Dealing with our guilt – Part 1

Matthew 5:8 – “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God.” GNT A pure heart is one that is free and clean of impurities. It is a heart free of all the junk that weighs us down, washed clean of all the hurts, hang-ups, and habits that plague our lives. Those who are truly pure in heart aren’t afraid of their pasts.

Principle 4 is the one that brings our painful past out in the open so we can deal with it, be cleansed of it, and then move on to health and happiness. This can be scary, but it’s a step that separates those who just want to talk about getting healthy from those who really want to get healthy!

I. The negative effects of guilt

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes novels, was quite a prankster. One day he played a prank on five of the most prominent men in England. He sent an anonymous note to them that said: “All is found out, flee at once.” Within 24 hours all five men had left the country.

There are many people in this world like these five men who have real problems with guilt. Many Christians today (maybe one of you) are obsessed by the memory of some sin (s) they committed years ago. The memory never leaves them; it haunts them and hurts their devotional life and their relationships with each other. They live in fear that someone will find out what they did, so they work overtime to prove to God that they are truly repentant – and they are miserable!

We all sin! When you sin, what do you do with your failures, mistakes, and pride, etc. One thing is for sure, if you could do it all over again, you’d do things differently, you’d be a different person, you’d resist the temptation, but you can’t.

You may have told yourself many times, “What’s done is done,” but what you did can’t be undone, and cannot be forgotten!

I am guilty of this myself. In the past, I would really let my mistakes bother me, I would line them up and count them again and again and again! I would take my good and stack it up against my bad and hope that I was good enough to make it to heaven. I would ask God to forgive me for the same sin I had already confessed – ten, twenty, thirty years ago!

The truth is, none of us are faultless. We all have sins, we’ve all made mistakes. So we all have regrets. We all have remorse. We all have things we wish we could turn back the clock on and say, “I wish I would have done that differently!” But we can’t.

So we feel bad about it, feel guilty about it, and we carry it with us, sometimes consciously, but most of the time unconsciously. We may deny or repress the guilt. We may blame other people for our guilt. We may excuse our guilt. We may rationalize our guilt. But we still feel the effects of it. If our guilt is not dealt with, it will destroy us like a cancer.

A young man called in to one of those call-in radio talk shows hosted by a psychologist and said, “I’m consumed with guilt and don’t know what to do with it. How do I get rid of this guilt?” The answer offered by the talk-show host was very upsetting: “You can’t get rid of guilt. You just have to learn to live with it.”

Rationalizing our guilt is not the answer! We can say, “It’s okay, everybody’s doing it, it was a long time ago…” but in our hearts, we know what we did was wrong. That’s why we need relief “from” our guilt, because it can and will destroy us like a cancer!

David is a man who had to deal with guilt. He had lived with his sins of adultery and lying and murder for almost a year, thinking no one knew about them. When David tried to hide his sin, he was miserable. His guilt was tearing him apart mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. David’s sin caused a terrible burden on him – his guilt became unbearable!

We may think that silence is the best course of action. But there is no real freedom without confession. Silence about our wrongdoing only makes the pain worse. David describes the depression, insomnia, and stress that can come when we keep silent about our wrongs:

Psalm 32:3-4: “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” NLT

Psalm 38:1-8: “O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage! Your arrows have struck deep, and your blows are crushing me. Because of your anger, my whole body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins. My guilt overwhelms me—it is a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins. I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart.” NLT

Psalm 38:17-18: “I am on the verge of collapse, facing constant pain. But I confess my sins; I am deeply sorry for what I have done.” NLT

Psalm 31:9-10: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress. Tears blur my eyes. My body and soul are withering away. I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Sin has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within.” NLT

There’s something about sin that’s chaotic, that messes us up deeply inside. That’s what David’s sin did to him, and that’s what it will do to you and me! Sin has a terrible effect that will spread through your whole personality. It has a mental effect because the mind is stressed with guilt.

It also has a physical effect, because the state of the mind affects the state of the body. Guilt will wear your body down like you’ve been working in the summer heat and can literally make you physically sick.

I heard of a report where psychiatrists say that probably 70% of the people in the hospital could leave today if they knew how to resolve their guilt. “When I swallow my guilt my stomach keeps score.”

