Is Guilt from God?
Dear Church Family,
I’ve been praying much for you this week. And by God’s grace, I’ve also seen some incredible answers to prayer, as well. We say it all the time, but it’s true: God is so good.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve had a number of conversations about guilt. Far more than usual. One man even informed me recently: “I haven’t been coming to church because I’ve felt so guilty over my sin.” Another confessed to me through tears, “I have felt like I couldn’t worship God because of what I’ve done.” For whatever reason, it seems that more people than ever are hampered by feelings of failure and shame. Well, in light of these candid exchanges, I thought I’d answer the question: Is guilt from God? A few thoughts:
1. The devil’s greatest weapon is guilt. When we sin (which we all do), the evil one wants us to be constantly wracked with despair and hopelessness, and then give up on our faith. There’s a reason he is called “the accuser of the brothers … who accuses them day and night” (Revelation 12:10). Because we all deal with the residue of indwelling sin, making it so that even our motives are imperfect, one of Satan’s most effective strategies is to discourage and confuse Christians into believing their particular offense is beyond God’s mercy. This is a lie from hell!
2. God uses guilt to bring unbelievers to Himself. Thus, guilt is not always bad. The gospel is only good news to those who have been broken by the burden of the law, and are consequently aware of their transgressions. To say it a bit more strongly: without guilt there will be no conversion. Nevertheless, true guilt is rare. Just like true conversions are rare. As one popular theologian argues: “What usually passes for guilt is in fact just more sin, because it is the bad feeling we have, not from our failure to trust God’s promises but from our failure to preserve our image as cool, self-sufficient [and self-righteous] people.” Guilt for those who are outside of Jesus is a good thing, and something we, as believers, should pray that God would inflict.
3. What the Holy Spirit impresses upon the believer is something different than guilt; the Bible refers to it as “godly grief” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Godly grief is the emotional realization that we have offended the God who loves us. This, however, does not lead to despair or spiritual apathy, but to repentance and joy. Whereas Guilt yells, “You are such a failure! Look at what you did! You dare not come near to God.” Godly Grief gently reminds, “Run to Jesus, the One who loves you, and bask in His mercy and forgiveness.”
So, what should you do if you have a nagging feeling that God is displeased with you: first, ask the Spirit to search your heart, and be quick to acknowledge any unconfessed sin that He reveals. While unconfessed sin doesn’t jeopardize our standing with God, it does adversely affect our relationship with Him. The regular confession of sin brings about what the Puritans described as the “renewal of fellowship” (Perkins) and the “experiential shining of God’s face” (Boston). Once forgiveness has been sought, then proceed with boldness before God, undeterred by past sin, and ignoring the devil’s subtle ploys.
After all, the Bible makes it clear that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). In other words, when Jesus died on the cross, He satisfied God’s full wrath so we could be brought to God, as blameless, righteous children. Never again would our sin be held against us. At the moment we, by faith, receive the benefits of Jesus’ cross-work on our behalf, God puts the ledgers away. Our account is once-for-all settled. Consequently, there’s no reason to entertain guilt. There’s no reason to give despair a home. Despite what the devil may try to convince us. As the old Brethren hymn-writer, Samuel Whitlock Gandy, consoled, “Well may the Accuser roar, of sins that I have done; I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none!”
With this confidence, you can let the joy of God’s salvation dwell in you richly. “And when Satan tempts you to despair, and tells you of the guilt within, [you need only] look upward and see Him there, who made an end to all your sin.”
Forever free from guilt,