Guilt. Chances are, you’ve felt it…and if you haven’t, chances are, you just might someday. It is a product of our sinfulness combined with that inner understanding that is built into all of us that says there is right and wrong…and when you do something that’s wrong, you know it. When we do something that goes against God’s laws, or even when something bad happens to us and we know it was wrong, we can tend to feel guilty. It might start out as conviction, which is actually a gift from God, to let us know that we need to repent so we can be restored to Him. However, if we simply hold on to the bad, yucky feelings, and let them sit, and ferment, and grow…the thing they turn into is guilt, which is not from the Lord.
The Lord convicts us of sin for our good, so we can say sorry, and turn away from it, and be made clean by His Spirit. And the moment we repent, God forgives us completely and doesn’t hold our sins against us any more. But guilt is when WE choose to hold onto our sinfulness, saying to ourselves that God’s forgiveness can’t possibly be enough to undo what we’ve done; can’t possibly be enough to make us clean again, and we replay our sinfulness over and over and over again, choosing to hold onto the weight of what happened instead of accepting God’s simple way out (repenting and being given new hearts). And often times, guilt is straight from the devil, who is always trying to keep us from a close friendship with God – which is exactly what guilt does.
Also, guilt comes from our own pride. Which is a funny thing, because at the same time that we are crushed by the weight of our incredible weaknesses, we can actually also still be holding onto pride; that part of us that thinks that what we’ve done is actually too big or too bad for God to fix. And there is that part of us that WANTS to feel bad for what we’ve done. We feel like we need to do some kind of self-punishment because just saying sorry doesn’t seem like enough…and honestly, we just want to have a pity-party. There’s something about feeling miserable that we actually really don’t want to give up. I know because I’ve been there. So often when I am feeling guilty or miserable, I can see the way out, but I am hesitant to take it because my flesh loves the pity of others, or just loves sitting and moping and recounting all the ways I’ve failed because it’s feeding my selfishness…and letting God remove it from me -and taking hold of the fact that He HAS removed it from me, in faith- means that I have to stop focusing on myself, and start getting out and praising God and serving others…and…smiling – even singing! Whew! What a chore! It’s so much easier just to sit and mope…or to wear a glum face around, hoping people ask you what’s wrong…so you have yet one more chance to accumulate pity for your always-hungry selfish nature.
Some of you may have been dealing with guilt for years, and you might even have convinced yourself that there’s nothing you can do about it…except maybe go through counseling or drown your sorrows in mind-numbing entertainment…or worse.
Guilt can be incredibly all-consuming, even to the point of making us ineffective in the Lord’s service, and causing us to retreat into our own little self-centered bubbles where we don’t have to see anyone else, or be asked to do anything.
Again…I know this because I’ve been there. I was raised in a Christian home, and I know that I had the Holy Spirit inside of me, showing me right and wrong. But those things didn’t keep me from sinning. I still had to make my own choices. And many, many times I chose wrong. One particular sin I kept committing over and over again. I would say sorry to the Lord…and then fall again…then say sorry…and fall again. It got to the point where I felt like I shouldn’t even bother saying sorry or asking for the Lord’s forgiveness any more because I was sure He was done with me, and my sins were just too much for Him. I walked around with an intense weight of guilt on my shoulders continually, because I knew that what I was doing was wrong…but I wanted to be free…kind-of…and I kept falling in the same ways over and over…and yet, I was seen as a “good Christian girl”. And the only thing I could think of was, “what would people think of me if they knew what I had done”! And now I know that my family and at least most, if not all of my friends, would actually have forgiven me and had so much grace toward me that I might have been shocked at how free I felt. But instead, the devil did a good job at keeping me locked up in my mind, and chained up by my own guilt, because I was always thinking about the fact that no one knew how much I had messed up…and in order to keep up my “good Christian girl” persona, I felt like they could never know. As years went by, the guilt kept me chained in lots of ways, because I felt like I couldn’t help anyone else until I had conquered this persistent sin in my own life…and so I shied away from many ministry opportunities or ideas I had, simply because I felt too guilty to be able to speak to anyone with authority about the Lord. Some weeks were better, and then I would have more confidence to do things…and then I would fall, and the waves of guilt would close in over my head again, and I would retreat into my own self-centered bubble. This just showed that my focus was on myself, and if I felt like I was doing enough good stuff to make up for the bad…and not on Christ’s finished and complete work on the cross, and That is such an easy place to end up; feeling like if we do enough good stuff, it kind of covers over the guilt, and maybe we can face God again…but as soon as we mess up, or if we aren’t able to do enough good to satisfy our own quota for what we feel is good enough, then the guilt washes right back in, and we can’t face God OR anyone else without shame.