If we don’t talk it out with God and others, we will continue to take it out on ourselves and others.

Guilt also has a social effect, because nobody wants to hang around a person who is eaten up with guilt and feeling miserable and sorry for themselves all the time!

But the main effect of sin is the “destruction” it brings to our relationship with God. Sin separates us from God, erecting a barrier between God and us that only the blood of Jesus can break down: Isaiah 59:2 – “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.” NLT

II. What guilt does to us

“Guilt” is anger directed at ourselves — at what we did or did not do. “Resentment” is anger directed at others — at what they did or did not do.

Guilt destroys our confidence! You cannot be at peace with God and yourself if you have guilt in your life that is hanging over your head like a dark cloud. Carrying around your guilt is like carrying a heavy weight around your neck.

It makes you feel insecure because you’re always worried, “What if somebody finds out about that skeleton in my closet? If people really knew the truth about me, if they knew that deep dark secret that only I and God know about it, then they may not like me, they may reject me!”

Guilt damages our relationships! Guilt sabotages our relationships by causing us to respond in harmful ways. We sometimes overreact out of impatience or anger towards other people, or we explode without reason because of some buried guilt. Have you ever seen somebody overreact in anger over something minor? Often that’s motivated by guilt (King David and the rich man).

“People who are eaten up with guilt are the most unforgiving people you will ever know – they can’t stand for someone else to sin and will look for anything to attack someone else. When you find someone who only criticizes and attacks, you will find a person eaten up with guilt – they don’t understand God’s grace, can’t accept God’s grace, so they don’t give God’s grace!”

Guilt can also cause us to spoil and indulge people unwisely. Parents often feel guilty over poor choices they have made and overcompensate by indulging their children by buying them things.

Guilt can cause us to avoid commitment. We wonder why we won’t let people get close to us. We allow ourselves to get just so close but no closer. One of the main reasons is guilt. Past relationships push their way into the present and taint the future. Many marriage problems are the result of guilt over things that happened prior to or early in the marriage.

Guilt keeps us stuck in the past! Luke 9:62 – “…No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” NKJV

Jesus says we cannot keep living in the past, yet that is exactly where some people are! They are being held prisoner by the guilt they feel over something they did in the past, and they are stuck! Guilt tries to keep us focused on what’s behind us by replaying over and over in our minds all the things from our past we wish we could change!

It’s like driving a car by always looking in the rearview mirror. A rearview mirror is helpful, because it gives us perspective. Looking at our past gives us perspective, too, but if we look only at our past, we never get to see the “present” or look forward to the “future.” Some people focus on the past to the extent that their rearview mirror gets bigger than their windshield. With this kind of driving, forward progress is nearly impossible – a crash is likely in the near future.

Spiritual growth is the process of “expanding” that windshield and “shrinking” the rearview mirror so you can get on with the present.

We need to learn from past mistakes, but we can’t allow them to control our lives in the present. Instead, we must get to the point where we say: “I’m going to get on with my life. I want to get well. I want to grow. I want to let go of the past. I want to be able to close it. I want to bury the past.” You can’t bury it as long as it’s alive.

III. The Purpose of Guilt

Do you know and understand the God-given purpose of guilt? God uses guilt to correct us through His Spirit when we are wrong. That’s called conviction! And conviction hurts!

John 16:8 – “And when He comes, He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” NLT

The proper response to guilt is repentance! Once we have made the decision to become a Christian and accept Christ’s perfect forgiveness and turn from our sins, as far as God is concerned, guilt’s purpose – to make us feel bad about what we did in the past – is finished.

But we like to hold on to our guilt and beat ourselves over the head – repeatedly – with it! That’s condemnation! But it’s not from God; it’s from the devil and ourselves.

Romans 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” NKJV

If we are to ever recover from the hurts, hang-ups, and habits in our lives and know the joy of a pure heart, we’ll have to learn how to let go of our guilt and shame!

If you want to change your life, if you want to get well, if you want to grow and let go of your past guilt once and for all, you have to come clean with God:

Psalm 32:1 – “What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven. What joys when sins are covered over! What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record.” TLB

Moving past your guilt is a fairly simple process – but it isn’t easy to actually do – it can be scary, and it requires a lot of courage. But it is very important – the results will change your life forever.

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