Guilty feelings can lead you to futility and gloom or positive change. God offers you a new beginning.
[Gary] I remember an incident from our eldest daughter’s early grade school years. You know, she was at that age where she was developing concepts of right and wrong. A group of her friends were visiting and one of them had climbed into a cupboard and taken some candy.
So, I gathered all the children and asked who had taken the candy, and each child firmly denied taking it. When I came to my daughter, of course she denied taking it, and then she became very serious and said well, “Maybe I did take it but I just don’t remember.”
Well, my wife and I knew who had taken the candy and it wasn’t our daughter. Later, we took the opportunity to explain to our daughter that although we admired her desire to be honest, she should feel guilty only when she had actually done something wrong.
What is guilt? How do we deal with overwhelming feelings of guilt? What happens when you disobey God and have to deal with actual guilt? Some people are destroyed by feelings of guilt, others feel no guilt at all no matter what they do. Well today, we’re going to show you from the Bible how God wants to take you from guilt to glory and answer the question, “Will God Forgive You?”
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[Gary] What is guilt?
Well simply stated, guilt is having disobeyed a law or moral precept. If a person is caught stealing he is brought before a judge and declared guilty in accordance with the law. The law then requires a penalty or compensation.
Well, we’re going to come back to talk about guilt in a few minutes, but first I want to talk about the emotions of “feeling guilty.” Feeling guilty is a condition of anxiety and stress experienced because of the breaking of a, or sometimes it’s perceived breaking, of a law or moral precept.
Guilty feelings can lead you to taking personal responsibility and accountability and positive change. Now, guilty feelings can also lead you to hopelessness and despair.
Let’s look at three kinds of feelings associated with guilt. Then we’ll take a look at what is real guilt and how to deal with feeling guilty.
1. The first kind of guilt I want to talk about it shamelessness.
Shamelessness is when a person’s conscience has been so scarred that he or she feels little or no remorse for actions or thoughts, no matter how destructive those actions and thoughts are. People like this feel no responsibility to others or to the law.
Now shamelessness is the basis for so many television reality shows. It’s the attraction of the scandalous stories of celebrities or politicians who are caught cheating on their spouses or stealing funds. We marvel at how many people just seem to have no sense of guilt.
Now, on the other hand, most people do feel guilty about some things they’ve done. Now what we feel guilty about is developed in us at a very early age.
This leads us to the second kind of guilt.
2. Feelings of guilt learned from society or family.
Now, guilty feelings based in society or family norms can be very good or they can be negative.
Have you ever felt guilty because you didn’t do as good as someone else—maybe a sister—on a test, or aren’t as talented as a co-worker, even though you are doing your best?
You know, as a pastor I’ve counseled many people who suffer from overwhelming feelings of guilt.
Feelings of guilt because he pursued his dreams and went to college instead of staying home on the farm and helping the family.
Or because she didn’t marry the person “everybody” else wanted her to marry.
Or because of a mistake made many years ago that the person just can’t forget, even to the point that the person feels that God will not forgive him.
We can feel guilty because we don’t say no to a salesman. Have you ever felt that way? I mean you don’t want to hurt someone’s feeling, right?
People can actually feel guilty because our friends are participating in something we believe is wrong. I mean teenagers do this all the time. They can feel guilty because they don’t want to lose friends if they don’t smoke weed, and then they feel guilty if they do because they know it’s wrong.
This sense of guilt is based in an internal conflict of values. And you will never learn how to deal with guilt until you understand your core values. These core values must be based in the standards established by God.
Guilty emotions are manipulated by advertisers just to get us to buy products. Some people can be made to feel guilty because an actor in a white smock implies that they are inadequate because they don’t buy a particular brand of athletic shoes, or toilet bowl cleanser or toothpaste.
The kind of guilt caused by society, peer pressure and parental teachings can be constructive in creating social norms. It can also be destructive in creating emotional turmoil that has really nothing to do with universal, moral precepts.
