Everyone, at some point in their lives, has felt guilty. Everyone has skeletons they’d like to keep buried in their closet. Every single one of us has done things we aren’t proud of. The feeling of guilt can paralyze us and make us live in shame and doubt for the rest of our lives, if we don’t deal with it correctly.
So how do we deal with it? How do we react when we feel guilty?
First, we have to remember that we feel guilty because we are guilty. Those feelings of shame and guilt we feel at our actions come because we are legitimately guilty, not just before man, but before God.
Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All. Not 95%, not 99%…100%. All fall short of God’s glory, and incur, not just feelings of guilt, but actual, real guilt before a holy God.
If you’re looking for a god who will tell you that it’s all okay, and that your sin is “no big deal,” and you simply need to “overcome negative feelings and emotions,” and “believe in yourself,” you need to throw away your Bible, because you won’t find a “god” like that in it. The God of the Bible, far from telling us our sin is okay, demands blood. He is a holy and jealous God, refusing to bend even slightly from His holiness. To do so would be to betray His own character and reject His own rule and reign over us.
Think about a parent who just lets their kid get away with whatever they want. Do we consider them to be good parents? Of course not! I worked in retail for two years, and I can tell you I really appreciate parents who discipline their children, instead of the parents who let their kids destroy my department and make my job 50 times harder than it has to be. Good parents discipline their children. And a good God punishes sin, because sin is offensive to Him and ruins the world and the people He created.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end here. We don’t have to suffer the wrath of God as a result of our guilt, because our God is a gracious God, who sent someone to suffer in our place.
Here’s how God deals with our guilt:
“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God, on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”–Heb. 9:24-26
God deals with our guilt by punishing His own Son. God throws every ounce of our real guilt, our real sin, our lust, our laziness, our murder, our anger, our idolatry, on His Son. The Son of God became our sin, became cursed, so that those who were not children of God could become children of God.
In light of His great sacrifice, here’s how the Bible tells us to deal with our guilt:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”–1 John 1:9
How simple is this? Not easy…dealing with our sin is never easy…but it is simple! We confess our sins, with faith and repentance toward Christ, and He forgives us and changes us!
God never expects us or asks us to “make up for our sin.” He never commands us to try and add to what Christ has done for us…and yet, how often do we try to do so?
I watched The Da Vinci Code a few nights ago. Don’t worry, I’m well aware that the movie’s view that Jesus had a wife and kids is total garbage….but I’m also well aware that Tom Hanks is a great actor. Anyway, one of the main antagonists in that movie spends time in self-flagellation, that is, brutally beating himself in order to “please God” and earn forgiveness of sins. It’s quite the gruesome scene. It’s also quite the ungodly scene.
Beating ourselves up and atoning for our own sins sounds nice if we don’t dig too deeply. We’d probably respect someone who is so convicted that he or she decides to “make up for it.” We love those stories…the convict who spends time mentoring others so they don’t wind up in prison, the recovering alcoholic who spends time warning people of the dangers of alcohol abuse, etc. And while there’s nothing wrong with that (if it’s done for the right reason), all of that can be a cover-up for legalism.
If we try to show God how sorry we are by beating ourselves up, or by shedding thousands of tears, thinking that those actions will merit His love, we spurn the love He showed at the cross. If we try to show God how much better we can do by self-effort, we miss the message of the cross. The cross says that our sin is so wicked that we cannot save ourselves–there must be a death that occurs. The cross also says we are so loved that God Himself paid that price for us.
If Jesus has fully paid for our sins, why do we act like there’s something else we have to do to “earn” forgiveness? The good news is that we don’t “earn” forgiveness…we receive forgiveness, freely, through the blood of Christ, through faith and repentance in Him.
If you have trusted Christ for forgiveness, and you are submitting to Him as Lord, looking to Him to lead you in new life, you are completely, 100% forgiven. There is nothing you can do, no sin you can commit, that will make God love you any less. There is nothing you can do, no good work you can commit, that will make God love you any more. While we can please and displease God with our actions, we can never lose His love, if our faith is in Christ.
So what do we do with our guilt? We take it to the one who died for us. We lay it down at the cross. We rest in His forgiveness, and trust Him to help us follow Him.
And then we get up. We walk forward, day by day, by the grace of God. And we keep living.
Don’t be paralyzed by guilt. Take it to Christ, and be rid of it.
Lord, may we never forget the cross. May we not beat ourselves up, or try to add to your work with our effort. May we rest in your grace. May we move forward in holiness by your grace. May we lay our guilt down at the cross, and worship you.