Guilt – terrible, awful, guilt. It weighs us down and often defines us more than we ever realize. So many people come to church desperately wanting to escape the grasp that guilt has on their heart. The real tragedy is that many believe that their guilt will never let them have healthy relationship with God. Is this how God wants us to feel?
Two kinds of guilt
There is a kind of guilt that is beneficial and therefore from God. There is also a guilt that is counterproductive and therefore not from God. How do we tell the difference?
God is for you. Remember that, he is not against you, he is for you. He has gone to great length just to demonstrate how much he is for you.
If God is for us, then who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Romans 8:31-33
As a loving father, he would never heap guilt on you that has no clear resolution. God will give you something better than just guilt, he will give you a “path to repentance.”
Once upon a time, when I was a young leader, I got very angry at one of the leaders I was working with. I slammed my fist on the table in a meeting and was just all around an arrogant jerk. I felt justified, because he was in the wrong and was intentionally provoking me. About an hour later, a strong sense of guilt came over me and (this is important) I immediately knew what my path to repentance was. I knew God wanted me to humble myself before this leader, apologize, and no matter how he reacted I was to be humble and focus on my mistakes not his. I immediately drove to his house and rang the doorbell. I could not wait to feel the burden of a heavy conscience removed. He opened the door and said, rather condescendingly, “Its about time you got here.” I apologized and he simply said, “Good!” I drove away, having not won anything. He did not reciprocated with an apology of his own and the issue we disagreed about was not resolved. Most importantly however, I took care of what God had laid on my heart.
Healthy guilt is productive. It is God leading us to repentance. Guiding us to living out what the scriptures teach. God’s guilt brings healing and life. Once we obediently take the steps to follow our conscience, the guilt is replaced by a refreshed Spirit.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Acts 3:19
If you have not surrendered to God’s will in your life, or are deliberately committing sin that you have not repented of, the guilt will remain. It is good that it remains because it will ultimately lead you to repentance.
Unhealthy guilt does just the opposite. Instead of guiding and leading us back to God, it causes separation. These are common statements of people feeling unhealthy guilt:
I have done too much. God would not forgive my sin.
I am unworthy.
God is punishing me for what I have done.
I deserve this guilt.
These are not the statements of people who are being led by a loving father. There is no solution being presented by the Holy Spirit. It is condemnation like this that keeps us from experiencing God’s grace and love.
Where does this guilt come from, if not from God?
- We produce it ourselves. Actually this is very telling of how we view other people. Usually, if we are hard on others and judge them harshly, we expect the same treatment from God. If we don’t give people grace and forgiveness, it’s impossible for us to perceive a heavenly Father who would simply “let us off the hook” because we repented.
- It comes from the evil one. Yes, THE evil one. Revelation 12 depicts Satan, figuratively, as a great red dragon that has been defeated by heaven and hurled down to the earth.
The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. Revelation 12:9-10
He is an accuser and a liar. In fact, he is called the father of lies (John 8:44). He wants you to think that you are condemned and punished by God. Through the use of guilt, he wants to convince us that God’s grace is beyond our grasp. This is a horrible lie.
If you are experiencing guilt that you just can’t get away from, guilt that is not guiding you toward repentance but just making you feel guilty about the past, there are a couple of solutions for you:
- Dive into the Bible head first. Guilt keeps us from reading the Bible because we think we are just going to feel more guilty. The Bible brings freedom. Yes, scripture is full of commands, but these commands bring freedom from guilt and present a solution for our heavy conscience. Read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Read the book of Romans or Acts. You will find God’s grace, his solution to a heavy conscience.
- It’s vital to be a part of a community of grace-filled people. People who correctly understand God’s love and grace. This is what God’s church should be all about. It should be a place where we come with our heavy consciences and meet God’s ultimate solutions to our guilt.
Please, don’t live with guilt. Read the Bible. Find a church that understands God’s truth, and find peace in living within his divine mercy.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16