Now, this brings us to our third kind of guilt feelings:
3. Guilt based on breaking a law or standard established by God.
Now, when we are truly aware of the greatness and goodness of God, we also become acutely aware of our own weaknesses and lack of goodness.
The gospel, the good news, is only meaningful when we become intensely conscious of the bad news. The bad news has to do with us and our guilt. Our Creator has moral laws and standards that reflect His nature. When you and I break those laws and standards, we are guilty before Him.
It is a literal state of guilt, established by the laws of God and declared by the Lawgiver Himself.
And you will never find the remedy for your spiritual longing or even understand the profound meaning of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ until you accept your actual guilt before the moral laws and standards of the Creator.
Yes, the acceptance of this guilt produces guilty feelings. But these guilty feelings should lead us to certain actions, by motivating us to acknowledge our absolute state of guilt before God’s laws. And by causing us to accept our worthlessness without God. And then by leading us to ask for Christ’s sacrifice to be applied to our guilt.
A wonderful example of guilt producing positive action is found in Psalm 32.
In verse 1, King David writes, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalms 32:1 Psalms 32:1Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
American King James Version×).
Now understand, David at this point is experiencing, a profound feeling, an intellectual understanding that he has been forgiven. His sins covered, in other words, it’s gone. He can’t see it anymore. And he’s blessed, blessed by God.
He goes on to say, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalms 32:2 Psalms 32:2Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
American King James Version×).
You know, David had to realize that he had to stop deceiving himself. He had to face his guilt that it was real, and that God declared him guilty. Now, before he experienced this blessing of forgiveness, he experienced something else.
He says, “When I kept silent…”—you know, before he confessed his sin to God—” …my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (Psalms 32:3-4 Psalms 32:3-4 3 When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.
American King James Version×).
He said it felt like God’s hand was just on him like a hundred pounds, just driving him into the ground. But then he goes on and he says this. Listen to this because this is what you need.
David said, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalms 32:5 Psalms 32:5I acknowledge my sin to you, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.
American King James Version×).
Like David, by accepting your actual guilt before God’s standards and confessing your guilt to God, you can experience the same kind of profound forgiveness. And God’s forgiveness means that you are no longer in a state of guilt and can participate in a unified loving relationship with Him. You can then experience the freedom of a guiltless conscience.
In this relationship, God teaches us the reality of good and evil through the standards of His law. We are motivated to stop doing the actions that made us guilty in the first place. This produces real change in our lives.
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We’ve been discussing how the emotional state of feeling guilty can produce positive or negative effects in your life.
Now, let’s look at two examples that can help us understand the concept of feeling guilty.
The first one is in Matthew 26.
It is the night when Jesus was taken to be beaten and put on trial. Now Jesus had already told Peter, one of His disciples, that he would deny Him. Peter is waiting outside in the compound where Jesus is facing His accusers.
Now let’s pick up this story: “Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, ‘You also were with Jesus of Galilee.’ But…”—notice this—Peter “denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you are saying.’ And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, ‘This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ But again [Peter] denied with an oath, ‘I do not know the Man!’ And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, ‘Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.’” So you see he had a little bit of a Galilean accent.
“Then he began to curse and swear, saying, ‘I do not know the Man!’ [And] Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’” And it says, “So he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:69-75 Matthew 26:69-75 69 Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came to him, saying, You also were with Jesus of Galilee.
70 But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what you say.
71 And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said to them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.
72 And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.
73 And after a while came to him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely you also are one of them; for your speech denudes you.
74 Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said to him, Before the cock crow, you shall deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.
American King James Version×).
Peter was guilt ridden. And Peter’s guilt ridden reaction to his denial of Jesus led him to repentance and to, just not too much longer after that—a few weeks—receiving God’s Holy Spirit. A few weeks after these events, we find Peter standing in the temple fearlessly, not “denying” but preaching Jesus, as the prophesied Messiah.
What a change in a man! Because he repented of his guilt and he asked for God’s forgiveness. And just like David, he experienced that forgiveness from God.
Our second example is found here in Matthew 27—right into the next chapter. And this actually is describing a time just a few hours after Peter’s denial.
