How to be free from (unhealthy) feelings of Guilt!
Feelings of guilt can be a two edged sword, with both good qualities and bad qualities. On the good side, we absolutely should feel guilty after we do something wrong. Our conscience should sting a little bit or a lot, depending on the severity of our sin. If it doesn’t, then that’s a sign of a hard heart. As we have seen earlier in this study, we want to keep our hearts tender, so they are sensitive to God’s leading, and feelings of guilt after doing wrong are a part of how God communicates with us. A guilty conscience is a message from God that we are on the wrong path.
Acts 24:16 “So I (Paul) strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”
2 Samuel 24:10 “David was conscience-stricken after he had… sinned greatly…”
2 Corinthians 7:10,11 “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done…”
Romans 2:9-11 “There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil… but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good… For there is no partiality with God.”
Isaiah 1:4 “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.”
Isaiah 59:4-8 “No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil… Their deeds are evil deeds… Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace.”
Jeremiah 8:5-17 “Why then have these people turned away?… They cling to deceit; they refuse to return. I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Each pursues their own course like a horse charging into battle… Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?… They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD… ‘See, I will send venomous snakes among you, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you,’ declares the LORD.”
2 Chronicles 34:27 “Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words… and because you humbled yourself before Me… I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD.”
But God loves us with an infinite, absolute love, and He emphatically does not want us burdened throughout our lives by feelings of guilt. Guilt can become one of the heaviest burdens we find ourselves carrying in this life, with a tremendous power to weigh us down and hold us back. It crushes and immobilizes the spirit, which in turn prevents us from growing. This is the negative, destructive side of guilt.
Psalm 38:1-8 “LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath… there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear… I am bowed down and brought very low… I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.”
Proverbs 12:25 “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down…”
1 Timothy 4:2 “… hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”
1 Samuel 25:28-31 “… Let no wrongdoing be found in… my master… and… my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself…”
God wants guilty feelings to motivate us to get back on the right path. But once we make the decision to return to Him, then God wants us to toss those guilty feelings in a ditch along life’s road and leave them there, so we can move forward into His plan, released of our burdens and filled with Joy and Peace.
Hebrews 12:1-13 “… let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith… strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”
Philippians 3:13,14 “… forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Jeremiah 31:2-34 “This is what the LORD says: ‘… I have loved you with an everlasting love… I will build you up again… I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow…’ After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated… This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says:… ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’ ”
Jeremiah 33:2-11 “This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it… ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know… I will bring health and healing… I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I… will rebuild them… I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me… they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide… there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD, saying, “Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever…” ’ ”
How exactly do we do that? Guilt can be one of the most difficult things in life to release, because when we try to let it go, we often feel like we are leaving something important unredressed. And sometimes it seems to cling to us like a parasite, or haunt us like a vengeful ghost.
If you have guilty feelings about something you have done, try this:
Examine carefully what you have done that makes you feel guilty, and discover whether you are truly to blame. Most of the time, we are truly to blame. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and there is plenty to feel guilty about. But sometimes this world deceives us, and tries to make us feel guilty for things that were not our fault. This is often the case for things that happened in our childhood. Prayerfully and humbly ask God for the wisdom to know if your guilt is legitimate or misplaced. And if it’s misplaced, ask God for the strength of mind to receive this truth and be relieved of your burden.
2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves…”
Psalm 139:1-24 “O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all… For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb… Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”
Psalm 26:1-3 “Vindicate me, LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD and have not faltered. Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.”
If you are to blame, look to see if your actions have hurt someone else. Carefully examine the ramifications of your decisions. Identify anyone you may have injured. Humbly ask God for the wisdom to understand how your actions affected the lives of others, and He will reveal it to you.
James 1:5 “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
If you hurt someone, go to them, ask for forgiveness, and, if possible, make amends. Find anyone you injured. Tell them you are sorry for what you did. Ask them to forgive you. And if there is any way, show them you are sorry by somehow making amends. Your actions will speak much louder than your words!
Numbers 5:6,7 “Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done…”
Matthew 5:23,24 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
Luke 19:1-9 “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’ But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house…’ ”
Sometimes how to make amends is really obvious, and sometimes it may seem impossible. Humbly and genuinely ask God to show you how you can repair the damage you have done, and if there is any way, God will be happy to oblige. God loves it when we do this! It’s how He wants His children to behave, so it is His great delight to assist us when we are not sure of what to do.
