How to Get Free From Stubborn Guilt

When I was about eight years old, I got intrigued with cartridge pens. Regular ballpoint pens weren’t cool anymore; cartridge pens were classy! The soft plastic cartridges that held the ink were replaceable. After getting used to handling one of them, I graduated to a fountain pen. These pens were similar, but instead of a replaceable liquid cartridge, there was a small suction chamber inside. By dipping the tip of the pen into a jar of ink and pulling a little lever on the side, the chamber would refill. I thought it was fun to master this technique and use this sophisticated writing device.

Now the plot thickens–or should I say darkens. I got a jar of ink and then proceeded to try my skill at filling my new fountain pen. Where should I do this operation? How about on my bed? With my pen ready, I unscrewed the lid to the ink. Just how the jar tipped, I don’t remember. What is unforgettable is the big blue stain that attacked the yellow blanket. No, it wouldn’t wipe off … Now what? Unable to fix the problem, I turned the blanket down to cover the stain. That night as my mother tucked me into bed, she somehow detected my nervousness. It wasn’t long before the stain was discovered in all its splendor–and I was in trouble. Lesson learned.

As I counsel brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not uncommon to discover that moral stains from the past are still bothering them today. Stubborn guilt sometimes weighs heavily and seems as permanent as an ink spill.

How does the grace and mercy of God provide freedom from stubborn, persistent guilt in the life of the believer?

How to be free of guilt

1. Confirm your repentance and faith in Christ’s salvation.

When we repent and receive Christ as personal Savior and Lord, we have complete pardon of our sins. “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9,10; see Col. 2:13; Titus 2:14).

We could never earn salvation; it was merited solely through Christ’s sinless life and sacrificial death. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9; see Isaiah 53:6). We exchanged our “stained blanket” for His robe of righteousness! (Phil. 3:9).

We need not wait until the Day of Judgment to know we are pardoned. We are saved when we obey the gospel. Christ promised, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

2. Realize that all believers sometimes sin.

The apostle John warned about those who were philosophically denying their sin, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us … If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10; see James 3:2). [1]

3. Confess all known sin.

When we sin, the indwelling Holy Spirit is grieved (Eph 4:30). Therefore, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9.) Since God is faithful, He will always honor this promise; because He is just, the sin is not ignored–it is dealt with through Calvary (Psalm 32; 51). [2]

4. Ask forgiveness of any we have offended.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ instructed us, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). Like Paul, we should seek to maintain a clear conscience before God and people (Acts 24:16). [3]

5. Make restitution to anyone who has a valid financial or legal claim against you.

This is an evidence of devotion to God. A classic example is that of the converted tax collector: “Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold'” (Luke 19:8). For example, if someone has stolen or shoplifted, even before their salvation, that doesn’t cancel the debt to the one who was robbed. The merchandise, or its financial equivalent should be returned. This glorifies God, since He champions justice and desires integrity in His children (Prov. 20:7; Isaiah 45:21).

6. Learn from the past.

If we learn from our failures, they are not totally wasted. William Thayer noted, “The lesson of failure ought to be as instructive as that of success. Wise men learn from their mistakes and unfortunate ventures. It is claimed that more men triumph through failure than otherwise.”[4] The psalmist testified,
“Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I keep Your word” (Psalm 119:67).

7. Let go of the past and accept God’s cleansing.

The apostle Paul had this perspective. He was not discouraged by his pre-conversion hostility to the church, nor was he satisfied with his previous ministry achievements:

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 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” (Phil. 3:12-14).

If we don’t accept God’s cleansing by faith, we forfeit the joy that should accompany His mercy and grace. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

8. Forgive others for sins against you or your loved ones.

For the pardoned child of God, forgiving others is non-optional. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). We need to forbear annoyances and forgive trespasses and debts against us (Col. 3:12,13). Whether they are sins of omission or commission, we are to forgive those who have trespassed against us as well as our debtors (Luke 11:4; Matt 6;12). If an offender asks for forgiveness, we are to be willing to reconcile. [5]

9. Forgive yourself.

“And the second [greatest commandment] is like it [the greatest one]: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matt. 22:39). It is assumed that we care about ourselves. A healthy self-concern includes releasing self-blame. If God has forgiven us–as He promised–who are we to withhold it? The penance of continued self-imposed guilt does not glorify God; rather, it minimizes the Cross. There Jesus declared, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). When we forgive ourselves and rejoice in God’s cleansing, we glorify Him by channeling our gratitude to deepened devotion to the Lord. “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15).

10. Understand and reckon true your spiritual union with Christ.

Paul declared this essential truth of the abundant life: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20; see John 15:1-5). We can never fathom the depth of our spiritual blessings in Christ: “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and righteousness and sanctification and redemption”(1 Cor. 1:30).

Have you found freedom from stubborn guilt? Even when you have repented and claim these promises, you might not feel forgiven. But, feeling isn’t the issue. This is a faith issue! Although true conviction of sin is based upon the standards of the Word of God and the conviction of the Spirit of God, it is possible to still have invalid emotional guilt. This is false guilt, because it is other-imposed or self-imposed.

Renounce lying emotions and claim God’s precious promise:

“For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11,12).


[1] Of course, this is not a license for willful disobedience. After all, the believer’s essential nature delights in the law of God (Rom. 7:22), and sin always has consequences (Gal. 6:7).

[2] For further discussion on the issue of whether 1 John 1:9 refers to a Christian confession of personal sins, please see

[3] Instead of the usual expression, “I’m sorry,” a sincere request for reconciliation could be something like, “God has convicted me that ____ was wrong. I admit it. I have asked God to forgive me; now I am asking you.” This will clarify if the other person will forgive you, if further explanation is needed, etc.

[4] William Thayer, Gaining Favor with God and Man,”1893; reprint by Mantle Ministries, 228 Still Ridge, Bulverde, Texas, 78163. p. 31.

[5] For clarification concerning forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration, see Grace Notes, The Dimensions of Forgiveness (Jan 2002).

Copyright 2002 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint for noncommercial use if credit is given to the author and Biblical quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (copyright by Thomas Nelson).

Honorable Mention

Author Gorman Gray has an apologetics web site on creation and the exposition of Genesis chapter one: