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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Process of Change: Guilt

We have spent a while now taking a cursory look at how to study the Bible. Of course, the whole point of our studying the Word is to grow in the Lord. Because we are sinners, it will not be unusual that as we study we find areas of our lives that do not conform to the image of Christ. That brings up a very important issue: how are we to deal with sin? How do we actively cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our sanctification?

Well, there are a few theological concepts that every believer must grasp in order to deal with sin. The first is guilt.

It is in the sinful nature of man to do all he can to rid himself of guilt and guilty feelings. Some modern schools of psychology have come up with various ways of assisting in that effort. Some teach that man is simply an evolved animal and is incapable of anything like “sin”, therefore any guilty feelings he has are “false guilt”. Others may concede that right and wrong do exist, but that feelings of guilt are most likely the result of a failure to meet social norms imposed on a person. If someone does have an obvious behavior issue, it might be categorized as a “disorder” and treated as a medical condition.

Still others, even in field of Christian psychology, believe that a person’s behavior is the result of met or unmet needs. If a man has been unfaithful to his wife, the Christian psychologist will not deny that it is sin, but will also offer that the unfaithfulness resulted because the man’s need for intimacy in his marriage had not been met. In such a case, the quickest way to remedy the problem is to encourage the wife to meet her husbands needs.

Other methods of dealing with guilt include self-esteem therapy, medication, positive thinking, and even desensitization, in which the person is encouraged to engage in the problem behavior so much that the feelings of guilt eventually go away.

In the end, this war on guilt ends up being a war on the acknowledgment of sin. Guilt is dealt with by explaining away the sin that precipitated it. The “false guilt” is simply the result of imaginary wrong-doing.

However, God’s Word will not allow us to explain away our sin. It will not allow us to claim that sin does not exist and it will not allow us to blame anyone but ourselves. James 1:13-15 says, Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. There is no explanation for my sin other than my own sinful desires.

Furthermore, the Bible does not recognize the concept of false guilt. Guilt is the legal liability and culpability to punishment that results from the breaking of God’s law. So there is no such thing as false guilt. A sin either occurred or it didn’t. All guilt is real.

There are a few biblical principles that can help us better understand and deal with our guilt. First, we must recognize the fact of guilt. Guilt really exists. There are 33 references to guilt in the book of Leviticus alone. Not only does guilt really exist, but it is universal. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Guilt is not to be explained away – it is very serious because God is Holy and will judge all men according to their deeds (Rom 2:5-6).

Second, we must never explain away or ignore the feeling of guilt. When we feel guilty it is most likely because we are. Our conscience is reacting to the fact of our guilt. Now, it is possible to feel guilty for doing something that is not truly a sin. But if we committed that act while believing it was a sin, then we have sinned according to Romans 14:14, 23 because we did it out of rebellion against God. Whatever is not of faith is sin. There should be repentance of that rebellion. More often than not, the feeling of guilt is the result of the fact of guilt.

Third, we must recognize the extent to which guilt can affect our lives. Psalm 32:1-5 and Psalm 38:1-8 speak of the physical and emotional toll guilt can take on us. Those with a sensitive conscience should not expect to enjoy any kind of peace while there is guilt that has not been dealt with. If the feeling of guilt subsides over time, that is evidence that the conscience has become seared due to sin, which is an even more diabolical way that guilt can affect our lives.

In the end, there is only one way to deal with guilt. It is only by God’s forgiveness through repentance that we are able to be rid of the fact of guilt. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9). We have a guilt-bearer in Jesus Christ (2Cor 5:21).

If we are going to enjoy change and defeat sin in our lives, we have to recognize the fact that it is there and call it what it is. Next time, we’ll talk about the issue of biblical repentance.

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