You Are Not Defined by Your Past
We all know what it’s like to feel guilty. A 4-year-old getting caught eating a cookie before dinner, a teenager who runs into his parents sneaking back into the house, or something more serious like an adult getting caught in a lie.
As natural-born sinners, we discover guilt at an early age. But when we accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation, we gain the ability to live in freedom from guilt. Jesus’ death paid the penalty for our sin in full. As a result, God doesn’t hold our mistakes over us. He tells the prophet Isaiah, “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22).
Knowing Jesus relieves us of guilt before God, but it doesn’t remove the pain of knowing we’ve done something wrong. That grief we feel when we’ve messed up is called conviction, and it’s designed to draw us back to our Savior.
How to Know the Difference Between Guilt and Conviction
Problems come when guilt, which is crippling, is confused with conviction, which is encouraging. Jesus said His burden is easy and His yoke is light (Matthew 11:30).
Is the guilt you’re carrying weighing you down? Then it’s not from Jesus.
Is the guilt you’re experiencing controlling you? Then it’s not from Jesus.
Guilt leads to shame, and we know shame is not from God because shame causes us to hide from God and from His people.
Conviction is different because it leads to confession. Confession is admitting what we did was wrong and admitting the weight of our sin is too much for us to carry. Conviction draws us closer to God as we ask Him to forgive us and help us change.
God is not trying to drag us along like a child kicking and screaming, and He’s not one to force us to follow His plans like a horse guided with the bit and bridle (Psalm 32:9). God opens His arms to take the weight of our sin from us, not to add the weight of guilt to us. And, like a good Father, after we give God our sin to carry, He takes our hand to guide and protect us (Psalm 32:6-8).
2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “godly sorrow [conviction] brings repentance.” Repentance begins by confessing our sin then leaving it at the foot of the cross. Confession frees us to live differently than we did before. If your sin is a heavy box, confession is the equivalent of setting the box down, and repentance is what happens when we leave the box behind. We can walk, run, and even skip because we are no longer weighed down by our sin.
Jesus wants to free us from carrying our heavy boxes. But to experience that freedom, we have to leave our boxes on the ground, focus- ing on what’s ahead instead of what we’re leaving behind.
This is what the writer of Hebrews calls us to, saying, “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NLT).
What Can I Do With the Guilt I’m Feeling?
The enemy uses guilt to convince us we’ve blown it so badly there is no coming back. Left unchecked, guilt causes us to define who we are based on what we’ve done. But you are not what you have done!
We are sons and daughters of Jesus, and our identity is found in Him. We are not who our guilt says we are. We are not what we have done. We can allow conviction to change us, we can let go of our guilt, and we can live in the freedom of the identity Jesus gives us.
We are not what we have done.
Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, and the minute we start a relationship with Him, we get a fresh start. We can let go of the guilt and the negative “I am” statements we make about ourselves, and we can replace them with the truth of who Jesus says we are in Him.
Jesus removes our sin “as far as the east is from the west,” and remembers it no more (Psalm 103:12, Isaiah 43:25). If God forgets our sin and doesn’t let it define us, then why do we dwell on it and give it the power to tell us who we are?
If there is sin in our lives that God is convicting us of, let’s repent of it and move on.