When I was at school I often didn’t do my homework and ended up in the principal’s office getting caned. I admit that I was guilty for not having done what I was supposed to do. I must also admit that I never actually felt guilty for not having done it. If we break the law, we are guilty regardless of how we feel about it, which invokes appropriate punishment. Many times people keep the law, not to avoid guilt, but to avoid the consequences if caught. The whole world is under the guilt of sin, and is facing the consequences thereof. How can this weight of guilt be removed?
Hebrews 10: 1 – 4 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
1. True guilt and false guilt
Guilt isn’t new to the human race. It was brought in by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when they rebelled against God by disobeying a direct and specific command. God had told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil situated in the middle of the garden, and they were lured by the serpent into eating the fruit of it. The law of God, albeit it one command, was broken and they became guilty of becoming lawbreakers. Being guilty they suffered the consequences of their sinfulness and were cast out of the Garden of Eden to toil the ground, which God had cursed because of their rebellion, by the sweat of their brow.
Guilt didn’t cease with Adam and Eve. As long as there’s sin and the breaking of the law there will always be guilt. Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain, was guilty of killing his brother Abel, whose blood cried out against him to God. The list of guilt carried on throughout the ages with God meting out punishment for the guilty offenders.
So who is guilty nowadays? Everyone! Romans 3: 23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and Romans 6: 23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death”. There is punishment only for the guilty, but the problem is that we are guilty for all, without exception, have sinned. We may argue that others are more guilty than us. You may argue that you don’t steal, commit murder or adultery, but that you only tell lies.
James 2: 8 – 11 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
If we normally keep the law of the country impeccably, but one day steal something from a shop and are caught, we are tried in court for the one wrongdoing that we’ve committed rather than all the good deeds that we’ve done. Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse to break the law. To tell the judge that you didn’t know that stealing was wrong doesn’t hold up in court as an excuse for what you did. Likewise, God holds us accountable for what we do according to his law.
True guilt, then, is when we have broken the law of God and have to face the consequences thereof.
False guilt is when you feel guilty for something that you didn’t do wrong. You might put a glass on a table and someone else knocks it off the table and it breaks. You then get accused of breaking the glass because you “shouldn’t have left the glass on the table”. The fact is that you didn’t knock the glass off the table so that it broke, but you still feel guilty that it broke. That’s false guilt. You’re feeling guilty for something that you didn’t do. You get accused of lying to someone when they don’t have all the facts and you hadn’t lied at all. Your relationship is broken due to that accusation and you feel guilty for both the lie that you didn’t tell and the broken relationship. That’s false guilt. The relationship was broken on a faulty premise and not on a lie, because you hadn’t told one.
Be careful not to hold on to false guilt. It will destroy you or at least make your life miserable and unproductive.
2. A guilty conscience
Hebrews 10: 22 Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
If we need to be cleansed from a guilty conscience then that means that we must first have a guilty conscience. A guilty conscience comes from knowing that you’ve done something wrong and you feel bad about having done it. A guilty conscience is therefore a good thing as it makes us conscious of our wrong actions. As we can have a guilty conscience from something that we didn’t do that we should have done as well, we are then made aware of our inaction where action was supposed to have taken place.
The Holy Spirit works within our consciences and pricks them to highlight our sinful actions, thoughts, or attitudes. Sometimes something that we have done or said isn’t sinful in itself but wrong or inappropriate at a particular time or to a particular person. We are then pricked in our consciences to make amends for those words or actions.
It is clear that a guilty conscience isn’t a bad thing as it keeps our lives in check when we do something wrong, or about to do something wrong. The problem is when a person has a guilty conscience for false guilt.
A clear conscience when you’ve done something wrong is a bad thing. That comes from having done wrong so many times that it doesn’t bother the person anymore. The second reason for a clear conscience when having done something wrong is wrong teaching or a wrong interpretation of the Bible. If you believe that there’s nothing wrong with having sexual relations with someone you’re not married to and justify it by discarding the Bible verses about marriage, adultery, and fornication. The Bible refers to this as a seared conscience.
1 Timothy 4: 1 – 2 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
Having a seared conscience puts us into a very dangerous position before God as we continue sinning thinking that God is happy with us because we go to church, pray, and do other Christian disciplines. Such a person is difficult to get through to with the truth of the specific matter because they’re always trying to justify their lifestyle instead of changing their lifestyle to be aligned with God’s Word.
3. Guilt removed in Jesus
2 Corinthians 5: 20 – 21 We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Isaiah 53: 4 – 5 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We always talk about the fact that Jesus died for our sins, but it goes deeper than that. He became sin on that cross as he bore our sin, the guilt of our sin, and the punishment of our sin as he hung on the cross. Every sin was laid on him including the guilt of that sin, which means it’s as if he committed them himself, and then he took the punishment of that sin which he was found guilty of. The guilt of our sin was completely transferred to him rendering us innocent of all sin, and the guilt thereof.
When we believe that this happened at the cross it is appropriated – applied – to us and we are forgiven and considered free of the guilt of all sin. This is what we call justification by faith.
Romans 5: 1 – 2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
Romans 8: 1 – 2 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
.Having our guilt transferred to Jesus and dealt with we can release all guilt of all sin that we have ever committed. We can live free of all guilt and condemnation. We have peace with God giving us peace in our hearts and minds that if he doesn’t condemn us then we don’t have to accept any condemnation from anyone else.
Romans 8: 33 – 34 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died —more than that, who was raised to life —is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Once you’ve believed and repented of your sin release all the guilt as Jesus has already taken it on himself. Any guilt that you have from then on is false guilt, which you need to let go of. False guilt means that you haven’t really believed that he’s taken all your guilt on himself.
Neither can you continue in a lifestyle of sin and think that you can live guilt-free. Jesus has taken all our sin on himself and expects us to cease from a lifestyle of sin.
When we do happen to sin we ought to have a tinge of guilt about it, confess it, and repent of it immediately, and he will forgive you rendering you guilt-free once again.
1 John 1: 9 – 2: 2 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.