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Monday, June 13, 2005

Innocent Guilt

Has America's therapeutic worldview weakened a role of the Holy Spirit?

Charity and I had a discussion this weekend that lead to us talking about the role of guilt in our lives. In our society, maybe especially in Christian circles, we seem to see the avoidance of guilt as an end to be pursued. We look ahead to a day in glory, when every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21:4), and assume then that feelings of guilt are a product of Satan which God desires to destroy in our lives.

But was guilt a product of sin, or a gift of grace given upon sin? Or can it be both?

So we're on the same page, allow me to define the terms for this article. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, guilt is: "a feeling of having done wrong or failed in obligation." In the same dictionary, guilty is defined as: "justly chargeable with a particular fault or error." Scripture clearly attests that the one who calls on Jesus Christ has that "guilty" verdict removed, and instead, the righteousness of Christ is imputed into his/her life. That is why the accuser of the saints (Rev 12:10-11) is silenced. His charge of guilty upon my life means nothing to God, because He sees the righteousness of Christ in me. Therefore, I do not say that a believer stands before God guilty, but does that mean I should not feel some guilt?

I think we can be too glib about the words of Paul in I Timothy 1:15. Paul says, "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am formost of all." Sure he is praising the gift that Chist is, to even make our salvation possible. But do we think that at the moment he penned those words, that he was able to think of Stephen or others he ordered persecuted and not feel shame and pain? I doubt he was able to just get over it.

Do we understand the glory of God's salvation if we don't comprehend the depravity of our sin? If I am so quick to look to healing and forgetfulness, do I devalue mercy and grace? Our society tells us that bad feelings are bad, and that good feelings are good. Yet we know there are times we can receive good feelings from things that are truly bad. Can't bad feelings also produce something quite good? What if my suffering and pain produces in me a hatred for the sin to which I fall, which lead to an understanding of the hatred of that sin by my Father? Doesn't grace then arrive and show me its boundless ends which forgives that which He hates? Doesn't that then lead me to call upon Him for the strength to fight against such temptation?

Church Discipline is on the endangered species list in American churches. I do not believe this is because churches do not see the Bible as accurate (for it's decline is in liberal and conservative churches alike) but rather is found in our therapeutic worldview. When I sin, and then either confess my sin or my sins are found out, it then becomes the church's responsibility to make me feel better. Then the church wonders why the person continues to fall into the same pattern of sin. God instructs the church to counter this pattern with the gift of church discipline. Through the person's discomfort they might come to genuine repentance over the situation.

I heard a man teach once (can't remember who) that "if a person is feeling guilt about sin in their life, do not tell them that it is ok. Show them how they are forgiven, but do not interfere with a work the Holy Spirit may be doing in their lives."

Of course, like all things, there are extremes. I can think of times I became captive to my guilt and it began to control me. I am not asking about this. But how do we, as a community allow someone to know God forgives them, and we forgive them (on interpersonal issues), yet allow the person to work through feelings of guilt?

It's like when you use sand and water to cleanse your hands. You take the dirt from the ground, and yet it has a cleansing effect. Is it possible that the Lord desires to use feelings of guilt in the same way in our lives at times? If so, I ask not to be delivered from it, but rather that God would use it to purify me.


  • At 9:45 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Danny, I agree with almost all of what you said. Guilt is a God-given thing that helps us recognize that we've done wrong. What we do with guilt is what matters - right?

    Just a thought - why is "running to comfort" or "fleeing guilty feelings" unique to American society? I think it's part of human nature (sin nature?) - from the very beginning of time. Instead of letting their guilt drive them to God and learn from their sins, Adam and Eve put clothes on and hid together. King David was pretty fine with his sin until Nathan confronted Him.

    No need to single out America on this one. I would single out "human beings" as people who don't naturally view guilty feelings as a good and productive "teacher" of morality.

    While I agree that "church discipline" is not happening like it should, I think that is secondary to a couple of other issues.

    Issue #1 - Are people being taught clearly about sin and God's Holiness - what to do when we ARE guilty?

    Issue #2 - Are people being taught to confront each other in love - like in Galatians 6:1-2 - so that we are really sharpening each other and starting a movement that deals positively with sin and guilt by pursuing holiness?

    Issue #3 - There is no issue 3, especially considering that I said above that I had a "couple" of issues, which usually means two issues.

    Finally, I'd like to add, "Spurs in Four." I have been feeling guilty about my errant prediction for the Pistons, so I would like to repent here on your blogger, and turn from my ignorant Manu-underrating ways. Poor Pistons.

  • At 11:32 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    excellent point about humanity. i guess i put american church because that's where i relate and that's where i minister.

    however, i do wonder if our obsession with dr. phil and with self esteem hasn't infected our country worse than some others.

    point 2 is also good. unfortunately, people only see the latter phases in matthew 18 as church discipline. how many times could that be avoided if confronting one another in love was just a basic part of our faith? matthew 18 begins with us just living amongst each other...and for the extreme cases of rebellion Jesus gives additional guidelines.

    as with point 8 on the pitt discussion, i have no answer for your point 3. you got me.

  • At 12:08 PM, Anonymous MA said…


  • At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's important to distinguish between being guilty and feeling guilty. A person can be guilty without feeling guilty and can feel guilty without being guilty. Satan can use guilt feelings to tempt people to distance themselves from God and/or christian fellowship. God can use guilt feelings to lead to repentance and restoration. There is also a difference between historical guilt (Yes, I did it) and legal guilt (being held accountible and responsible). When God forgives me he releases me from the penalty of my legal (forensic) guilt, but I am left with the memories and consequences of my historical guilt. Dealing with legal guilt is a fairly straightforward I John 1:9 thing. Dealing with historical guilt is a longer and more complex process.


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