When using the term guilt, people can mean one of two things: true guilt, or the guilty feelings that real or imagined guilt can produce.
True guilt, or sin, comes as a result of breaking God’s Law. When the sinner is unwilling to face the issue squarely in God’s way—in order to experience forgiveness—he or she suffers the consequences, both in this life and in eternity.
Feelings of guilt arise when our conscience tells us we have violated God’s standards, when we wrongly think we have done so, or when we simply fail to measure up to our own expectations or the standards other people set for us.
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden provide an example of both real guilt and guilt feelings. Their sin (disobedience) resulted in real guilt. Their relationship with God was broken and they knew it, so guilt feelings followed. They ran from God, trying to hide so that they would not have to face the consequences of their behavior. When God found them, they tried to deny their guilt, with Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent. They tried to “cover up” their sin by making fig-leaf aprons, but God asked, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11). By so doing He forced them to deal with their guilt feelings. Then, He dealt with their real guilt by killing an animal to make clothes for them, providing a “covering” or atonement for their sin (Genesis 3:21). In so doing He established the principle of sacrifice which would eventually lead to Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross.
Another illustration of dealing with real guilt is Nathan’s openly confronting David with his sins of adultery and murder, thus opening the way for his repentance and confession (2 Samuel 11:1–12:25; Psalm 51).
Guilt feelings are often associated with emotional illness stemming from negative experiences, many times in childhood. Even Christians who have the assurance that God has forgiven them and that they are His children continue to suffer from “false guilt.” Such people usually have a very low self-image, feelings of inadequacy (they can’t do anything right or can’t measure up), and suffer from depression. They cannot seem to find freedom from guilt even though they seek it, as in the case of Esau who “found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:17).
Guilt feelings will manifest themselves in various and complex ways:
• Deep depression from constant self-blame.
• Chronic fatigue and headaches, or other illnesses.
• Extreme self-denial and self-punishment.
• A feeling of being constantly watched and criticized by others.
• Constant criticism of others for their own sins and shortcomings.
• Because of defeatist attitudes, actually sinking deeper into sin in order to feel more guilty.
For the Non-Christian:
1. Offer hope to the inquirer by assuring that God can take care of any problem. God is able not only to forgive, but also to blot out any sin and guilt.
2. Do not excuse or minimize in any way the sins he or she reports. There is disobedience and sinful behavior in every human, which needs to be dealt with in God’s way; that is, it needs to be confessed and forgiven. We can never expect to find solutions to guilt if we try to cover up our sin: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
3. Ask the inquirer if he or she has ever received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Share the gospel – Christian Biblical Counsel: STEPS TO PEACE WITH GOD. Emphasize that freedom from guilt is included in Jesus’ death on the cross, but we must trust Him to cleanse us.
4. Encourage reading and studying the Bible, beginning with the gospels. Your New Life In Christ Bible Study
5. Recommend cultivating the habit of daily prayer. While praying, he or she can confess all present sins, asking for forgiveness and cleansing. He or she should practice thanking God for taking away the sin and guilt, remembering that God takes away all our sins.
6. Suggest finding a Bible-teaching church and identifying with it. Here he or she can fellowship regularly with God’s forgiven people, and hear and study God’s Word.
7. Pray with the inquirer personally for deliverance and heartfelt peace: “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14).
8. If your inquirer seems unable to respond immediately to your sharing Christ, and if he or she continues to struggle with guilt, encourage finding the pastor of a Bible-teaching church for further help. It may be that in time he or she will be able to respond. Stress that he or she should take the initiative in finding such a pastor.
For the Christian:
For the Christian who admits to recurring problems with guilt, proceed as follows:
1. Reassure him or her of God’s love and forgiveness. God can cleanse all our guilt! If God has forgiven the inquirer, he or she must practice self-forgiveness. A Christian has the right to claim with confidence the truth of 1 John 1:9. Christ, our Savior, removes all our sins—past, present, and future—through His finished work on the cross.
2. Encourage getting into the Bible, reading, studying, and reflecting at length on such passages as Psalm 103:1–6; Psalm 51; Isaiah 53; and John 18–19. Suggest writing down the references of these passages so that he or she can find them in the Bible. Relief from guilt will surely come as he or she appropriates Christ’s sacrifice and promised forgiveness and cleansing.
3. Suggest that the caller pray specifically and faithfully for a “conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16). He or she should continue praying until peace comes.
4. Recommend that he or she get in touch with a pastor for further help.
“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).
“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
“I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. . . . So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free” (Romans 7:18, 23–25, TLB).
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
“One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13 14).
The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook; World Wide Publications, 1984, 1996
Living Guilt Free
by June Hunt
Are you in an emotional battle because of guilt? Is your guilt a loving instrument of God used to convict, correct and conform your character when you go astray? Or do you battle feelings of shame and condemnation when guilt strikes a blow to your heart? True guilt is your friend, a godly companion who whispers truth and motivates you to repent and be free. But false guilt is a relentless foe. It is the enemy within that encourages not godly, but superficial sorrow that brings death!
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
(2 Corinthians 7:10)
The old Shakespearian line, “Et tu, Brute!” from Julius Caesar is an illustration of how your traitor can be cloaked in the robe of friendship. “You too, Brutus,” were Caesar’s dying words to his friend and ultimate traitor … the betraying friend, who thrust death’s final blow! All too often, guilt is the unseen enemy … an adversary to your God-given value and worth. When you are in bondage to feelings of guilt … learn to discern … are you facing a friend or fighting a foe?
|Are you feeling the godly conviction of sin,—or twisted emotions from enemies within?|
A. What Is True Guilt?
From earliest childhood, no one has escaped guilt. We experienced guilt when we stole a cookie or told a lie. The Old Testament Hebrew word asham, with its many derivatives, paints a three-dimensional picture of true guilt.
• The word guilt refers to the fact of being at fault, deserving punishment and requiring a sacrificial offering.
• True guilt is the result of sin.
• When we sin we are guilty, and a penalty must be paid for our sin so that fellowship with God can be restored.
After David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he repented and cried out to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4).
Old Testament Perspective of True Guilt
• True guilt is the result of sinning.
In the beginning God created male and female in His image … which means we are designed to reflect the character of God in all that we do. Guilt, therefore, accompanies any act that misrepresents the truth about who God is. Such acts are an affront to God and are seen by Him as sin.
“David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant.’ ” (2 Samuel 24:10)
• Guiltiness is the condition we are in when we sin.
Being guilty is a fact, not a feeling. We have all been guilty of being at fault. The Bible emphasizes with certainty that each of us is responsible for our behavior and ultimately accountable to God. Even today, if you unwittingly fail to reduce your driving speed through a school zone, you could be ticketed by a policeman who would probably state, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
“If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible.” (Leviticus 5:17)
• True guilt requires a sacrificial payment for violating God’s revealed will.
In the Old Testament, God required a special “guilt offering” when the laws of God, including the rights of other people, had been violated. After restitution was made to the offended or injured party, the blood from an unblemished lamb was poured out on the temple altar. This sacrificial lamb became the “guilt offering,” securing forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
“As a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the Lord, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the Lord, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.” (Leviticus 6:6–7)
New Testament Perspective of True Guilt
In the New Testament, the picture of true guilt is primarily judicial. Many Greek words translated as “guilt” and “guilty” carry legal implications and affirm personal responsibility. For example, the Greek word enochos means “to be guilty of sin and deserving of punishment.” We will each be held accountable for our guilt, whether in a legal courtroom on earth or the divine courtroom of God. As in the Old Testament, the New Testament points to the same threefold nature of true guilt.
“So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
• True guilt is the result of sinning.
“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:27)
• Guiltiness is the condition we are in when we sin.
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10)
• True guilt requires a sacrificial payment for violating God’s revealed will.
“We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
The Sacrificial Lamb of God … the only acceptable payment for our true guilt
The perfect lamb required in the Old Testament as a “guilt offering” for sin is merely a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, the sacrificial Lamb of God. Just as the lamb’s blood was poured on the temple altar to secure the forgiveness of God, the shed blood of Christ covers your personal sin and makes possible reconciliation with your heavenly Father. Have you seen your sin as God sees sin? Have you accepted Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf … trusting Him to be your personal guilt offering?
Passages from Isaiah 53:6–10
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.… He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.… Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.”
Q “How should I respond to true guilt?”
You experience true guilt when you recognize the fact that you have sinned. Note David’s honesty in Psalm 32:5: “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.… And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” How did God respond? With forgiveness. His response is the same for you. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful … He will always do what He says He will do. Not only has God forgiven you, He has also removed the sin from you.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)
B. What Is False Guilt?
False guilt is based on self-condemning feelings that you have not lived up to your own expectations or those of someone else.
• False guilt arises when you blame yourself, even though you’ve committed no wrong, or when you continue to blame yourself after you’ve confessed and turned from your sin.
• False guilt keeps you in bondage to three destructive weapons … shame, fear and anger.
• Ironically, confession does not resolve false guilt. Revelation 12:10 says that Satan is the “accuser of our brothers.” He loves to burden believers with false guilt and condemnation. Some of his favorite strategies are: bringing up the past, reminding you of your failures and making you feel unforgiven and unaccepted by God.
“The accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.”
Q “How can I overcome the guilt and shame I feel as a result of my husband’s blaming me for the abusive things he did to me? Did I really deserve his abuse … was it really my fault?”
Abusive people are notorious for blaming their actions on those whom they abuse. Blame shifting is a means of controlling others and breaking down any possibility of resistance. No one deserves abuse. And no one makes another person sin. Your husband alone is responsible for his actions. You are not to blame for what he chose to do. The shame belongs to him alone, not to you.
“No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.” (Psalm 25:3)
Many people think guilt and shame are the same, but this is not true.
• Shame is a painful emotion of disgrace caused by a strong sense of guilt.
• You experience shame when your guilt moves from knowing you have done something bad to feeling that you are bad.
• Shame focuses not on what you’ve done but on being ashamed of who you are.
• Feeling that you are basically defective causes the deepest sense of unworthiness and a constant fear of abandonment and rejection. Devastating emotional scars from shame often last a lifetime.
“If I am guilty—woe to me! Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction.”
Side Effects of Shame
• Shame creates an inner desire to maintain rigid control over your emotions and behavior.
• Shame creates inner loneliness that fosters unhealthy dependencies.
• Shame steals from you the joy of your salvation.
• Shame keeps you from seeking solitude.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
Fear and shame are kissing cousins. They stem from harsh, parental discipline and degrading attitudes in the home. Fears float around unnoticed as a by-product of false guilt. Whenever we feel the pain of shame, we also experience …
• Fear of Worthlessness
As a Child:
“I don’t really matter to anyone. I’m a bad person.”
As an Adult:
“Why try for that job? I won’t get it anyway.”
• Fear of Rejection
As a Child:
“If I let them know I care, they won’t play with me.”
As an Adult:
“Nobody really nice would ever want to marry me.”
• Fear of Punishment
As a Child:
“If I don’t please Mommy, she won’t speak to me.”
As an Adult:
“God is angry, and He is out to get me.”
• Fear of Isolation
As a Child:
“I’m not good or lovable like others.”
As an Adult:
“If people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me.”
“God is love.… 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 4:16, 18)
Fallout from Fear
If you live with the fear of rejection or loneliness or worthlessness, you will eventually develop a fear-based personality. This personality, buried deep in the roots of childhood shame, can stay with you for the rest of your life. You may wear the adult clothes of personal success, but deep down in your heart, the fear of being exposed as “needy” creates the desire to hide who you really are. This dishonesty undermines the likelihood of love and intimacy in close relationships.
“He [Adam] answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’ ”
• Difficulty expressing feelings
• Difficulty braving failure
• Difficulty taking criticism
• Difficulty facing conflict
• Difficulty accepting responsibility
• Difficulty making decisions
• Difficulty staying alone
• Difficulty feeling empathy
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
You may ask, “What does anger have to do with guilt?” Anger is the natural way of fighting guilty feelings. Guilt contacts your emotional antenna and sends out messages of shame. When you feel shame that you have done something wrong, the feared threat of rejection surfaces, and anger becomes the closest weapon for aiming at:
• The confronting person who exposes your fault—
“She criticizes me and makes me look foolish in front of my friends.”
