Freedom from Guilt
I have often felt guilty as a Christian despite the expectation that Christians have been forgiven and therefore should not feel guilty. When I first became a Christian, I felt a tremendous sense of forgiveness and freedom from guilt. The problem is that most of my life after this has been lived as a Christian and I have really messed up sometimes despite the best of intentions. It is even possible to feel guilty about feeling guilty!
I can anticipate some readers will now be thinking, “Hey! this guy needs to read the part of the Bible that says if we confess our sins Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us 1(1 John 1:9)9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness..” Despite being aware of this it makes me sad that through my life I have hurt so many people and wronged them often in the name of doing what is right.
John Bunyan writes about Christian carrying a crushing burden of guilt and finding deliverance. Christian comes to a narrow gate and walks up a path. As he comes to the cross the burden drops off his back. This is an experience that every true Christian can identify with. In a world where people are being crushed under a weight of guilt and remorse it is one of the most attractive things we can offer people through the good news of Jesus.
Once a year the nation of Israel would offer a special sacrifice that symbolised the removal of guilt, this involved two goats. The first goat was taken and sacrificed as a sin offering for everyone. The second goat had all the sins of the people confessed over it and it was then released into the desert. This second goat was the scapegoat which took away the guilt of the people. The two goats together represented the fact that Jesus died for our sins and took away the guilt 2(Leviticus16:15, 20-22) 15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with his blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. 20 “When he has finished atoning for the Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting, and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them on the head of the goat, and shall send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is ready. 22 The goat shall carry all their iniquities on himself to a solitary land, and he shall release the goat in the wilderness..
The foundation for living guilt free
Christians have a tremendous basis for realising that all the wrong they have done both past, present, and future, has been forgiven because of what Jesus has done, not because of what they do. Paul writes about Jesus wiping out the rap sheet that records all our wrongs by nailing it to His cross 3(Colossians 2:14) 14 wiping out the handwriting in ordinances which was against us. He has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.. Moreover, John tells us that if we do sin as Christians we can find forgiveness through Jesus who represents us before God like a barrister in a court of law 4(1 John 2:1) 1 My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous..
So why do I still feel guilty?
- It is human nature to feel guilty. Since mankind fell in the Garden of Eden we have a built-in inclination to hide in shame 5(Genesis 3:8) 8 They heard Yahweh God’s voice walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden..
- It is very easy to confuse religion with Christianity. Christianity brings freedom from guilt but religion creates guilt.
- We live in a culture that often finds fault with people and seeks to publicly humiliate. We are more influenced by this culture than we realise.
- It is easy to confuse a very real conviction of wrongdoing from the Holy Spirit with guilt. The Holy Spirit will bring healthy correction in our lives but so often this can be highjacked by us and repackaged as guilt 6(John 14:26) 6 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you..
- We tend to forget just how much Jesus has done for us and how complete His work of salvation is.
- Subconsciously we can mistakenly think that beating ourselves up somehow makes us better people and more acceptable to God.
- It is right that we should be grieved when we do wrong, we should not be unfeeling and unmoved by this. It is important that this is not converted into guilt.
- We can replace true Christianity with a set of rules and regulations. Inevitably we will fail to keep the rules. This legalistic thinking can create a lot of guilt in our lives.
- We can very easily become people who find fault with other Christians. This can create an atmosphere of guilt in our gatherings.
- Our upbringing and life experiences can incline us to feeling guilty. Often this sense of guilt is generalised and not clearly defined.
- Traumatic experiences and wrong things that have been done to us can leave us feeling guilty.
What can we do to throw off all this needless guilt?
We need to keep filling our minds with the truth that Jesus has truly carried away all our guilt just as the scapegoat did. A good way to do this is to regularly consider what the Bible says. As we fill our minds with the truth it displaces the lies 7(Philippians 4:8) 8 Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report: if there is any virtue and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things..
It can be helpful to talk with other people who are trustworthy and will help us to sort out our feelings. One of the reasons the Bible tells us to confess our faults to one another is that it helps us to separate real issues from old bogies. Sharing with others can bring reality 8(James 5:16) 16 Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed..
For some issues we need to take action. For example, we may need to apologise and ask forgiveness from someone we have truly wronged. There can be times where we need to restore things that have been taken wrongly 9(Ezekiel 33:15) 15 if the wicked restore the pledge, give again that which he had taken by robbery, walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity, he will surely live. He will not die.. We have to realise however that we can get hung up on correcting things in a way that is not good. Some issues are better left and others can no longer be corrected.
In the case of real lasting personal trauma, we may need to seek professional help from experienced counsellors.
- As a Christian do you feel guilty?
- Can you identify what these issues are?
- Are there any issues you need to take action to resolve?
- What will you do about these issues?