“Got Questions about Shame and Guilt?”

Pt. 1 of the Series, “Got Questions”

January 6, 2019


1 John 1:5-9

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.


Everybody knows that my dog, Coconut, is about as perfect a dog as you can get.  That little 11 pound fluff ball, that little Coton de Tulear—that’s her breed, she is a Coton de Tulear—that little puppy never, ever, ever does anything wrong.  Well, almost.  On those extremely rare occasions when she does do something naughty, Nancy will point her finger at Coconut—you know you are in deep dew dew when Nancy points her finger at you—Nancy will point her finger at Coconut and say, “Shame!  Shame!” and Coconut will lower her head, won’t even look up at Nancy, and she will walk away with her tail between her legs.  Believe me, I know.  When Nancy points her finger at me—again with the finger—and says, “Shame!” to me, I lower my head, won’t look up and walk away with my tail between my legs—if I had a tail.


  1.  Shame is a Powerful Emotion


Shame is a powerful emotion and not just for puppy dogs, but for humans, too.  Whether we have past sins that haunt us, things we might have said or did that we so wished we hadn’t, or a relationship that we destroyed by our actions, we have all experienced shame and guilt.  Maybe some of you, maybe all of you, are dealing with that right now.  It is a universal feeling.


  1.  Examples from the Bible


Take for instance Adam and Eve.  They are not just known for being the first man and woman to walk on this earth, they are not only known for standing behind strategically placed fig trees with sheepish smiles on their faces, but they are also known, maybe even chiefly known, as the ones who committed the first sin.  Can you imagine the shame they felt.  We know they felt shame because the first thing they did after they sinned was to hide themselves from each other and from God.  Can you even imagine the shame they must have felt as the ones who ruined God’s perfect creation, who introduced sin into the world with its effects of disease, decay and death, who were the perpetrators of a sin nature that every human being from then on is born with.  They saw that intimately when their son, Cain, killed his brother Abel.  Can you imagine their shame and guilt?


Or, how about Moses?  He killed an Egyptian and, in his shame, ran off to tend sheep for years and years.  Do you think he felt shame and guilt?  Or, David who was caught in that web of lies, adultery, and murder and cried out to God in shame; “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”  Psalm 51:1-2.  Do you think he felt shame and guilt?  Or how about Peter?  He makes this great confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, then later when Jesus is up against it, Peter proclaims that all my fall away from you, Lord but not me.  I’ll be there for you no matter what, that is unless someone hears me say I was Jesus’ friend and Peter denies Jesus 3 times.  Do you think he felt shame and guilt?  Or, then there’s Paul; persecutor of the church, Christians died at his hand.  He called himself the least of all the apostles because of it.  As he thought back over those lives lost because of him, do you think Paul felt shame and guilt?  Oh, we are not alone in our shame.  But


  1.  Where shame and guilt come from


  1.  You can feel shame and guilt because of past sins


Yvonne felt incredible shame when she was arrested because of her drug addiction.  She was so wrapped up in her addiction that she was unable to work and neglected her children.  Her 15 year old daughter had to take care of her younger children because Yvonne could not.  One result was that her 15 year old became pregnant, maybe to get out of the house, maybe in retribution, maybe because she simply sinned.  But, Yvonne felt shame and guilt. 


Juan hurt his wife and children when he had an affair.  Every time he saw his ex-wife or kids, that shame and guilt came back. 


I felt shame and guilt when, in my teen years, a friend began a relationship with this girl.  I thought the girl was taking advantage of him, using him, and I made fun of her to other friends.  My friend found out and my actions destroyed our friendship.  It destroyed our friendship.  I have felt shame and guilt ever since.  Maybe you look back over your life and there are sins you committed about which you feel shame and guilt.  You can feel shame and guilt because of past sins.  However, there is another reason you might feel shame and guilt. 


  1. You can feel shame and guilt because of sins committed against you


Harvey remembers when he was 5 and his father was in a hurry and wanted him to get in the car quicker than Harvey was going.  His father kicked him and threw him in the car claiming that Harvey was good for nothing.  The physical pain of that kick quickly subsided but not the shame of what his father did to him. 


Teddy was only 6 when he spilled his milk all over the kitchen floor.  His mom blurted out that he was an irresponsible boy and that stuck with Teddy throughout his life.  He felt shame.