Here’s what it says in verse 1:”When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor. [And] Then Judas,”—now remember Judas was one of the disciples, the one who had actually betrayed Jesus to these leaders.
It says, “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’” Obviously Judas did not realize they would end up condemning Him and put Him to death, and he’s horrified at what he’s done and he comes back and he tries to give back the silver. He tries now to undo what he has done.
“And they said, ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’ [He then] threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed,” And it says in the Bible, “and [he] went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:3-5 Matthew 27:3-5 3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see you to that.
5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
American King James Version×).
Judas’ guilt, creating the emotions of “feeling” guilty, led to self-destruction. He did not repent before God. He destroyed himself.
Now, is your response to being found guilty before God—which all of us do and both of these men did—is your response like Peter or like Judas?
If we don’t properly deal with the reality of our guilt, we will tailspin into self destruction. Then, ultimately, we find ourselves spiritually cut off from God and facing His judgment. But, through confession, repentance, we can receive forgiveness and you’ll find hope for eternity.
Now I mentioned the judgment of God—sounds harsh. It’s not a popular message.
Some theologians try to discount God’s judgment with the teaching of “irresistible grace.” This is the belief that once God forgives a person, no future actions matter.
Did you know that that is not what the Bible teaches? The Bible actually teaches that it is possible for a Christian to remove himself or herself from God’s grace!
Let’s look at what the New Testament book of Hebrews says about this.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-27 Hebrews 10:26-27 26 For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
American King James Version×, NIV).
Now realize, the writer of the book of Hebrews is not writing to pagans. He is writing to Christians. He goes on, he says: “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Hebrews 10:28 Hebrews 10:28He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
American King James Version×). In the Old Testament if someone committed a sin, they were brought before the elders and the Levites of the land and on the testimony of two or three witnesses, they could be stoned.
Now the writers of Hebrews goes on, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29 Hebrews 10:29Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite to the Spirit of grace?
American King James Version×).
You know, these verses should give all Christians a pause. They do to me from time to time.
Now remember, if a Christian breaks one of God’s instructions, and finds himself guilty before the Great Judge, he can still receive forgiveness and a renewed relationship with God through repentance. This is the wonderful gift of grace.
But, to cheapen God’s grace by willfully disobeying God’s laws after He has shown you the light of His grace, it is to return to a state of guilt and condemnation. It is to insult the Spirit of grace!
How horrible is it to overtly “trample under foot” the blood of Jesus Christ as our Savior?
The opposite of this kind of shamelessness is to refuse God’s forgiveness by being obsessed with guilty feelings over past mistakes.
God is offering us—He’s offering you, He’s offering me—forgiveness and love. When we overburden ourselves with feelings of guilt over the past, we deny, we even reject God’s offer! If we allow guilt to eat at us, it can create a barrier between you and God.
God, our Father, the Creator, the Supreme Being of the Universe is offering you forgiveness and freedom from guilt! Now think about this—who are we to hold on to what God has let go?
I mean, think about it. To hang on to our sins when God is offering forgiveness, it is just the ultimate human arrogance.
God wants to take you from guilt to glory! When we repent of our sins by accepting the death of Jesus Christ as the substitute penalty for our guilt, we are in the mind of God completely forgiven. The burden of guilt can then be lifted from our minds.
And you know what? This is only the first step in what God wants to do in your life. He wants to renew your conscience. He wants to strip you of hurtful, wrong feelings of guilt and give you a conscience that is actually sensitive to His ways. A conscience that, yes, is going to suffer guilty feelings when you have gone against His ways. And these feelings then motivate you to return to your Father and repent. And the result is a restored relationship with God as your Father and Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master.
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We’ve been discussing what it means to be declared guilty by God and how He offers us forgiveness. We’ve been joined by fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers.
You know, over the years all three of us have counseled a lot of people who suffer with guilt. Now as a pastor, how do you help somebody who comes to you and is just suffering with a burden of guilt?
[Darris] That, Gary, is one of the hardest things to work with and it’s one of the most common.
[Gary] When it pulls us to God it’s good.