• The significant person who sees your inadequacies and may reject you—
“Dad loves my brother more than he loves me because my brother does everything better than I do.”
• The hurting person (you) who longs for acceptance—
“I hate myself for being so inferior and not living up to the standards of others.”
“In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”
Acting Out Anger
Most people do not recognize the power that false guilt has in undermining relationships. Even less obvious is the role of anger in derailing relationships. Since anger is a threatening and dangerous emotion, we often try to camouflage it by being in control. The need to be in control as a result of hidden anger is where false guilt functions as the most manipulative and devious enemy.
• Taking control by becoming rebellious—
“If you don’t like the way I am, it’s just too bad.”
• Taking control by attacking—
“You said I wasn’t honest, but you are always criticizing me!”
• Taking control by shifting the blame—
“I couldn’t finish writing my paper because someone needed my help.”
• Taking control by suppressing true feelings—
“I never get angry at anyone. People can’t help what they do.”
• Taking control by confessing to everything—
“I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. Will you forgive me?”
(The motive is trying to relieve your guilt rather than desiring to change your behavior.)
“Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
Q “How should I respond to false guilt?”
The next time the viewing screen of your mind begins to replay your repented sins, realize that this taunting comes from Satan, the accuser, to discourage you. Ask yourself, “What am I hearing?” (Accusation.) “What am I feeling?” (Guilt.) “What are the facts?” (I am fully forgiven.) Use Scripture as your standard to determine true and false guilt. Since you have received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and since the Savior died to take away your sins, choose to focus on God’s truth. Turn Romans 8:1 into a prayer: “Thank You, Father, that You don’t condemn me and don’t want me to condemn myself. These feelings of false guilt are not valid because I have accepted Christ’s sacrifice and have turned from my sin.”
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
In contrast to Satan’s condemning accusations, the Holy Spirit never condemns true Christians. Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” As a conscientious Father, God sometimes allows you to experience the consequences of your sin as an encouragement to change. But He will also produce in your heart a desire to do His will. (Read Hebrews 12:4–11.)
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
A. The Enemy Discovered
Meet two kinds of guilt: One is a friend who speaks truth, gently leading you to repentance and forgiveness. The other is a secret conspirator who taunts and condemns, bringing dishonor and inner shame. False guilt arises when you blame yourself even though you’ve committed no wrong or when you continue to blame yourself after you have confessed and turned from your sin.
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
(1 Peter 5:8)
|True Guilt||False Guilt|
|“When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”(John 16:13)
|“For the accuser of our brothers [Satan], who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.”(Revelation 12:10)
|• Based on Fact||• Based on Feelings|
|“I was wrong to take paper and other office supplies home for my personal use. This is actually stealing.”||“I feel horrible … because I am horrible for wanting something that isn’t mine, much less thinking about taking it. How could I sink so low as to even consider using work supplies at home!”|
|• Results in a Godly Sorrow over Sin||• Results in a Worldly Fear of Consequences|
|“My failure to be honest makes me aware of how much I don’t reflect the character of Christ. Dear God, I want to change. I am heartsick over bringing shame to my Savior.”||“I should have worked all weekend to make up for slacking off all week. Now my employer may decide to fire me. If only I’d accomplished more, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. What am I going to tell my wife if I lose my job? How am I going to pay my bills?”|
|• Brings Conviction from the Holy Spirit||• Brings Condemnation from Satan|
|“I now see that my attitude was wrong in assuming that the company owed me what I took.”||“I am a terrible person for feeling anger at my employer.”|
|• Results in Repentance||• Results in Depression|
|“I want to be a person of integrity. I will make restitution at work and pray for the Lord’s strength to change my dishonest habits.”||“I might as well give up! I’ll never be the kind of person I should be. I’m just no good, and nothing will change that. I’m truly hopeless.”|
|• Accepts Forgiveness||• Abides in Self-pity|
|“I am thankful that I have a heavenly Father who will always forgive me, no matter what I have done.”||“I’m always trying to do my best, but I just don’t have all the advantages that others have. If I had a better paying job, I wouldn’t have to resort to taking things.”|
|• Appropriates Christ’s Finished Work||• Achieves Many Personal Good Works|
|“Only by relying on Jesus Christ to meet my needs and His redeeming work within me will I be able to be the person I was created to be.”||“The more I do for the church and others, the better I feel about myself and the more others will respect me.”|
|• Brings Reconciliation with God and Others||• Brings Alienation from God and Others|
|“Knowing that God always loves me allows me to be more loving and forgiving of others.”||“God could never love me. If I let others get too close and see what I am really like, they will reject me. I can’t count on anyone except myself.”|
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Q “If I am supposed to feel guilty when I sin, why do I feel happy when I am sinning?”
