The Danger of Lasting Guilt

When we sin, guilt is a right response. But guilt can become deadly if it continues to consume a Christian after he or she has been forgiven by God.

Guilt is important in motivating us to repent; but left to fester, it can also be a deadly spiritual poison.

If not properly dealt with, it can lead to extended periods of depression, hopelessness and self-pity, and it can destroy your faith! When you are overcome with it, your mind-set is not one of faith. From time to time, guilt may actually retreat into your subconscious, only to reemerge to torture you once again. When you are consumed with guilt, it is difficult to fully enjoy life the way God intended.

Guilt affects your health

Another negative consequence of guilt is that it may induce physical illness. Your mind can make you sick. Science has confirmed what King Solomon proclaimed long ago: “A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22, Amplified Bible).

Medical science has provided scientific support for this scripture. Many doctors understand that crippling guilt and depression can weaken a person’s immune system and cause him or her to get sick often.

Cry out to God

We must understand the proper use of guilt. Guilt should be like an alarm in your mind, attempting to awaken you to the reality that you need to repent of sin (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). However, if the memory of sin that you have repented of is causing guilt, you need to cry out to God with fasting and prayer, asking Him to remove it.

Read the encouraging and reassuring words of Proverbs 17:22: “Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it]” (Amplified Bible). Sometimes we humans find it quite difficult to forgive ourselves even when God has.

God forgives and forgets

Humans forgive, but cannot completely forget. However, God has the amazing ability to choose not to remember! He can forgive and forget. Hebrews 4:16 proclaims, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”

What must we do to receive this most merciful and loving act? We receive God’s merciful forgiveness by repentance (Acts 3:19).

If you are experiencing guilt due to the memory of repented of sin, the guilt may be caused by a spiritual wound the sin inflicted. Sin leaves us with emotionally painful wounds. These wounds lead to feelings of guilt because we remember the sin that caused them.

The good news is that just as physical wounds can heal over a period of time, so can spiritual wounds. During the healing process, the unpleasant memories begin to fade. As the memories fade, so will the guilt. One key to ridding your life of a constant focus on those memories is to live in harmony with God’s way of life (Ephesians 4:24), actively seeking to fill your life with positive actions, including serving others (verse 28). That’s the opposite of sin!

Going forward

The apostle Paul was familiar with the process of healing and then moving forward. He is an example of a man who deeply understood what it was to have a guilty past—his persecution of God’s Church before he was converted (1 Corinthians 15:9).

Paul learned to constantly look forward, not backward: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-16).

The apostle Paul maintained his focus throughout his life. Though he may have had reason to struggle with guilt, he did not let it consume him. Not long before his death, Paul wrote: “I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day [Christ’s return], and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (Hebrews 4:16).

God will do for you what He did for the apostle Paul! He will blot out your past sins and lift the heavy burden of guilt.

For more on this subject, see “Forgiving Yourself?” And to learn more about how you can be forgiven of past sins, read our article “How to Repent.”

About the Author

Leon Leonard

Leon Leonard was a member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association's Cleveland, Ohio, congregation. He was an entrepreneur and writer until his death in 2021.