Ending Your Guilt Trip


As human beings made in the image of God, we are emotional creatures. God gave us emotions so that we might enjoy and glorify him, knowing joy, peace, hope, and love by being properly related to him. Negative emotions are not bad when they remind us that our relationship with God is not what it should be. For example, when we feel stressed or anxious, it could be signaling a lack of trust or even guilt over sin.

One of the most dominant negative emotions people experience is guilt; that inner voice of disapproval that induces feelings of shame. Past mistakes and failures can be brutal in their assault on our minds as we live under the mantra of “if only.” Ironically, many people consult psychotherapists to help them deal with their “damaged emotions” when the reality is those emotions are functioning exactly as God intended. As C.S. Lewis famously said:

“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn…. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”

As believers, how do we deal with guilt biblically?

1. Understand what it is.

Guilt is that inner sense of disapproval, produced by conscience, that induces a feeling of shame. (cf. Romans 2:15) Feeling such shame can lead to defeat and discouragement in our walk with the Lord or prompt us toward excessive self-righteous behavior in an attempt to atone. Guilt may even create a sense of self-loathing so that a person will not even ask for God’s forgiveness. Looking at bad circumstances through the lens of guilt sees them as just desserts, creating a wall between you and the Lord.

2. Discern what you’ve done.

When it comes to guilt, one must make an important distinction: The guilt that drives a person to do good as a means of penance is just as dangerous as the guilt that leads to despair and self-hatred. A highly sensitive conscience makes you vulnerable to either extreme. The devil uses guilt to convince you to earn God’s forgiveness by your own works, or to beat you up with constant self-condemnation. Whereas, the Holy Spirit convicts us, through our conscience, in order to lead us to repentance and restoration.

Finally, if you are suffering from guilt feelings that have affected your relationship with God and others, here’s a test you need to take to get your life back on track spiritually:

The Test of Reason. Ask yourself, “Is it reasonable to feel guilty about this?” It is possible to feel guilty without being legitimately guilty. For example, many parents feel guilty when their children don’t turn out like they had hoped. Many parents who did their best to raise godly children live with guilt when those kids turn their backs on God. Such guilt is illegitimate in light of the fact that each of us is responsible for our choices. Perhaps you need to sit down with a Christian counselor to determine whether or not your feeling of guilt is legitimate.

The Test of Scripture. When Martin Luther was accused of heresy at the Council of Worms, he declared, “Unless convinced by Scripture and plain reason, I will not recant.” Whatever is making you feel guilty needs to be examined in light of what the Bible says about it. Is it something that is clearly addressed by scripture? Your pastor or a Christian friend may be able to help you discover the truth in this regard.

The Test of Will. The Bible makes a distinction between sinning unintentionally and sinning intentionally. Guilt is most acute when we act in direct disobedience to God. Ask yourself, “What was my intent when I did, or failed to do, that thing which has produced feelings of guilt? Presumptuous sin can wreak havoc on one’s spiritual life. David prayed, “Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin.” (Psalm 19:13)

If, having discovered your guilt is reasonable, that the Bible is clear regarding your action, attitude, or lack thereof, and if it was done intentionally, there is only one thing to do: “He that covers his sin shall not prosper, but he that confesses and forsakes it shall have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) Go to the Lord in sincere confession and acknowledge your guilt before him. Then, by faith, receive his full and free forgiveness. Don’t live under the cloud any longer.

How to know if your guilt is legitimate and how to deal with it biblically.