Corin was sexually abused as a child.  She did nothing to deserve what was done to her.  Yet, as is the case with many women who have experienced abuse, she felt shame over it.  She felt a shame that wasn’t hers to feel.  Feelings of shame and guilt can come from sins others perpetrate on you as well.  So, what are   


  1.  The effects of shame and guilt


Whether we feel shame and guilt for sins we committed or from something someone else did to us, these things can lead to a variety of emotions and actions.  One psychologist, Dr. Rune Moelbak, wrote;


You won’t find “disorders of shame” as a category in the DSM-5 (the official American catalogue over mental health diagnoses), and yet shame is probably the biggest single cause of most of our psychological problems.  Shame is often the secret engine that get us started on a path of disordered eating, makes us feel bad about our bodies, causes us to be depressed or have social anxiety, makes us engage in pathological lying, leads us to feel lonely and empty in our relationships with others, and makes us escape into addictions of all kinds.  [1]


Shame and guilt can have us constantly apologizing for who we are.  It can cripple us under the fear of never measuring up.  It can make us hide our real emotions because we feel that if anyone knew our real selves, they would reject us.  It can make us feel devalued, less than, unacceptable, and a disappointment.  Shame and guilt are extremely strong emotions and many, if not all of us, have or are dealing with those emotions right now.  So,


  1.  What Can Be Done about the Shame and Guilt I Feel?


You see, the problem with the feelings of shame and guilt is that we carry them with us, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades.  Many of us carry the feelings of shame and guilt on our backs for years and years.  So, what can you do about that?  I’ve got 5 things you can do that will relieve you of your feelings of shame and guilt.  Here’s the first;


  1.  Name it


Explore what is causing these feelings within you.  Understand that there is a difference between shame and guilt.  Guilt is the objective reality of being liable for punishment because of something you have done, something you said or did in the past that still haunts you, a relationship that you destroyed, your selfishness, your sin.  Shame is the subjective feeling of being worthless because of who you are, a feeling that you are less than.  It is the difference between making a mistake and feeling that we are a mistake.  But, whether you have a subjective feeling of shame, or you feel guilt over something you did, the first step in dealing with the feelings of shame and guilt is to name it.  Name what it is that is making you feel that way.  Get to the bottom of it.  Be as specific as you can. 


Sometimes, many times, it happened a long time ago and you’ve hidden it under the proverbial rug in your spirit.  Sometimes you may have trouble even remembering what happened.  Sometimes you may sublimate it but you have this nagging feeling that won’t go away.  Sometimes you may need counseling to identify what happened.  You may need a good Christian counselor to help you sift through the mire of years gone by and get it out into the open.  It is not a bad thing to seek counseling.  There is no stigma that need be attached to getting help.  I can help you get to a good Christian counselor if you need one.  And, if you prefer to find a counselor on your own, could I truly encourage you that your counselor be a Christian.  The reasons for that will become evident in a moment.


Work to name what is causing you shame and guilt.  Don’t allow some amorphous sense of wrong make you feel less than.  Name it.  If you feel shame and guilt over a past sin you committed, name it.  Name it and confess it and repent of it.  If it is a sin someone else did to you, name that as well.  You do not need to repent of that.  You need no repentance.  If you are a victim of some sin others committed against you, listen to me carefully; you are not to blame.  You are not to blame for that abuse.  You are not to blame for your parent’s divorce.  You are not to blame.  You are the victim.  The blame and the shame is not on you.  It is on the perpetrator.  Please take that in.  Whether you committed a sin or whether a sin was committed against you, name whatever it was that happened.  Think about it, pray about it, get counseling to uncover it, but work to figure out what it is that is causing you to feel shame and guilt.  The first thing to do to address shame and guilt is to name it.  Here’s the second thing;


  1.  Take it to the cross


Modern psychology tells us that the cure for shame and guilt is love and acceptance of yourself.  It is to love yourself and accept your feelings.  As one psychologist put it; “Love for oneself has to come from the experience of being lovable or acceptable to others. One has to be able to open up to others, to show oneself as one is, and to experience that others can still love and accept one in one’s most vulnerable and exposed state.” [2]  But, what if the shame and guilt you feel is justified.  What if you feel shame and guilt for hurting someone else?  What if, to use an extreme example, you feel shame and guilt over murdering someone?  No amount of therapy can, or should, allow you to accept that behavior and feel good about yourself.  You still should feel ashamed. 


There is only one way to deal with shame and guilt and that is to take it to the cross.  Salvation is found in only one place and that is in Jesus.  When you repent of that sin and take it to the cross, you are assured that Christ Himself has already dealt with the guilt of that sin.  No sin is too great, no offense so egregious that Jesus’ blood can’t cover that.  That’s why they call it Amazing Grace.  Take it to the cross.  I said it on Christmas Eve; simply give your sin to Jesus.  The guilt of any offense you committed was transferred to Jesus on that cross.  He became your sin.  Give the sin that you committed 40 years ago to Jesus.  Give those terrible words that you uttered, the hurtful actions that you did, give them to Jesus.  Give your sin to Jesus and know this; Jesus not only took your sin, He gave you His righteousness.  Your sin was transferred to Him and in return, He gave you His righteousness.  You are not only not sinful but you are made righteous.  The guilt is gone and so is the shame.  It is gone in God’s eyes.  The problem is, even though you named your sin, confessed it and took it to the cross, even though your guilt and shame is gone in God’s eyes, the problem is, we tend to hold on to that shame and guilt.  We tend to rehearse it again and again and again.  So, here is the next thing you can do; 


  1. Focus on God’s truth and not your feelings


Maybe, you are feeling guilty.  Maybe, you are feeling shame.  Maybe, you are feeling less than.  Those are your feelings about yourself.  Now, listen to God’s truth;


“If we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 1:9


His forgiveness is sure.  His purification is from all—not just some but all—of your sins.