[Darris] That’s good, but if we can’t then jettison it from out life it becomes baggage that really begins to weight us down. Guilt is not good. That is a mantra that one must understand ultimately in their life.
[Steve] One of the challenges, I think, is when you do have guilt in your life and you’re burdened down, what do you do with it? You know, it can take you down the wrong path and just tear you down.
But, 2 Corinthians 7 talks about the fact there’s a good guilt, or a godly sorrow is the way it puts it in 2 Corinthians 7, that can motivate us to have a zeal for God, that can help clear us, that can vindicate us if it moves us to repentance—to change the way we think (2 Corinthians 7:8-13 2 Corinthians 7:8-13 8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same letter has made you sorry, though it were but for a season.
9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that you sorrowed to repentance: for you were made sorry after a godly manner, that you might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death.
11 For behold this selfsame thing, that you sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it worked in you, yes, what clearing of yourselves, yes, what indignation, yes, what fear, yes, what vehement desire, yes, what zeal, yes, what revenge! In all things you have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
12 Why, though I wrote to you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you.
13 Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yes, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all.
American King James Version×). Ask God for His forgiveness and then reestablish a right relationship with Him. And so guilt can be good. So if we can help people to understand, “I have got to change my thinking, I have got to change my way of life and go God’s way,” that guilt can be a good thing.
[Gary] I think what we realize that is guilt is an actual state. There’s actual laws, there’s actual standards.
[Gary] We can be forgiven of that and then restored and stop doing the behavior.
[Darris] And part of removing that guilt is coming to understand that there is a state of guilt, but that it is removed by Christ’s sacrifice and we don’t have to carry it around anymore.
[Gary] So what do we do when somebody comes—and we’ve all heard this too—”I know God forgives me but I just can’t forgive myself.” How do we deal with that?
[Darris] You know, forgiving ourselves is an important part of the process and if we can’t, it’s usually a sign that we are too much absorbed by our own self. It is not about us. It is only to the degree that we acknowledge our sin, our guilt, but then when we understand Christ’s sacrifice and the grace through that relationship with Christ and the Father, then it transfers to Them and becomes about God and His mercy and forgiveness. And then we get our mind off of our self and on to God and a relationship with Him.
[Steve] Yeah, that relationship is such an important thing because of the fact that sometimes we think God is ready to get us, and we feel even more guilty with that type of a situation. And, it reminded me of Psalms 86:5 Psalms 86:5For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy to all them that call on you.
American King James Version×where it talks about the fact that God is good, but not only good, He is ready to forgive. And sometimes we are hesitant to really take that to heart—that God is ready to forgive us and able to forgive us. So, that should help us to turn that much more quickly when we have those feelings of guilt to Him.
[Gary] Isn’t it amazing that when you allow God to take the guilt off of you, you realize I am guilty. Now He erases the sin. I am going to try to obey. You actually become free to love others. You become free to be outward instead of, like you said, obsessed.
[Darris] Again, you begin to get your mind off of yourself, on to God and on to other people, in a right way that helps us then to have a healthy balanced approach to life.
[Gary] How could people though do the opposite? They take this grace of God and use it as a license to sin?
[Darris] You can’t just use that as an excuse. Sin is a transgression of God’s law and it does, it’s a disconnect with God and a relationship with Him. Once we acknowledge and understand that there is a problem, we have to do our part to move away from that by a change in actual behavior.
[Steve] Romans 6:1 Romans 6:1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
American King James Version×—should we sin more because of grace? And the answer is, absolutely not! We’ve got to change our behavior, repent and turn to God.
[Gary] Paul is emphatic on that point.
[Steve] Oh, he was.
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All of us are guilty before the Almighty God. Will your response be like Peter or like Judas?
God wants to take you from guilt to glory. He wants to erase your guilt. This forgiveness came at a terrible price—the torture and death of the Son of God as your substitute and my substitute. The good news is that Jesus Christ has been resurrected and is actively seeking those who are fed up with meaningless existence and want to turn their lives over to God and enter His Kingdom.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in constantly praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today , I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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