And note that while you can ask someone for forgiveness, you can’t make them forgive you, so you shouldn’t try. They may be dealing with very deep hurts they will have to work through, and it may take time before they are ready to forgive. Or they may never forgive you at all. But that’s not your problem! You can’t control them, nor are you responsible for them. You are only in control of yourself, and therefore you are only responsible for yourself. You just do what God calls you to do, leave the rest up to Him, and He will do whatever is in keeping with His perfect plan.
Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
Now that you’ve dealt with your relationship with other people, it’s time to deal with your relationship with God. But before you can do that effectively, and truly be relieved of the burden of guilt, you need to fully arm yourself with truth, and that means…
Get out your Bible and carefully read through every verse you can find on God’s love and forgiveness. You need to crack open your Bible and immerse yourself in God’s Word. You need to pull out all those verses that describe God’s infinite love, compassion, mercy, and kindness, and His immeasurable desire to forgive (and there are lots of them!); then consume and digest these scriptures like the spiritual food they are meant to be.
You have to be meticulous about this. You can’t gloss over this step. You have to carefully read through these verses and thoughtfully consider their true meaning, and let them wash out the darkness of your fears and doubts and fill you with the light of truth. If you don’t, you will never be able to defeat unhealthy feelings of guilt, because you will not have the weapons to do so.
There are hundreds of verses to choose from for this. Here are a few.
Psalm 32:5 “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Jeremiah 3:12-15 “… I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious… Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God… Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.”
Isaiah 1:16-20 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight… ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey…’ Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Job 11:13-18 “… if you devote your heart to him (God)… if you put away the sin that is in your hand… then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear… You will be secure, because there is hope…”
Psalm 130:7 “… put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love…”
Lamentations 3:21-25 “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”
Lamentations 3:31-42 “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone… Why should the living complain when punished for their sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled…’ ”
Psalm 145:8-16 “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made… The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. The LORD upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down… You (God) open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
Psalm 32:1-11 “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered…and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found… Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’S unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!”
Psalm 103:8-18 “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love… he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” (NIV)
Jeremiah 15:19 “… If you repent, I (God) will restore you that you may serve me…” (NIV)
With these verses in mind, prayerfully confess your sin to God once, and make a personal record of it. Now that you have immersed yourself in the truth of God’s Word, go somewhere you can be alone, and prayerfully confess your sin to God. Tell Him what you’ve done, humbly acknowledge that you know it was wrong, and ask Him to forgive you – once.
The “once” here is very important. From our human perspective, we often feel the need to confess a wrongdoing over and over, with great emotion, and beg to be forgiven over long periods of time. And how well we perform these acts determines whether the other person will forgive us.
It doesn’t work that way with God. God does not forgive because of the intensity or longevity of our emotion, pleading, or guilty feelings, or because of good works we might do in an attempt to purchase our forgiveness. God forgives because His Son Jesus Christ paid the price for all of mankind’s sin while He was on the cross. Period. Full stop. Nothing we could ever do, including our begging or bribing, could ever be enough to earn our forgiveness. But God understands this and loves us anyway! That’s why Jesus was here – to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Isaiah 64:6 “… all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment…”
Romans 3:23 “for all… fall short of the glory of God,”
Psalm 143:2 “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous.”
Revelation 15:4 “… For you (God) alone are holy…”
Romans 3:10-22 “… There is no one righteous, not even one… All have turned away… Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…”
Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We saw early in this study that the world “confess” in 1 John 1:9 in the Greek is “homologeo.” This word has no emotional connotations. It simply means to cite or list something. And that’s all God requires us to do in order to be forgiven – list our sins to Him, and ask for His mercy and grace. Then He is faithful and just to forgive us, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus did, once and for all while on the cross of Calvary. This is not to say we can be flippant or cavalier about our sins. We should genuinely regret them. It’s just an acknowledgment that it is Jesus’ work on the cross, not our feelings of regret, which brings about our forgiveness.
1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God…”
1 John 2:2 “He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
2 Corinthians 5:19 “… God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…”
2 Corinthians 5:15 “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
Colossians 1:19-20 “For God was pleased… through him (Jesus) to reconcile to himself all things… by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
After we have confessed a sin that burdens us with guilt, it’s a good idea to make some sort of personal record of it, so we always have something to remind us of the time and place we took that particularly burdensome sin to the throne of grace and received forgiveness. You might jot something down in your Bible, or carve something into a rock, or plant a tree. If privacy is a concern, any words you use can be written in a way so they are understood only by you. But do something so you can have a permanent record of when God forgave you for the thing that troubles you so. You will need it when guilt tries to sneak back into your life.
