Dealing With Guilt Biblically

One of the great things about a modern car is all the electronic gadgetry it comes equipped with. If anything goes wrong with the car, or even begins to, a light, bell, whistle or siren is quickly bringing your attention to it. That warning will generally give you ample opportunity to avert a potential disaster. However, should you ignore the warning, well, trouble is just around the corner.

Our bodies are much like modern cars. We are all equipped with a warning system that tells us something is wrong or out of place and could cause trouble. That warning system is called guilt. How we deal with our guilt will determine whether we are able to travel the road of life and accomplish the will of God or whether we break down along the way. It is very important, therefore, that we understand how God designed and uses guilt to cause us to accomplish His will.

Before we take a biblical look at guilt, it is necessary for us to define the different types of guilt. There are three different types of guilt that we need to examine. The first is what I shall call "REAL GUILT". Real guilt is a recognition of personal liability resulting from the violation of a valid standard. That standard could be either biblical, legal, or social. For example, the Bible says that we are not to steal and should you steal something, immediately you recognize that you have broken a valid standard.

The second type of guilt is what I call "PERCEIVED GUILT". By my definition, perceived guilt is a recognition of personal liability resulting from the violation of an invalid standard. By this I mean that no biblical, moral, social or legal standard has been broken, but a person have violated a personal standard. For example, suppose you have thought all of your life that it is a sin to wear white socks to a church worship service. Not only is it fashionably unthinkable, but it is, in your mind, a sin against God and humanity. White socks are fine anywhere but in church. Unfortunately, one Sunday morning you wake up and begin to get dressed and find that you have nothing else to put between your feet and your shoes than white socks. Needing something to wear, you decide to don the white socks and head off to church. But you can't help feeling all morning long that you've sinned. The fact is that there is no biblical prohibition of wearing white socks to a worship service, you have not broken any biblical commands. However, Romans 14:23 tells us that, "...whatsoever is not of faith is sin." In other words, if you do not believe what you are doing is valid in the sight of God, or better, is found in the will of God, it is sin even if the act is permitted by God. Some call this type of guilt "FALSE GUILT", but I do not agree with that designation. The guilt is very real even though the standard is false. Therefore, I prefer to use the term "perceived guilt".

The third type of guilt that we will examine is what I call "DENIED GUILT". I define denied guilt as, a state of unrecognized personal liability resulting from a violation of a valid standard and unbiblical attempts to resolve it. Once again there is a real guilt, but the guilty person has tried to cover their guilt without biblically dealing with it.

The way we recognize our guilt is through a conscience. We might define our conscience as that immaterial part of our creation that sits in moral judgment of all our actions and thoughts. Every one of us has a conscience that tells us whether what we are doing or thinking is right or wrong. Some may say that there are some people who do not possess a conscience, but I contend that all have a conscience, some just have ruined theirs.

Romans 2:15 proves that everyone has a conscience for it states that the Gentiles often times did the things contained in the Law of Moses that were required of Israel. Since the Law of Moses was not given to the Gentiles, there had to be some other motivating factor that caused them to do what was right. Paul states that their conscience bore them witness. I believe that we can safely conclude that part of our inherent creation is the possession of a conscience.

Our consciences are shaped by knowledge. In 1 Corinthians 8:10-11, Paul deals with the conscience of a person who sees another Christian in a pagan temple for the purpose of purchasing meat. The first does not believe the second should be there because he has been told or concluded that it is out of the will of God for Christians to enter pagan worship places. Whatever knowledge or information that caused this person to reach this conclusion became the knowledge that caused their conscience to operate. This is where perceived guilt (false guilt) originates. The key to the problem here is that the conscience must be shaped by biblical knowledge. Until the conscience can be reformed by correct theology, it will convict of sin, rightly, when it is violated, even if the act is not contrary to biblical standards.

One of the primary functions of the conscience is to convict of guilt. In John 9:9, the Jews had brought to Jesus a woman taken in the very act of adultery. In trying diminish the popularity of Jesus among the people, the Jews perverted the Mosaic law for their own purposes. In commanding the Jews to enforce the Mosaic law of justice, Jesus reminded them that there were other aspects that could not be forgotten in administering "justice". These aspects of the law had been forgotten and now were brought to bear on the minds of the Jews. Upon realizing the entirety of the law of justice, their consciences convicted them of their guilt.

Not only does the conscience convict of guilt, but it also declares the innocence of a person. The Apostle Paul often speaks of the manner of his life and how he lived in good conscience before others. As he writes to the Romans, he declares that what he is writing is being written in truth, "his conscience bearing him witness" (Romans 9:1).

When the conscience is given wrong information, it becomes defiled. I believe that God created everyone with a certain "intuitive knowledge" concerning "right and wrong". For example, there seems to be a universal agreement that stealing is wrong. Every society in every place on this planet has a law declaring it unlawful to take another person's possessions without permission. The only way that this agreement can be found is that God made it part of our intellectual being. In that we were created in the image and likeness of Him, and in that God declares stealing to be sinful, all men and women intuitively believe that stealing is wrong. But sin has corrupted that image and likeness of God in which we are created and has caused the conscience to be able to be defiled. Obviously, those who steal from others have had their consciences defiled. Somewhere along the line, they have replaced a biblical framework with an unbiblical framework of right and wrong. Paul speaks of this defilement in Titus 1:15. Usually, at first, there is an "uneasy feeling" in the soul of the person whose conscience has been defiled. While their conscience allows them to do what is wrong, there is a "voice in the back of their head" that is saying something is wrong.

A conscience that has been defiled for an extended period of time eventually becomes inoperative. In Paul's first epistle to Timothy, he writes that in the latter days some would give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons. A biblical framework of right and wrong would be replaced with a demonic one. The reason this could occur is that their minds have been "seared with a hot iron". This phrase comes from a Greek word from which we get our English word "cauterize". When a blood vessel is cauterized, it is sealed off by "burning it". The blood vessel is not removed, but the blood is not allowed to flow to its destination. In the same way, when the conscience is cauterized, it simply is not allowed to produce guilt any longer. In this way, a person can continue to do abominable acts without any remorse. In this situation, we are tempted to say that the person does not possess a conscience. The truth is that they do posses one, it has just been rendered inoperative. Should they be without conscience, we would need to conclude that they were beyond the hope of salvation.

What is most important to us is that our consciences can be purged. Hebrews 9:14 speaks of the blood of Christ's ability to purge our consciences. When our consciences convict us of violating a valid standard and our personal liability that results from the violation, there is remedy from the guilt in the blood of Christ.

Before we look at how our consciences can be purged from our guilt, it might be helpful to examine how some wrongly try to remove guilt. It is necessary to remember that guilt begins with an act of sin. Whether it is the violation of a valid standard (real guilt) or the violation of an invalid standard (perceived guilt) it is nonetheless sin. The recognition of the violation causes the conscience to declare guilt. The recognition of guilt produces anxiety. We ask ourselves what will be the consequences of our guilt and how we will rid ourselves of the guilt. If we answer these questions in an unbiblical way and then act according to those answers, we then commit another sin which repeats the guilt cycle. This can be diagramed in the following way:


If this cycle is perpetuated long enough, another element is then added: depression. This further complicates the cycle because the depression will usually be dealt with unbiblically. The diagram now looks like this:

Sin àGuiltàAnxietyàSinàGuiltà Anxiety àSin àGuilt àDepression

Since many, if not most, in the secular counseling arena deny the existence or the reality of sin, methods for dealing with guilt will also ignore sin. Since, in the minds of these people, there are no universal or absolute truths, most secular counselors will advise their counselees to ignore the guilt by reprogramming their minds that their guilt is false. This is only defiling the mind and is an unacceptable solution to the problem. The answer is not to deal with the anxiety caused by the guilt, but to deal with the sin that causes the guilt. This can be accomplished biblically through a process known as repentance.

What does it mean to repent? Unfortunately, we do not hear the word used very much today. At best, if someone commits an act of sin, we might hear "I'm sorry", but this falls far short of genuine repentance. Now there is nothing wrong with the words, "I'm sorry" for genuine repentance includes sorrow over the sin committed. But, "I'm sorry" by itself might only indicate sorrow for being caught and not getting away with the sin, or, sorrow that there were consequences to the sin rather than that the act was sinful. The word repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, which is composed of a preposition "meta", which means "after", and a noun "nous" which means "the mind". Repentance then, is a change of mind, accompanied by a corresponding change of behavior.

Genuine repentance includes three defining elements. First, genuine repentance confesses sin. John writes in his first epistle that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The word "confess" in this verse is the Greek word homologia which means literally, "to say the same as another". In context, to confess our sins is to say the same thing that God says about them. Not only must we declare our sorrow over the act, but we declare our guilt, usually with the words, "I was wrong!" When a person confesses their sin, it is not necessary to provide any excuses for the activity. The reason the person sinned is inconsequential to their forgiveness. In fact, there are no valid excuses for sinful activity. What is absolutely necessary is the recognition of guilt by doing something wrong.

In confessing sin, it is also necessary to state what sins have been committed. It is impossible to confess sin in the abstract. Statements such as, "If I have done anything wrong, please forgive me" simply does not fit the biblical prescription for repentance. How can anyone be repentant over something that they don't know they have done?

The second element of genuine repentance is that it forsakes the sin committed. Isaiah 55:7 states that the wicked are to forsake their sins and in doing so, they may return unto the Lord who is merciful and will pardon them. To forsake the sin simply means to stop doing it now, and not to desire to commit the same sin in the future. Anyone who does not forsake their sin cannot confess it, for they simply have not said the same thing about it that God has.

The third element of genuine repentance is that the guilty person is willing to accept any and all consequences of their sin. This may include restitution for damages done, public confession, resignation of office, or other appropriate actions depending upon the severity of the sin committed. The Lord Jesus illustrated this element for us in His Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5:38-39. These couple of verses of Scripture have been butchered interpretationally by many to mean the exact opposite of what it actually teaches. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." When Jesus spoke these words, He cited Leviticus 24:20. This was the rule of justice in the Mosaic Law concerning the punishment of evildoers. If someone committed a sin, the righteous were only to exact consequences from the guilty equal to the offense. But when Jesus speaks these words, He is not speaking to the righteous, He is speaking to those who have committed offenses and are guilty. They are the ones who are being smitten on the cheek for their offenses. What He says to them is that they are not to set bounds as to how or how much they will accept the consequences of their actions, but should be willing to accept twice what is just or fair. The same is reiterated in verse 40 where a person is sued and his coat is taken from him. His coat could only be taken if he was guilty. In such a case, the guilty one is to offer his cloak also.

These three elements, then, manifest genuine repentance on the part of the guilty. But how does repentance deal with sin and the guilt caused by the sin? The Bible lists in descriptive language, what God does with the sin of a repentant person. First of all we see that in Isaiah 38:17 God casts all our sins behind His back. This removes our sins from God's presence. God is no longer able to see our sins for they are behind Him. Secondly, we note that in Psalm 103:12 that God removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. It is interesting to note that He does not remove them as far as the north is from the south for that is a measureable distance. It is impossible to measure the distance between east and west for there are no poles to designate each. Therefore, it is impossible for us to behold our sins. With our sins removed, there is nothing to cause our conscience to declare us as guilty. With sins removed, so is our guilt. Guilt has been dealt with biblically and effectively.

Who We Are:

The Salina Bible Church is an independent, Bible-teaching church, located approximately 6 miles south of Apollo, PA at the intersection of routes 819 and 981.

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