There is only one thing that can stop this endless cycle of guilt. Curious? Well, King David is an excellent example. He sinned many times, one of the most notable times being when he murdered a man in order to take his wife for his own…and this was after already committing adultery with her. That’s pretty bad. Now, you’d think that after David had messed up so badly, God would give up on Him and find someone better to be king, right? Fortunately for us, God is not like us. God sent a prophet to confront David about his sin…and when David’s eyes were opened, and he saw how wicked he had been, he quickly humbled himself before the Lord and repented. Now, God had to judge David’s sin; there had to be consequences both to show David how very serious it was, and also because he was actually the King, and he was an example to all the people he ruled over of what was acceptable…and what he did was very much NOT something God wanted to be repeated by anyone else. David saw that his sin was very deep and needed to be scrubbed out of him by God, and Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance to the Lord after the prophet came to him and revealed his sin. Verses 16-17 say, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
This is the first step to being free from guilt:
1.) Humble yourself before the Lord, and acknowledge the full weight of your sins, and understand how much these things are not only destroying you (and even those around you), but also are hurtful to the Lord and go against the purity of who He is! Don’t try to sluff things off, or say, “It wasn’t so bad.” You must actually be broken before the Lord by the weight of your sin. God doesn’t want you to “sacrifice” to Him by doing more good things to try to make up for it. The sacrifice He desires from you is to actually just admit all that you have done wrong, and repent…and to actually BE sorry for it. So many times I said, “Please forgive me, Lord”, but I wasn’t actually sorry for what I had done…because, in all honesty, there was a part of it that I really liked. And it is like that with any sin – that is why we fall into sin: because the devil only tempts us with the things we like – that’s what makes them tempting! I liked my sin more than I wanted the holiness of God. The holiness of God takes work. My sin was easy.
2.) Verses 10-12 of Psalm 51 say, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
First, as these verses allude to, it can be true that, if we persist hard-heartedly in our sins, and refuse to repent, God will take away His Holy Spirit from us, and let us go our own way into the dark wilderness of sinfulness. It is a scary thing, and should cause us to not hesitate in humbling ourselves before the Lord. While you are still feeling conviction, there is still hope.
But the main point I wanted to make with these verses is that you must ask God for a new, clean heart and the desire and willingness to do what is right…and when you sincerely ask, He will do it!
3.) Verse 7 says, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” David doesn’t say, “Hopefully someday I’ll be able to get over what I did, and not feel so yucky about it.” He takes hold of the complete cleansing work of the Lord in faith, and says, “I SHALL be clean” and, “I SHALL be WHITER than snow”. Not just a little clean, and a little less dirty, but so thoroughly cleaned and made new that there isn’t any of the old sin remaining! And it has nothing to do with David’s righteousness or good works, but it has everything to do with the Lord Himself reaching in and scrubbing (…and scrubbing…and scrubbing some more) out all of the dirt of wickedness and sin from David’s heart; making it new and completely pure! That is the amazing thing about God: He will actually make our impure, sinful, gunked up hearts totally pure again if we let Him remove all of the sin!
And this step is so important, in that, we actually have to cling to this purity and newness of heart with all the strength we have! We have to hold on in faith and not let go. The devil will try to bring that guilt back to us and say, “Look how horrible you are! Look at what you did!” And you can say with confidence, “Yes, I did that, but God has given me a new heart and that stuff isn’t in it! He has removed my sin from me as far as the east is from the west. He has given me new desires, and those old sinful ones aren’t welcome any more – so I’m not even going to dwell on them in retrospect [looking back at the past].” And then, don’t even give those things a second thought, but move on to praise the Lord and to rejoice in Him for the way He has set you free and forgiven you!
God doesn’t just forgive a little – He always forgives completely!
And you don’t have to be held back by guilt any more – you too can be set free to help others and tell them about the Lord and what He has done for you; bearing much eternal fruit for His kingdom….like David said in Psalm 51:13, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” Praise God for His redeeming power! He uses even our struggles to bring forth good! And now you can have a greater love and understanding toward those who are also dealing with sin and the incredible weight that guilt puts on us.
“And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”