Scripture does not say that sin is unpleasant. The attraction and lure of sin is that it indeed promises happiness. But the Bible warns, although there is pleasure in sin, the pleasure lasts only for a season.
“The mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.” (Job 20:5)
B. The Enemy Disguised
Enemies rarely allow themselves to be seen for who they really are until truth begins to unveil their suspicious traits and tendencies. Because false guilt can survive unnoticed for a lifetime, few people suspect it as the real culprit that sabotages relationships and destroys intimacy. Though they may not be aware of it, certain people in the deepest part of their being, function on the basis of unrecognized, unacknowledged core beliefs.
Consider the following behaviors, which may be clues to your own unresolved feelings of guilt
• The Loner
“I fear I will be rejected if people really get to know me.”
• The Critic
“I focus on the faults of others to avoid looking at myself.”
• The Perfectionist
“In order to receive approval/acceptance from others, I must not make mistakes.”
• The Workaholic
“By staying busy and productive, I avoid having to take a deeper look at my real feelings.”
• The Benefactor
“Giving many gifts and doing things for others is the only way I can show love.”
• The Penny Pincher
“I would never waste money on frivolous things like vacations, new clothes or nice places to eat.”
• The Martyr
“How can I accept a compliment? Others will think I’m prideful.”
• The Worrier
“I avoid dealing with the real sin in my life by worrying about less important things.”
• The Iceberg
“I can’t seem to respond in sexual intimacy because down deep I really feel that sex is dirty.”
• The Apologist
“If I always apologize, people will not get angry at me.”
• The Defendant
“My strongest defense (protection) is a good offense.”
• The Confessor
“If I admit guilt for everything, I can subtly deny guilt for anything.”
• The Legalist
“God will surely forgive me for all my faults if I give myself to serving Him.”
• The Melancholy
“Rather than working through my feelings of guilt, I would rather be depressed.”
Most of us have a hard time recognizing the blind spots and seeing ourselves in one of these “personalities.” If you sincerely desire to know the truth about yourself, confront your inner enemies and be “set free.” You might ask friends if they recognize any of these characteristics in you. Restrain your natural defenses and listen for God to speak the truth to you. His voice will be loving and gentle, communicating hope and encouragement.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
(1 John 1:8–9)
Q “How can I know which sins are deeply buried if I’m not even aware of the truth?”
Trust God. He knows the hidden places of your heart and will reveal them to the sincere seeker of truth.
“If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?” (Psalm 44:20–21)
C. The Enemy Diagnosed
Both true guilt and false guilt need to be appropriately dealt with. If you have difficulty seeing the power of underlying guilt in your personal behavior, consider some of the physical symptoms that can also be the result of hidden, unresolved guilt.
|• muscle tension||• anxiety|
|• easily fatigued||• inability to relax|
|• overweight||• ulcers|
|• sleeplessness||• sexual impotency|
|• headaches||• phobias|
|• high blood pressure||• depression|
“Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure? Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you.”
Q “How can I know whether my health problems are merely physiological or consequences of spiritual sin?”
Get a thorough medical examination. If the doctor does not find a physiological cause, consider the possibility of a spiritual cause. Then take a spiritual examination. Ask yourself, “Is there any unconfessed sin in my life?” If so, then confess it and turn from it. Realize that the Lord can use guilt in your life—good guilt—to bring you into the light of His truth.
