Many Christians know their sins are forgiven but still find it hard to feel free of guilt. Intellectually, they understand that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their salvation, but emotionally they still feel imprisoned by shame.
Unfortunately, some pastors heap heavy loads of guilt on their church members as a way to control them. The Bible, however, is clear on this point: Jesus Christ bore all the blame, shame, and guilt for humanity's sins. God the Father sacrificed his Son to set believers free from punishment for their sins.
Both the Old Testament and New Testament teach that individuals are responsible for their sins, but in Christ there is total forgiveness and cleansing.
Free of Guilt Legally
Under the Old Testament, or "old covenant," God's chosen people sacrificed animals to atone for their sins. God required payment in blood for breaking his laws:
"For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." (Leviticus 17:11, NIV)
In the New Testament, or "new covenant," a new contract came into being between God and humanity. Jesus himself served as the Lamb of God, a spotless sacrifice for human sin past, present, and future:
"And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:11, NIV)
No more sacrifices are needed. Men and women cannot save themselves through good works. By accepting Christ as Savior, people become exempt from punishment for sin. The holiness of Jesus is credited to every believer.
Free of Guilt Emotionally
Those are the facts, and while we may understand them, we may still feel guilty. Many Christians struggle under a crushing sense of shame because of their past sins. They just can't get let it go.
God's forgiveness does seem too good to be true. After all, our fellow human beings don't forgive us very easily. Many of them hold grudges, sometimes for years. We also have a hard time forgiving others who have hurt us.
But God is not like us. His forgiveness of our sins washes us completely clean in the blood of Jesus:
"He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. (Psalm 101:12, NLT)
Once we have confessed our sins to God and repented, or "turned away" from them, we can rest assured God has forgiven us. We have nothing to feel guilty about. It's time to move on.
Feelings are not facts. Just because we still feel guilty does not mean we are. We have to take God at his word when he says we are forgiven.
Free of Guilt Now and Forever
The Holy Spirit, who lives inside every believer, convicts us of our sins and instills a healthy sense of guilt in us until we confess and repent. Then God forgives--immediately and fully. Our guilt over forgiven sins is gone.
Sometimes we get mixed up, though. If we still feel guilty after our sins have been forgiven, that's not the Holy Spirit speaking but our own emotions or Satan making us feel bad.
We don't need to bring up past sins and worry that they were too terrible to be forgiven. God's mercy is real and it is final: "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25, NIV)
How can we get over these unnecessary guilt feelings? Again, the Holy Spirit is our helper and comforter. He guides us as we read the Bible, revealing God's Word so we can grasp the truth. He strengthens us against attacks by satanic forces, and he helps us build an intimate relationship with Jesus so we trust him fully with our life.
Remember what Jesus said: "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32, NIV)
The truth is that Christ died for our sins, setting us free of guilt now and forever.
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.