A true believer will yield certain evidences of his faith through his actions and attitudes, but we should not determine our spiritual status based on our feelings, including the feeling of guilt. A Christian will naturally be sensitive to sin and willing to confess it (1 John 1:9), but feelings of guilt are not a true measure of one’s position before God.
Feelings are temporary and often irrational. They change frequently. Our salvation is a position of righteousness God places us into by His power (John 1:11–13) by indwelling us with the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:9–11). The level of guilty feelings or contriteness one experiences is too subjective of a barometer to gauge whether one has been regenerated by God’s Holy Spirit.
If we try to gauge the authenticity of our salvation by how guilty we feel about our sin, then we’re faced with a question: How much guilt is necessary for us to feel to guarantee our place in heaven? Even the most contrite person might not feel guilty enough—but who’s to say? The Bible is clear that faith in Jesus Christ is the only criterion for being counted as one of God’s children (John 1:12). Biblically, true faith will be accompanied by several godly attributes. Chief among those are the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:20–22). If you are questioning the genuineness of your faith, checking for that fruit may be a good place to start. Then, read the book of 1 John.
If you are largely unchanged in behavior and attitude since your conversion, you may need to reassess your sincerity concerning the faith you claim. The same is true if you never feel guilty about anything and can sin with impunity. But keep in mind that your salvation is God’s doing; it’s not a level of behavior you need to strive to attain (Ephesians 2:8–9).
Maturing as a Christian involves an increased sensitivity toward sin; we won’t want to sin (see Psalm 19:12–13; 39:1). As we become more Christlike, the Holy Spirit will shape us into useful vessels for advancing God’s kingdom on earth. Increasing our inhibitions against sinful behaviors and thoughts is facilitated by becoming intimately familiar with God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
At the same time, we need to make sure we are defining correctly what we call “sin.” It’s possible to categorize something as sin that is not sinful, thereby creating false guilt. Our view on this topic may depend on our background and who is currently influencing us. Some churches are legalistic in nature, and their leadership requires members to follow strict, extrabiblical standards to free themselves of guilt. The result is inevitably more guilt. We must rely on Scripture to define sin, and we must differentiate Old Testament requirements from New Testament principles. It is important to rightly divide God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
God wants us to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Love should be in our hearts, along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We should not feel guilty over sins that have been confessed and forgiven. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). We will never be perfect in this life, but believers’ lives should be characterized by actions and attitudes that please God.