“You were wearied by all your ways, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint.” (Isaiah 57:10)
III. causes of guilt
Guilt, more than any other emotion, can grab your heart and squeeze it with a death grip. You feel true guilt when you face yourself squarely in the mirror in order to discover the real sins and hidden faults for which you are accountable to God. Yet interestingly, you can feel guilty when you are not guilty. This feeling is called false guilt. Just because you feel guilty does not mean you have disobeyed God or broken His moral laws. The following questions about guilt are real questions from real people. May the answers give you insight for correctly discerning the true from the false.
“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.”
A. Awareness of True Guilt
True guilt is valuable because God will use it to persuade you to change your negatives into positives. Guilt is an uncomfortable inner awareness that says, I have done something wrong. This convicting but non-condemning inner voice comes from two sources, a natural God-given conscience and the Spirit of God.
Q “I saw a friend steal something, and the next day I reported it. How can I not feel guilty for betraying my friend?”
Consider this: Who is the one that is truly guilty? Your “friend” is the one who needs to feel true guilt. Recognize that you are feeling false guilt. Any weak person can keep silent after witnessing a theft, but it takes a strong person—a real friend of conscience—to speak up. Although you may not see it now, if your friend experiences a painful repercussion, you may have saved your friend from a lifestyle of stealing.
“A truthful witness saves lives.” (Proverbs 14:25)
Source #1 … A God-given conscience that gives everyone a sense of both right and wrong
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
• A Cognitive Conscience
—A properly trained conscience that knows the will of God
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
• A Convicting Conscience
—A dependable conscience that approves the good and condemns the bad
“Since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” (Romans 2:15)
• A Cleansed Conscience
—A purified conscience that has gained the freedom to serve God
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14)
• A Clear Conscience
—A confident conscience that can withstand assaults from the enemy
“Keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:16)
• A Corrupt Conscience
—An impure conscience that has not been trained properly or is altered by the dictates of social opinions
“To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” (Titus 1:15)
• A Calloused Conscience
—A seared conscience that has become insensitive to the Holy Spirit by persistent involvement in sin
“Such teachings comes through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (1 Timothy 4:2)
Q “What is a seared conscience?”
A conscience that is dead—insensitive to the prodding of the Holy Spirit because of willful and repeated violations of God’s expressed will.
“They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” (Titus 1:16)
Source #2 … The Holy Spirit whom God has placed in the world to convict those who violate God’s moral laws
“When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”
• The Holy Spirit is a gift from God.
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ ” (Acts 2:38)
• The Holy Spirit makes His home in your heart.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
• The Holy Spirit communicates God’s love for you.
“Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5)
• The Holy Spirit writes God’s laws on your heart.
“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: ‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’ ” (Hebrews 10:15–16)
• The Holy Spirit helps you understand the thoughts of God.
“For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11)
• The Holy Spirit teaches and reminds you of all things.
“The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
• The Holy Spirit confirms your conscience.
“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 9:1)
• The Holy Spirit brings conviction to your heart.
“Because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
• The Holy Spirit fills you with hope!
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
• The Holy Spirit gives you the power to obey God.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Q “What happens when I disobey the prompting of the Holy Spirit?”
To disobey the prompting of the Holy Spirit is to reject the Holy Spirit. To reject the Holy Spirit is to reject God.
“He who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 4:8)
B. Development of False Guilt
The beginnings of false guilt go back to early childhood. If you heard repeated messages that said you were “naughty” or “bad,” your heart began to whisper, “Shame on you!” Your feelings then lead you to believe …
• “Love is based on my performance.”
• “My performance does not live up to the expectations of others.”
• “I’m in danger of rejection and abandonment!”
Growing up hearing an inner voice saying Shame on you! causes many of us to establish negative inner attitudes about ourselves. Unknown to us, we develop unhealthy patterns of relating to others that stay with us even through adulthood. As these patterns develop, true guilt over an action that hurts another (real sorrow over our sin) is immediately transferred over to false guilt (fear of rejection from others).
“I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.”
Source #1 … Development of Self-Effort
God has given us three basic inner needs, which He uses to lead us to the realization that ultimately He is the only One who can meet all our needs. All of us emerge from childhood with different defects, but when the heart is unmercifully controlled by shame, God-given inner needs are persistently met by self-effort.
• The need for love is met by pleasing others.
• The need for significance is met by perfect performance.
