It's entirely possible as Christians to hold a view of ourselves similar to that of the pharisee in Jesus' parable who said, "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, crooked, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get." (Luke 8:11-12). We can intentionally do good things that please God, while at the same time feel like we are one of the less sinful people in the world. There are two dangerous things that can come from holding an unrealistically high view of ourselves: we boast in our own goodness instead of God's goodness, and we may forget how much in need we are of God's forgiveness and mercy.
I can speak from experience when I say this. I can remember being a young lady that prioritized prayer and reading the Bible and feeling like my life pleased God compared to other people who had done many things that I had never done in my relatively few years on earth. On the outside things seemed good, but inside of my heart there was pride. Although I do not place on God the responsibility for the poor choices I have made in my life that I now regret, I do however acknowledge that God has brought something good from my bad choices.
Sometimes holding a low view of others in comparison to ourselves can place us in a vulnerable situation where we may think we are above the weaknesses that have taken hold of others and devastated many people's lives in more than one way. It's kind of like slowly drifting further and further into something that you felt you knew was wrong, but you didn't know how strong its hold could be on you pulling you further and further into devastating consequences. It's probably one of the most dangerous positions anyone of us can take: to think that we are not capable of doing the bad things other people do.
I have repented of many things in my life, and I have sensed God's forgiveness, help and restoration as answers to my prayers, and yet the choices I've made will follow me for the rest of my life. These kind of memories can be frustrating. They can pull our emotions to places we don't want them to take us. The shame can leave us feeling defeated. Our consequences cannot be hidden and forgotten sometimes. What do we do when this happens? Do we just repeat whatever the popular cliche is and casually brush things off? Or do we do as the apostle Paul said, "but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead..." (Philippians 3:13 NASB)?
If past failures are spontaneously triggered, are held against us by someone, or those memories have become like annual visitors, we must first acknowledge that the past is invading our present, and we need to deal with it along with the feelings that it brings to the surface. They don't have to bring us down in a destructive way. Instead, our past sins can serve as a reminder that we are great sinners and in need of our savior Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong in accepting and knowing that we are great sinners. Even the apostle Paul said, "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost." (1 Timothy 1:15).
We may instead want to believe we are less sinful than the people around us, but God seems to teach us everywhere in the Bible that we are indeed very sinful people. Romans 3:23 tells us, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". It's like we try to measure ourselves, like the pharisee did in Jesus' parable to try to feel better about our sinful condition, when instead we should rest in the truth that we have all fallen short and we all need Jesus just the same. Jesus left us the example of the sinful tax collector, "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to raise his eyes toward heaven, but was beating his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'" (Luke 18:13). Jesus said in the following verse, "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other one; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The memories of our sins and the feelings that accompany them do not have to intimidate or frustrate us, but rather they should lead us to humble ourselves once more before God and remind us of how holy God is and how good it is for Him to have paid the price for the forgiveness of our sins. We do not rely on our own "goodness", like many pharisees did. Even if we never did all the things we regret now, we would still need Jesus. I use to struggle with my failures in the past, believing that God loved me less after I committed my most regretful sins. However, in time, God helped me to understand that He loves us the same, had we never committed our worse sins, or at present having committed our worse sins and repenting of them.
He has loved us always, despite of our sins. Our sins did indeed cost Him his beloved Son's life on the cross, but He gave it to us just the same. In Romans 5:8 we learn that, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God is fully aware of our sins and our need for Him, and we should be too. We must let go of any lingering pride that remains as we perhaps try to suppress those memories in order to feel better about ourselves, or our "goodness". We should not be shocked that we failed so badly. Disappointed, yes. Learn our lesson, yes. Anticipate future failures, yes. Intentionally sin in the future, of course not. But God does help bring us closer to humility through our failures, and the memories can serve to help us stay humble, and to be more compassionate to others, now better able to advice other people against committing the same failures that they may have a blindspot in seeing that you now don't.
My personal failures have been redeemed by God to show me the depth of His love for me. I am still loved. I am forgiven. I am helped. People may still hold things against me, but God doesn't. He is more interested in correcting my character and building me up to the person He wants me to become. He helps me with the memories. He helps me make better choices at present and in the future. The wounds of the past can serve as red flags in the future. His love motivates me to choose my relationship with Him over anything else. The enemy may want to use the past to make me stumble again or distract me with thoughts about myself that God doesn't think of me, so it's important to meditate on the Word at all time. I hope you also will be encouraged that Jesus reminds us in His parable that we can find God's forgiveness when we seek Him with a humble heart as we confess our sinfulness. Trust that He will bring you through your memories and feelings of regret.