Finally, when guilt returns to attack you, don’t ask to be forgiven again; instead, consciously choose to praise God for already forgiving you. After you seek forgiveness from others, do your best to make amends, immerse yourself in God’s Word, and confess your sins to God in prayer, you are probably going to feel pretty good. Most likely, you will experience relief from the burden of your guilt. (If you don’t, see the discussion of “the rightful place of feelings” that follows.)
But as time passes, those feelings are going to wear off, and eventually another feeling is going to do its best to tiptoe back into your daily routine – your old nemesis of guilt. When this day inevitably arrives, here is where you have to do something radically different from what you have done before. Instead of dropping to your knees and fearfully begging once again to be forgiven for the terrible thing you did, drop to your knees and joyously praise God for already forgiving you!
Psalm 42:5-11 “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you… By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Micah 7:18,19 “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression… You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
Psalm 59:16,17 “But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.”
Psalm 106:1-48 “Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD or fully declare his praise?… We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly… Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known… Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin. Yet he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented… Save us, LORD our God… that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting…”
Psalm 145:1-21 “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another… They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All your works praise you, LORD… The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. The LORD upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down… You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them… My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.”
When guilt attacks, you are going to have to go back to all those verses that promise God forgave you when you confessed your sin to Him, and you are going to have to make a choice: Will you trust God to keep His Word, or will you doubt Him? It really comes down to that. Either you believe your Heavenly Father when He promises He forgave you, or you don’t.
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…”
If you don’t trust God to keep His Word, then there is nothing you can do to keep guilt out of your life. You will be plagued by fear and its resulting misery to the end of your days. That is the terrible price of doubt. But if you will make the choice to trust Him, and demonstrate that trust through acts of praise and worship, then the power of guilt, fear, and doubt will be obliterated from your life.
There is tremendous power is praising and worshiping our Creator! True praise and worship are pure acts of faith that demonstrate unequivocally we trust God to keep His Word. When we are assaulted by guilt, or tested by adversity, or blindsided by tragedy, and we praise God (instead of curse or doubt Him) because we choose to stand firm on all of the promises that tell us God is and God cares, even when life turns dark and threatening, then there can be absolutely no doubt that we trust God. And that, at the end of the day, is all God really wants from us in this life – to simply and genuinely trust Him.
Psalm 100:1-5 “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
So when guilt knocks on your door, don’t answer! Instead, go to that special place in your Bible, or to that carving in the rock, or to that tree you planted, and remember the time and place you confessed your sin to God. Read through all those glorious verses that declare the might and power of God’s love and forgiveness, and His immeasurable desire to forgive and restore you. Then get down and praise Him for all you are worth!
Psalm 66:1-20 “Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power…’ Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!… Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver… we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance… Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me… I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”
Now God created a lot of different kinds of people, and we all express ourselves differently. Some will praise God by jumping up and down with their hands raised in the air. Some will sing at the top of their lungs. Some will dance up a storm. Some will find no other (or better) expression of praise than tears of gratitude. None of that really matters. What matters is that your worship of God is genuine and in keeping with how God made you, and that your acts of praise are based upon the truths contained in God’s Word. Tell God you love Him, you trust Him, and you believe that He keeps His Word, and thank Him for the grace and mercy He has poured out upon you!
Psalm 149:1-9 “Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people… Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds. May the praise of God be in their mouths… this is the glory of all his faithful people. Praise the LORD.”
Psalm 150:1-6 “Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.”
As you do these things, the guilt that came knocking is going to turn around and run like the devil from your doorstep. Guilt cannot exist in the same place as praise, after we have genuinely sought forgiveness from others and from God. As we have seen, faith (as demonstrated in praise) creates hope and love, which drives out fear and hate, and those things born of fear and hate, including guilt.
James 4:6-10 “… Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
Guilt can be a tricky thing to deal with. On the one hand, it has a rightful place in our lives when we are rebelling against God, and it should be welcomed as a reminder we have strayed from Him. But on the other hand, it has no place in our lives when we are seeking God, and it should melt away as we praise God for the love and mercy He pours out upon His repentant children.
