Question: "What does the Bible say about shame and regret?"
Answer: Everyone experiences a certain amount of shame and regret over sins committed in the past. The Bible has much to say about shame and regret, and there are numerous examples of people in the Bible who experienced these negative feelings.
Can you imagine the shame and regret Adam and Eve lived with after their sin? They spoiled the perfect creation God had made. Adam and Eve were in a perfect world, had perfect minds and bodies, and had perfectly close fellowship with God. When they chose to sin against God, all of God’s creation was made subject to sin’s effects, including disease, decay, death, and separation from God for eternity. Every human being afterward was born with a sin nature—the natural inclination to sin. Thankfully, God is sovereign, and He had a plan even then to redeem His world through His Son, Jesus Christ, and give mankind a choice for salvation and eternal life with Him. But Adam and Eve must have lived out their lives on earth with much regret over their loss of innocence and its associated blessings. We know they were ashamed at their nakedness (Genesis 3:10). They must have lived the rest of their lives with regret—after all, they remembered paradise.
Another biblical example of shame and regret is the experience of the apostle Peter. John 13:37–38 describes the night of Christ’s betrayal. Right after the Passover meal, Peter tells Jesus that he would lay down his life for his Lord. Jesus responds by telling him that on that very night Peter would deny three times even knowing the Lord. Later that night, out of fear of losing his own life, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus (John 18:15–27; Matthew 26:31–35, 69–75). After Peter’s denial of Christ, “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). Later, Peter was restored and grew in his faith, becoming one of the founding fathers of the early church. Peter did indeed “strengthen his brothers” after being forgiven, just as Jesus had foretold (Luke 22:32). While Peter must have lived with much shame and regret over his public denial of Christ, his deepened understanding of the person and work of Christ overcame his feelings of failure. He realized that he was forgiven by the grace of God, and he moved past his personal regret to feed Jesus’ sheep (John 21:17).
The Bible teaches us that, when we confess our sins and have faith in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, we become children of God (John 1:12). We are cleansed from all our unrighteousness (Colossians 1:15–22), and our salvation is eternally secure (John 10:27–30; Hebrews 7:24–25). As we grow spiritually by spending time with God daily in prayer and reading His Word, we find ourselves loving and trusting Him more. We trust that God has cast our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).Yes, we regret our past mistakes, but that is not our focus. We keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Paul put it this way: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [the goal]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). Shame and regret are part of what is behind us. We must learn to forget.
Romans 8:1 is a great comfort to any believer who struggles with leftover feelings of shame and regret: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are sinners, but we are justified. We have a shameful past, but we have a better future. We used to walk in foolishness and rebellion, but now we walk in newness of life (Titus 3:3–7; Romans 6:4). God has forgiven those sins we feel shame and regret over. We can move on. “I have been crucified with Christ; and 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 delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).