• The need for security is met by emotional dependencies.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Source #2 … Development of Wrong Beliefs
The root cause of false guilt is based on inaccurate feelings that have taken control of your thought process. These thinking patterns, and ultimately your major belief system, damage your concept of God and camouflage your need for a Savior.
“I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction.”
“I don’t feel God’s love, and the only way I can have any sense of value and worth is to be loved, accepted and admired by another person.”
The only way to receive God’s fulfilling love is to recognize my inner needs and look to Him for love, for acceptance and for meaning in life.”
“Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11)
C. Rules or Relationship?
Do you walk around with a master list of forbidden things in your mind? What does your list include? Many of us have a distorted perception of God. We see Him as a God of wrath, waiting to punish us when we step out of line or break the rules! If we see God as the “Great Punisher,” our relationship with Him becomes one of fear and guilt rather than one of love and trust. If your faith produces guilt rather than reduces guilt, you have a legalistic relationship with God. The more you know the true character of God, the less guilt you will experience in relation to your own sin. Love, grace, mercy and forgiveness are some of the characteristics of God. He is the One who provides cleansing of all our guilt through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
RULES-RELATED FALSE GUILT
I feel guilty when …
• I fail to take opportunities to witness.
• I waste time on the computer.
• I cannot quit a bad habit.
• I think about sexual things.
• I spend money on things for myself.
• I lose self-control and get angry.
• I dwell on past mistakes.
• I want to do things my way instead of God’s way.
• I take unnecessary time off from work.
• I say “no” when I’m asked to take a responsibility at church.
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”
IV. STEPS TO SOLUTION
Spiritual brokenness does not destroy value—it increases value. A wild horse whose will is not broken is not really valuable. The broken horse becomes more and more valuable as he becomes trained and easily turns with the slightest tug on the reins. God shows His delight in a heart broken over sin and a will that is broken and yielded to the Savior.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
A. Key Verse to Memorize
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
B. Key Passage to Read and Reread
Christ The Guilt Offering
|• Sacrifices made under the Old Testament law were only a picture of the perfect sacrifice that was to come.||vv. 1–4|
|• The death of Christ becomes the perfect and complete sacrifice, replacing the old way and establishing the new order for obedience to God’s will.||vv. 5–18|
|• Only through identification in Christ, his death and resurrection, can we confidently stand before God, purified and cleansed of the guilt of all sin.||vv. 19–23|
C. Respond to the Voice of the Holy Spirit
Q “How can I know if the inner voice I’m hearing is God’s loving conviction of sin or Satan’s false accusations?”
Be willing to search out your motives for the behavior that produced the guilt, and then learn to recognize what is truly from the Holy Spirit.
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ” (Isaiah 30:21)
• True Guilt speaks with conviction, reminding you that we are all guilty of sin.
False Accusation: “I feel like a failure and not as worthy as others.”
• True Guilt is concerned about developing your inner character.
False Accusation: “I worry about how I am looking in the eyes of others.”
• True Guilt communicates God’s love and encouragement.
False Accusation: “I feel humiliated when I do something wrong.”
• True Guilt does not make excuses for itself.
False Accusation: “I feel I can’t be healed … that I’m a victim of my past.”
• True Guilt allows for failure.
False Accusation: “I feel like I’ll never measure up because of my repeated failures.”
• True Guilt encourages your real feelings to surface.
False Accusation: “I feel I must never become angry.”
• True Guilt lovingly shows you the feelings of another.
False Accusation: “I feel like I’m insensitive to the hurt and pain of others.”
• True Guilt is accompanied by a desire to change.
False Accusation: “I feel like there is no hope for me.”
• True Guilt lifts your spirit and brings joy when you commune with God.
False Accusation: “I feel like God doesn’t hear my prayers.”
• True Guilt is optimistic about the future.
False Accusation: “I feel that something bad is sure to happen to me in the future.”
“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”
D. Recognize the Voice of Your Enemy
The Bible says that Satan loves to disguise himself by masquerading as a spokesman for God. Brutally accusing and condemning those with a sensitive conscience, he uses undeserved guilt as his most powerful weapon. Satan tenaciously incriminates committed Christians, using guilt and fear to generate severe spiritual discouragement. Learn to discern the lies of Satan. He often communicates with a subtle use of unreasonable “should’s.”