A great tragedy is that some associate Christianity with feelings of guilt. But if we clearly understand the faith, it should be totally the opposite! Jesus’ message leads to an extraordinarily wonderful, life-changing liberation from sin and unhealthy feelings of guilt. For this we should all be exceedingly grateful, and our gratitude should then translate into an eagerness to share this message with a lost world that has been blinded and deceived.
John 8:31,32 “… Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ ”
2 Corinthians 3:17,18 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we… are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Psalm 116:1-16 “I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me… I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD… The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion… For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living. I trusted in the LORD… Truly I am your servant, LORD… you have freed me from my chains.”
Galatians 5:1-13 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery… The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love… You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love…”
Isaiah 52:2-12 “Shake off your dust… Free yourself from the chains on your neck… Burst into songs of joy together… for the LORD has comforted his people… the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”
Philemon 1:6 “… be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”
Guilt can become a particularly deceitful snare and foothold because repentance for wrongdoing feels spiritual, and indeed it is spiritual the first time we do it. It is exactly what God calls us to do when we sin. But where it becomes a problem is when we repent over and over for the same thing because we feel so guilty about it. Then this becomes a pseudo-spirituality that is in fact rebellion, because we are not accepting God’s Word that He has already forgiven us.
Asking God to forgive us over and over for the same transgression is not pleasing to the Lord. It is sin. It is rejecting the grace that is clearly offered in God’s Word, and substituting our own works as a means to appease a deity we have mistaken for someone who can be mollified by repeated acts of contrition. God isn’t moved by that, because, as we have seen throughout this study, our works fall short. God is moved by the work of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross, which does not fall short, and He is moved by the love and praise of His other children who receive His grace with thankfulness and delight.
Deuteronomy 30:2-10 “and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul… then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you… the LORD your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands… The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous… if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees… and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Psalm 147:1-11 “Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! The LORD … heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds… Sing to the LORD with grateful praise; make music to our God… the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”
In other words, we don’t have to keep on begging God for forgiveness. We just have to ask Him once and mean it. Then God delights to forgive and forget. And He especially delights in our gratitude, and in the Joy and Peace we receive from our restored relationship with Him.
What God does not delight in is this: Someone who keeps on asking to be forgiven for the same thing over and over again, and each time God answers with a thundering “You are forgiven!,” instead of getting a great big hug and thank you from His loving child, He gets yet another weepy request to be forgiven. It demonstrates that the child either doesn’t really know and understand the Father, or it demonstrates that deep down inside the child doesn’t really want to be forgiven, but instead wants to wallow in his or her sins and try somehow to earn forgiveness through repentant works.
One reason we tend to seek forgiveness over and over again for something that makes us feel guilty is that this is what is often required from our fellow mankind, so we mistakenly believe God works the same way. As we have seen, this is not the case. God’s ways are not our ways. Ask Him once. Mean it. And because of who Jesus is and what He did on the cross, and because God loves you infinitely more than you will ever know, God will joyfully and permanently forgive.
Isaiah 55:6-9 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ ”
Ezekiel 18:21-32 “But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed… None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them… Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?… Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?… I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit… For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”
Psalm 103:11-18 “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.”
Isaiah 57:15,16 “For this is what the high and exalted One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me – the very people I have created.’ ”
Isaiah 1:18-20 “… ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey’… Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Micah 7:18,19 “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression… You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
Luke 15:7 “I (Jesus) tell you that… there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Colossians 1:19-20 “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Jude 1:24,25 “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Another reason we continue to plead over and over to be forgiven for something is that we just don’t feel forgiven, so we keep on asking with hopes that our feelings will change. The error here – and it is a devastating one – is that we let our feelings determine our faith. We base our perception of who we are and where we stand with God on our emotional state, rather than the promises in God’s Word. We lift a wetted finger in the air to see whither the winds of our feelings are blowing, and we wrongly interpret our spiritual fortunes depending on the answer.
Our emotional currents rush all over the place, and the forces that direct them are many and mysterious. Hormones, sleep patterns, diet, exercise (or the lack thereof), prescription drugs, and various illnesses, along with compulsions from our subconscious that we don’t even begin to understand, all contribute heavily to our feelings, and none of them relate directly to our relationship with God. They can affect our relationship with God, if we let them, but they cannot determine our relationship with God. This makes our feelings in and of themselves very unreliable and sometimes treacherous guides in spiritual matters.
