lord designed feelings of culpability and regret to serve as a reminder that a person has done wrong and needs to repent. But Satan twists those emotions to imprison men and women: those living in shame are uncertain of God's love and often lack self-confidence.
Good guilt--the Lord's effective tool for prompting repentance--is a gift that helps us find the right path. However, the Devil encourages false guilt, which involves taking responsibility for things outside our control and then suffering self-condemnation for not changing the outcome. This unhealthy type of guilt is also a widespread problem for those in legalistic churches or lifestyles--certain behaviors or thoughts are labeled as wrong, and then people feel ashamed for doing or thinking those things.
Self-condemnation stunts a relationship with Jesus. Instead of enjoying the peace of God, people who are trapped by shame fear His rejection and feel driven to prove their worth. Trust is nearly impossible because they are waiting for God's judgment to rain down. Their guilt even colors how they see themselves: rather than saying, "My action is wrong," they say, "I am bad."
Jesus did not come to accuse or condemn us. Christ restored our souls and made us righteous before God so that our guilt is removed. If our Savior forgave the woman caught in an adulterous relationship, just imagine how ready He is to take your shame away too (John 8:11).
For more biblical teaching and resources from Dr. Charles Stanley, please visit www.intouch.org.