“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people….We read, we hear, we believe a good theology of grace. But that’s not the way we live. The good news of the Gospel of grace has not penetrated the level of our emotions.” -David Seamands
“We find the defendant…guilty.”
“I didn’t feel guilty at all about what I did. After all, I deserve to be happy.”
“I know you ate the whole can of cake frosting, because you look guilty…and somewhat ill.”
We use the term loosely and often. But what are we really facing when we face guilt? What does being guilty or feeling guilty mean? Is there a difference? Can guilt be overcome?
Good questions…Let’s walk through this topic.
There is the objective fact of guilt and the subjective feeling of guilt. The inescapable truth is that we are all guilty of sin…
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God (Rom. 3:19).
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
In true repentance, we grieve over our sin, recognize the damage done and turn from our sin and turn toward God alone.
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death (2 Cor. 7:9-10).
Notice that there is a difference in the godly grief and worldly grief. Godly grief is motivated by a desire for holiness and connection with God and leads to repentance and restoration, whereas worldly grief may cause one to feel badly for getting caught or doing wrong, but keeps that person bound to sin in some way, whether by downplaying the seriousness of the offense or by anchoring one to the feeling of guilt over past sins long forgiven.
A person can be guilty and not feel guilty. On the other side of the coin, a person may not be guilty truly, yet feel great guilt.
How does one deal with the objective reality of guilt? Repentance.
But how does one deal with those subjective feelings of false guilt after repentance?
Too often, when we approach feelings of guilt, we fail to dig to the root of the cause: a wrong understanding.
So, to address the problem of “feeling guilty,” let’s go deeper by asking three questions…
How long has Jesus been around?
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).
So then, we can say, without reservation, that Jesus is eternal.
How long has He been righteous?
Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true (Ps. 119:142).
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8).
How long? Since time immemorial, He has been perfectly righteous and pleasing to God.
What has He given to His followers through His sacrifice?
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). (See also Rom. 5:12-21.)
Through the Cross, you have been given Christ’s eternal righteousness.
Your sins have been dealt with.
All of them: past, present and future.
Our sins have been given a death blow.
They have been…
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Is. 1:18).
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Ps. 103:12).
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Heb. 10:17).
So now, when God looks at you, He sees the eternal righteousness of Christ Himself. God does not see your past in light of your sin; He sees your past and Christ’s past as the same.
God did not just give you a new future at salvation, but a new past as well.
He gave you the eternally-pleasing and perfectly-righteous past of Jesus. This is why we sometimes hear the concept of justification (being declared “not guilty” by God) explained as “God seeing us just as if we had never sinned.”
We are qualitatively different when we are in Christ…
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:16-17).
God sees you now through the blood of His only Son…holy, blameless and above reproach.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him… (Col. 1:19-22).
And now, given an eternal righteousness, you are, in a real way, seated with Him already…
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-7).
So now, if we are following Christ, we can lay down feelings of guilt over confessed sins.
For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God…(1 John 3:20-21).
Whether you are entangled with the reality of sin or the feelings of guilt, freedom awaits.
It can be eternally yours.