How do we overcome shame and regret?
I’ve been a Christian since I was four. But that didn’t stop me at different times of my life from doing some very un-Christian things. And some of those things, though in the distant past, still try to haunt me–and for a while they did haunt me.
Maybe you know what that is like. Maybe there are some things in your past that you just can’t seem to shake. Maybe you have memories that are full of shame and regret. Maybe there’s a voice in your head that still whispers at you, “You’re not _____ enough.
Maybe you wonder if you could ever be free.
I’m not an expert on the subject. But there are a few steps that have helped me. And they are the first steps I share with others when they ask for help.
These steps of course aren’t magic pills. Rather they are practices that over time will open you to the healing that God has for you.
1. Confess your sins
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
You’ve probably already done this. Probably a number of times. But just in case you haven’t, know that confession is the first place to start. The French medieval monk Bernard of Clairvaux once wrote, “God removes the sin of the one who makes humble confession, and thereby the devil loses the sovereignty he had gained over the human heart.” Confession shines light on the darkness. It begins to break the chains of slavery. It pours living water onto our inner burning coals. That is why confession of sin is always the first step to freedom. Start with confession to God. Then, as James writes, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). If you don’t have someone to confess to, start with a pastor, or a trusted friend.
2. Stand on God’s Promises
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
Confession may be the place to start (and a great step to keep repeating), but it is only a place to start. Often, even after much confession, we still struggle to believe that we are truly forgiven and no longer deserving of shame and regret. When this happens the best thing we can do is proclaim the promises Jesus has made to us. The famous 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon reminds us, “Every promise of Scripture is a writing of God, which may be pleaded before Him with this reasonable request, ‘Do as Thou hast said.’ The Heavenly Father will not break His Word to His own child.” What are some of the promises of God? Here’s a link to get you started.
3. Embrace Your New Identity in Christ
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Personally I find this to be the hardest step. I find that everything in this world wants me to forget that I am a new creation created in Christ Jesus. That I am now a son of the King, an adopted heir of a new kingdom. The reason for this is because, as Professor Neil Anderson states, “The major strategy of Satan is to distort the character of God and the truth of who we are. He can’t change God and he can’t do anything to change our identity and position in Christ. If, however, he can get us to believe a lie, we will live as though our identity in Christ isn’t true.” And if we believe the lie that our identity has not changed, we will continue to live with all the shame and regret of our old self. The good news is that Jesus Christ has given us a new identity (in fact, many new identities) and real freedom comes when we accept and embrace our new identity in Christ. (Who are we in Christ? Click here for a list.)
4. Find Support From Other Believers
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
For the longest time I thought following Jesus could be done on my own. But now I am convinced that every believer needs to be part of a community. Because the temptations, attacks, and stresses of life are just too overwhelming for us to handle on our own. We need help from others. We need support from others. C.S. Lewis put it best: “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.” We need at least a few trusted, mature believers whom we can count on for encouragement, wisdom, guidance, and accountability. Without such support we will surely fall back into our old ways and beliefs and we will never be untangled from feelings of shame and regret.
God did not intend for feelings of shame and regret to be a part of your life. Thankfully he made a way for us to be free from them. Like I said before, the above steps are just a place to start. But hopefully you find them helpful. If you would like more guidance or just someone to pray for you, use my contact form and send me a note. I’d be happy to help in any way that I can.