• “You should be smarter and more capable.”
• “You should be able to get over your loss much more quickly.”
• “You should have been more careful and conscientious.”
• “You should do more for the poor people around you.”
• “You should endure hardship and pain with dignity.”
• “You should never display anger or disappointment.”
• “You should never let anyone know your real feelings.”
• “You should never cry or show weakness.”
• “You should never tell your pastor no.”
• “You should be the perfect friend, mate, parent or employee.”
“The accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.”
E. Resolve to Forgive Yourself
Although some sins bring greater consequences than others, God’s viewpoint is that sin is sin. His forgiveness covers all sins, yet some of us place ourselves above God and become unwilling to forgive ourselves. Nowhere in the Bible does God say He forgives all our sins except …! If you choose to have a self-focused, unforgiving heart, you will struggle with …
• Uncertainty about where you stand before God
• Undesired compulsive behavior
• Unspiritual false humility
• Undeserved self-deprivation
• Unawareness of God’s priorities for you
• Undervalued sense of your usefulness to God
“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.”
(1 John 3:21)
Many Christians who know that God has forgiven them still feel weighted down with self-condemnation. These tormented hearts must rebuke the lies of Satan and remind him, “I am under the blood of Christ!”
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
(1 John 4:1)
If self-condemnation is your burden, memorize the following passages of Scriptures. God’s Spirit can succeed where you have failed.
|1 John 1:9||“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”|
|Hebrews 8:12||“I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”|
|Isaiah 1:18||“ ‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’ ”|
|Romans 8:1||“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”|
|1 John 1:7||“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”|
|Romans 5:1||“Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”|
|Romans 8:33–34||“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”|
|Matthew 6:14–15||“If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”|
|Philippians 3:13–14||“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. 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.”|
F. Fellowship with Your Friend
Do you remember falling down and scraping your knee as a child? Did you run to your mother for her to pick you up and kiss the hurt away? Miraculously, it always worked! You felt good again and ran back out to play. The same is true when we take our bruised and broken lives to God: He forgives and forgets! It always works! And when we trust Him … He takes away all the guilt!
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
You Are Forgiven
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ ”
Find the source of your guilt
• Examine why you are feeling guilty.
• Determine if your guilt is true or false.
• Use Scripture as the only standard for determining true guilt.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
Own responsibility for your sin
• Agree with God that you are guilty of sinning.
• Ask God to reveal your own personal sin patterns.
• Make restitution to those whom you have sinned against.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Realize that God means what He says
• Thank God for the gift of His Son, who paid for your forgiveness.
• Thank God for His unending forgiveness, even if you don’t feel forgiven.
• Choose to believe what God says.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7–8)
Give up dwelling on the past
• Give up holding on to past pain.
• Give up self-condemnation.
• Give up refusing to forgive others.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” (Isaiah 43:18)
Invest time in renewing your mind
• Memorize Scripture that reinforces God’s forgiveness.
• Remember that “in Christ you are a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
• Learn to see yourself as a valuable child of God.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds.” (Ephesians 4:22–23)
Verify truth when Satan accuses
• Learn to discern the difference between the Holy Spirit’s voice and that of Satan.
• Answer Satan’s accusations with truth from Scripture.
• Verbalize a personal prayer receiving God’s forgiveness.
“ ‘No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 54:17)
Exchange your life for the life of Christ
• Understand that you cannot live the Christian life in your own strength.
• Allow Christ to transform you and live out His character through you.
• Continue to nurture the Holy Spirit’s presence through personal prayer and Bible study.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Notice that God brings your feelings in line with the facts when you obey Him
• Know God as a God of second chances!
• Know that your feelings won’t change immediately.
• Know that feelings usually follow thinking.
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)
“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
|Heavenly Father, Help me lay aside all my feelings of self-condemnation and false guilt. Please give me discernment to know when I am responding to the cruel lies of the world instead of resting on the fact of Your Word. I also ask you to soften my heart to make me sensitive to the convicting touch of Your Holy Spirit. Thank You, Father.… I will accept Your complete love and everlasting forgiveness. In the name of Your wonderful Son. Amen|
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