|Photo by: anankkml|
If you’re a sensitive person, at some time or another you may have felt guilty—whether or not you were guilty.
When I was in the sixth grade, the teacher at school spoke at length about someone who had cheated on a test. She said she knew who had done it, and that it would be better for that person if he came to her before she went to him. I remember feeling guilty, even though I’d never cheated. I had that kind of a conscience.
- Some people mentally review their life scenarios and pick them apart, saying to themselves, “What if I had . . . ?”
- I knew a man who was a soldier in Vietnam. He felt survivor’s guilt over some of his horrible wartime experiences. Why did his buddies die, and not him?
- Emergency personnel sometimes feel that they have not done enough to help accident victims.
- Some people blame themselves for hurting another person—whether or not they actually did.
- Others feel guilty for entertaining sinful thoughts, even if they never actually do the act. (Entertaining sinful thoughts is sin. Matthew 9:4; James 4:5)
- And then, there are those who are culpable and know it.
- There are sins of omission—not doing what they know they should. (James 4:17)
God doesn’t want us to feel guilty—for long. The Lord has provided a way for us to deal with guilt and live joyfully.
Let’s explore several scenarios.
- You know you did wrong. No doubt about it, you did it. You did it on purpose. You have sinned. —There’s forgiveness in Christ. If you are not yet a Christian, you need to turn from your sin and accept Jesus’ payment for your sins on the cross. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7). If you are already a born again Christian, you need to confess your sins and forsake them. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
- You think maybe you might have offended someone or not worded something in the right way. You think you might have sinned.—Get a clear conscience by talking to the Lord. (See 1 John 1:9, above) Once you’ve confessed what you think you might have done wrong, leave it with the Lord, Who promises to cleanse us. Rest in His forgiveness. Do not go back over that scenario in your mind again. (Philippians 4:8)
- You really did offend someone. —Make it right. Confess to the other person and ask him for forgiveness. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). Also see Matthew 18:15 which speaks of the offended person getting things right with the person who offends him. Once you are right with your friend, go on in the joy of the Lord.
- The preaching was hard. It made you remember all the things you did when you were younger. It made you feel guilty and horrible inside. It even made you feel guilty about things you never did. —Do not let yourself feel guilty about sins that are already forgiven: those committed before you accepted Christ, those you’ve already confessed. Don’t lie to yourself about things you never did. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more (Hebrews 8:12, also 10:17). If God has removed our sins, and if He doesn’t remember them, then there’s no reason for us to go back to them—ever.
- You imagined a sinful act in your head. It could have been lustful or about doing something you know is wrong. It might have been ugly thoughts about someone. You enjoyed thinking about it. You didn’t act on your thoughts, but it was definitely a sin in your mind. —I once heard a pastor’s message about what a person should do in this case. He said, “Public sins should be confessed publicly. Private sins should be confessed privately.” If the sin is in your mind only, it’s still sin, and you should pray and ask the Lord for forgiveness. You should also repent (turn away from that thought process.) You do not go to the person you thought badly about and say, “I thought ugly thoughts about you, and I want you to forgive me.” That hurts the other person, someone you hadn’t offended before. Yes, your thoughts were wrong. Go to the Lord and confess your sin. He will forgive you. (1 John 1:9)
- You have sinned publicly. It could be anything from a bad testimony, such as public drunkenness, to immorality.—Confess your sin to the Lord, and ask for His forgiveness. Turn from your sin. Change your ways. Confess your sin before the church body. Public sins cause shame to the Name of Christ, and they must be confessed and forsaken. There may be consequences of your sin. Thankfully, God forgives and restores. If you are in a church congregation where someone has confessed a public sin, the Bible says, Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
The Apostle Paul is perhaps the best biblical model about how to deal with past sins and guilt. Remember, when he was named Saul, he was persecuting the true church in the name of religion. He calls himself a Pharisee and was the son of a Pharisee—someone trying to be so good as to merit heaven. He was Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless (Philippians 3:5-6).
How did Paul handle his past?
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith . . . .
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:7-9, 13-14).
It wasn’t easy, but Paul put his past behind him. He put Stephen’s death and the responsibility for putting people in prison out of his mind. Oh yes, he knew he did those things. But he accepted God’s beautiful forgiveness and set goals. He wanted to know God, to serve Him, to get the prize!
God doesn’t want us to walk around feeling guilty. He wants us to deal with our sins by confessing them to Him (and others, if necessary), turning our backs on them, and then putting them behind us. God does!
Let’s live in victory!