“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…”  Colossians 1:22


In Christ, you have no blemish, no stain on your heart.  You are free from accusation. 


“…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”  Psalm 103:12 


Can your sins be any farther removed than as far as the east is from the west?


“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”  Romans 8:1-2      


Did you hear that?  You who still feel shame and guilt from past sins. You who has named that sin and confessed it and repented of it and taken that sin to the cross,, yet you who still feel shame and guilt for it, did you hear Paul’s incredible words that in Jesus, is there is no condemnation?  None.  It is all gone.  That is God’s truth.  You may feel guilt and shame but God’s truth is it is all gone.  When those feelings of shame and guilt well up in you, do this; Believe the truth of the Gospel, not the unbelief that you are not truly forgiven.  Look,


  1.  Holding on to that shame and that guilt is nothing less than the work of the devil 


That devil wants to make you rehearse that sin over and over again.  That devil wants you to hold on to that shame, to be mired in it.  Satan wants to incapacitate you, to doubt that it has been dealt with, to convince you that you need to carry around that weight.  He wants to destroy your joy and your peace.  Holding on to that shame and guilt is nothing less than the work of the devil.  Ask yourself if you have already confessed that sin.  If so, God is not sending new shame into your life for a sin He has already forgiven.  Those shameful feelings are not from God.  They are from the devil.  Reject them.  If you have never confessed that sin, do it now.  Then, stand on the promise of 1 John 1:9 that God has forgiven you your sins and purified you from all unrighteousness.  Stand on the promise of Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation in Christ.    Focus on God’s truth and not your feelings.  This is all well and good for when you feel shame and for something you have done.  Now,     


  1.  What about the shame you feel about a sin committed against you?  


Take it to the cross, too.  Take it to the cross, not to receive forgiveness because no forgiveness for the sin committed against you is needed by you.  Take it to the cross and let that cross be a symbol of God’s love for you.  Which leads to the next thing you can do to address shame and guilt, something that is especially important for those who have had sin done to them, but is also applicable for those who feel shame for committing sin;


  1. Claim the reality of God’s love and His unbreakable promise


For those of you who have had a sin committed against you, you may feel like you are not worthy of God’s love.  You may feel like damaged goods.  But, I want to assure you that you are loved by God, that He will never break His promise.  For those who feel shame and guilt for sins you have committed, let God’s love cascade over you.  You are forgiven.  Know that you are loved. 


Listen to what one pastor wrote;  “The message of Scripture is that you are probably far worse than even you can imagine, but that you are far more loved than you could ever possibly conceive.”  [3]


Hear what one woman said; “Shame can be another term for unbelief in God’s love for you in Christ. It’s one thing to believe that your sin has been removed from you; it’s quite another to believe that there is a divine love that can never be removed from you.” [4]


Listen to Paul’s words.  Take these in;


“For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:14-19


Oh my shame-filled friends--me included—let that love cascade over your spirit.  Claim the reality of God’s love, His unbreakable promise as you strive to, “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  Here’s the last thing you can do following on the heels of the last thing;


  1.  Know that you are truly a child of God


People who struggle with feelings of shame over a sin committed against them may feel that they are not part of God’s family any longer.  They may feel alone, orphaned.  People who have shame and guilt over a sin they committed feel ugly, outside of the realm of God’s family.  But, God tells us over and over again that we are His children. 


“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—”  John 1:12


“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”  Galatians 4:4-7


You are loved.  You are His child.  The shame the prodigal felt returning the father was met with love and acceptance and a return to his place in the family.  You don’t have to hang on to that shame.  You don’t have to hang on to that guilt. 


Here, let me summarize this whole thing with one final verse.  When you feel shame and guilt, whether it is from a sin you committed or from some sin that was perpetrated against you, here is what you should do, here is a summary of all that I’ve said today;


“…fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2


Fix your eyes on Jesus.  When you feel shame, fix your eyes on Jesus.  When you feel guilt, fix your eyes on Jesus.  Don’t focus on your feelings, focus on God’s truth.  Believe the truth of the Gospel, not the unbelief that you are truly not forgiven.  Know that you are loved.  Know that you are His child.  Fix your eyes on Jesus because in Him there is no shame and in Him there is no guilt.  You are free.


In Jesus’ name.




[1] From the article, “Shame: The Hidden Root of Most Psychological Problems.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] “How the Holy Spirit Delivers You from Shame,” by Sam Storms.

[4] “10 Things You Should Know about Shame,” by Heather David Nelson