What determines our relationship with God are our choices – choices to seek God, learn about Him, receive His grace, and serve Him. These choices make up our faith; that is, what we believe and how we choose to live in this fallen world. And faith, as we have seen, has the unstoppable power to drive out fear and hate, and fill with hope and love.
From this, we can take away an invaluable lesson: Our feelings should follow our faith. All these other factors we have looked at (like hormones, sleep, diet, etc.) can certainly affect our superficial emotion state, from anger to exuberance, but our deepest feelings as to who we perceive ourselves to be and where we belong and where are headed in this life, must flow from our faith. These deeply held beliefs must become the headwaters from which we allow our feelings to flow.
Where we get into trouble is when we allow our faith to follow our feelings. This is crippling, because true faith never follows feelings. Faith is a choice. Feelings are emotions. Emotions cannot create faith, only our choices can. Sometimes we make decisions on an emotional basis, but they rarely last. Eventually, these emotionally driven choices are either confirmed or reversed by a conscious act of our will after a time of sober reflection.
When we base our faith upon our feelings, our faith becomes a ship battered around by the winds and waves of emotions. This creates a destructive cycle where emotions trigger bad choices, which injure our faith, which in turn creates even more volatile emotional seas for us to attempt to navigate through, and even worse decisions, and a more deeply wounded faith, and so on.
But intentional decisions of faith based squarely upon God’s Word will lead to healthy feelings and emotions. These choices calm our emotional waters, so instead of hanging on for dear life as we are tossed around by emotional white caps the size of three story buildings, we are able to cruise along through peaceful waters, and enjoy the ride. When we choose to trust God to keep His Word, our emotional seas are stilled, and healthy feelings follow in the wake of God’s uplifting and unfailing promises.
Ephesians 4:13-24 “… reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work… you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned… put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Psalm 46:1-3 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.”
Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine (Jesus’) and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell – and great was its fall.”
For example, the Joy and Peace we are looking at in this study certainly have emotional elements to them. Joy brings with it feelings of passion and exuberance. Peace brings with it feelings of contentment and satisfaction. We’ve even seen how a sense of Peace is one way God confirms we are on the right path, while the lack of Peace warns us when we have wandered from it. But the feelings of Joy and Peace flow out of our faith, hope, and love. They do not create faith, hope, and love.
In a healthy person (who is not suffering from an emotional disorder) healthy feelings will follow genuine faith. Feelings take their rightful place in the order of our lives, not in front of faith, where they determine our faith, but rather after our faith, where they confirm our faith. This is where our choices and resulting feelings fall into harmony and produce Joy and Peace.
This can only happen if we have strong minds and tender hearts. If our minds are strong, we will make good decisions. These good decisions will create Joy and Peace, which our tender hearts will be able to experience and enjoy. Weak minds and hard hearts will never know Joy and Peace. Instead, they will be perpetually tormented by the fear and hatred that inevitably come when we defy the grace offered to us by a holy, loving God.
As it relates to guilt, tender hearts will pick up on guilty feelings when we do something wrong. Strong minds will truly repent and seek forgiveness from both God and others. Then if guilt ever tries to worm its way back into our lives, strong minds will throw off these guilty feelings and choose instead to praise our gracious Heavenly Father with grateful, tender hearts.
Psalm 130:1-7 “Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope… put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”
Psalm 79:9-13 “Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins or your name’s sake… Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.”
So when your feelings seem to drag you down, get out your Bible, read through the verses that comfort you with God’s love, mercy, and kindness, and start to praise Him for His goodness and grace. Follow up with good choices in the different areas that may apply to your situation. Seek forgiveness if you have wronged someone. Forgive those who have wronged you. Take your stand, and speak the truth in love. Do those things that you know you are called to do by your Heavenly Father, even if you don’t feel like it.
As you do, your feelings will conform to your faith. They will take their rightful place, behind your faith, instead of in front of it. You will experience a healthy way of life where your faith positively influences your feelings, rather than a slow death where your feelings negatively influence your faith. And you will come to know the Joy and Peace God intends for you, as you accomplish His plan and purpose in a fallen world.
Proverbs 4:23 “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”
Ephesians 4:1-32 “… walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love… Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Colossians 3:5-16 “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed… You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Philippians 4:4-20 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!… Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (Paul), practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you… for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me… And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”