How to Deal With Guilt

Sam Petitfils

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  I John 1:9

The verse above represents one of the great promises in the Bible: God’s forgiveness of sin.  The human conscience cannot long stand the feeling of wrongdoing in its soul, so it needs to remove it.  Some do it illegitimately, several ways.  First, they may gloss over it and try to remove it by simply looking the other way and getting along with life.  Secondly, some seek to justify their sin by attributing it to unavoidable circumstances.  They were more or less forced into a corner and sin was the only way out.  Thirdly, some blame their sin on the strength of the temptation and the weakness of their condition.  “I was so tired and the temptation so strong I simply had no strength to resist.”  Fourthly, people often appeal to God’s mercy, not in forgiving the sin, but dismissing it, a big difference.  They say to themselves, “Oh God understands and knows my weaknesses, and so this sin really didn’t matter much to Him.”  Finally, many resort to blame shifting, blaming others and, at times, even blaming God.  They rationalize that they were forced into their actions by others or even God Himself.

All of these reasons for sinning have one thing in common: they are excuses and cannot relieve the soul of guilt.  A Christian can bury guilt for a while, but eventually it will surface and trouble the soul.  So how do we get relief form the pangs of conscience?

1) Agree with God about the nature of sin.
Sin is failing to do the right thing (James 4:17), the breaking of God’s law (1 John 3:4), and any wrongdoing at all (1 John 5:17).  To confess is to agree; we need to agree with God about His indictment of our sin.  We violated His holy requirements of us and failed to keep His Word.  Because of our human condition, we cannot know the gravity of our sin as God does, but we nevertheless need to agree with God about sinning against Him.  God desires truth in our inward soul when it comes to admitting our sin (Psalm 51:6).

2) Ask God to forgive you.
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot forgive yourself!  When we attempt it, we simply fall into the rationalizations mentioned in the first paragraph above.  Proper confession includes an appeal to God’s mercy to forgive our sins.  The basis of that forgiveness is the sacrifice of God’s only Son (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:26). Through His death and the shedding of His blood, Christ purchased for us eternal forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). Humbly come before the righteous judge with a sincere confession, and God will forgive and restore you.

3) Believe God’s promise of forgiveness.
Some really stumble at this and suppose the longer they hold onto their guilt the more God is pleased.  But this runs contrary to the scope of Scripture.  God delights to forgive His children and freely offers forgiveness upon confession.  But some rack themselves with guilt, shame, and troubling thoughts over what they did either recently or many years ago.  While we should learn from our sins so as not to repeat them, we also need to enjoy the liberation of a soul set free by God’s wonderful forgiveness.  Upon David’s confession, God put away his sin (2 Samuel 12:13).  David would later write about the need and joy of forgiveness (Psalms 32 and 51).  When we recall our past sins, some of which may have present consequences, we should not torture ourselves with foreboding thoughts of what we did, but rather once again thank God for forgiveness and deliverance.  One of the greatest testimonies a Christian can ever share is that of God’s forgiveness.  When others see in us the joy of a forgiven life, they recognize God’s love and willingness to forgive them.

No doubt many so-called psychological disturbances were brought upon people because they handled guilt improperly.  They attempted to ignore their guilt, repress it, or blame others.  But seeking God’s remedy leads to a joyful life, a forgiven heart, and puts praise upon our lips.  Satan longs to disable a believer’s witness, and sometimes he accomplishes this through feelings of guilt.  But Satan cannot indict those whom God forgives.

 

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