Introduction: Guilt is an issue we all experience and need to learn how to deal with. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary gives us a very long and detailed definition of genuine guilt. It describes genuine guilt like this, and I quote:
GUILT, n. gilt. 1.Criminality; that state of a moral agent, which results from his actual commission of a crime or offense, knowing it to be a crime, or violation of law. To constitute guilt there must be a moral agent enjoying freedom of will, and capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and a willful or intentional violation of a known law, or rule of duty. The guilt of a person exists, as soon as the crime is committed; but to evince [prove, confirm] it to others, it must be proved by confession, or conviction in due course of law. Guilt renders a person a debtor to the law, as it binds him to pay a penalty in money or suffering. Guilt therefore implies both criminality and liableness to punishment. Guilt may proceed either from a positive act or breach of law, or from voluntary neglect of known duty.
This is a very detailed and accurate definition of genuine guilt. But, sometimes we experience false guilt. Either type, genuine or false guilt, can paralyze us and hold us in bondage until we learn how to respond to it in a way that will eliminate it from our lives.
When we experience guilt it brings our lives to a screeching halt. We are unable to make any significant forward progress until we deal with the problem that is producing the guilt and clear ourselves of its constraints. Some people will carry the guilt of something that has occurred in their lives at an early age, until they are old; not understanding how to get rid of that guilt.
Example – As told by the preacher with Life Action Ministries – An 84 year old lady who had had an affair on her husband who was now deceased, and had had an abortion when she was young, was still paralyzed by her guilt.
There are two things we must learn if we are to conquer the bondage of guilt and be set free from it:
(1) We must learn how to distinguish between genuine guilt and false guilt.
(2) We must learn how to respond in the proper way to the type of guilt we are experiencing.
1. Genuine Guilt
A. In Deuteronomy, chapter 19 we learn to identify genuine guilt.
B. In verse 4 it says, “And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past.”
C. In other words, this is what we would call manslaughter, or the accidental killing of another person.
D. But, Verses 11-13 say this, “But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities: Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. Thine eye shall not pity him but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee.”
E. The difference in this slaying is that it was premeditated.
F. So, the definition of Webster was absolutely correct.
G. Genuine guilt results from a free moral agent acting in intentional violation of the known will and Word of God.
H. When you or I knowingly violate the will of God, we have committed sin, and the resulting consequence of that sin is that we experience an immediate sense of guilt.
I. This guilt informs us we are lawbreakers; and, that we stand indebted to the law to pay the penalty required for our crime.
J. But, we also experience genuine guilt when we know the right thing to do and just refuse or neglect to do it.
K. James 4:17 says, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
L. So, refusing or neglecting to do what we know we should do is also knowingly committing sin against the will of God, and will also produce an immediate sensation of genuine guilt.
M. Again, Webster is right; guilt not only proceeds from a positive act or breach of law, but also from voluntary neglect of known duty.
N. So genuine guilt results from the sin of commission and from the sin of omission.
O. Genuine guilt then, makes us indebted to pay the penalty the law demands for our having broken that law.
P. Now that we have established the source of genuine guilt, how can we get rid of it?
Q. We have already said that the breaking of the law demands that a penalty be paid.
R. Romans 6:23 states that the penalty of sin is death.
S. The good news is, Jesus has paid that debt for you and me, so that we can be forgiven and released from the penalty of death we owe.
T. We now just need to have His payment applied to our sin and when we do, the sin is cleansed and the guilt we are experiencing that has resulted from that sin disappears.
U. How then, do we have His payment applied to our sin?
V. Proverbs 16:6a informs us that two things are required for our iniquity to be purged: mercy and truth.
W. Here’s what it says: “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged…”
X. Truth on our part; and mercy on God’s part.
Y. For us, genuine repentance is required which consists of 2 things:
Z. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
AA. We must confess (admit to) our sin; and we must forsake our sin.
BB. This demonstrates genuine repentance.
CC. So, confessing, or admitting the truth about your sin, and forsaking it according to Proverbs 28:13b is entering into a truthful position before God.
DD. This allows Him to apply Jesus’ payment of death to your sin and by His mercy, purge your iniquity away.
EE. Once you have done this, genuine guilt has been eliminated.
FF. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
GG. Remember, guilt is the resulting consequence of sin; and when sin is gone, so is the guilt that accompanied it.
HH. If you are lost, similarly, you must admit the awful truth that you are a sinner, and invite Jesus Christ into your life.
II. When He comes in, He removes your sinful condition, which eliminates your guilt. You have been set free from your guilt and fear!
JJ. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
KK. So, genuine guilt results from sin, and disappears only when your sin has been forgiven and removed.
2. False Guilt
A. If after you have followed the biblical guidelines to have your sin forgiven, you are still experiencing guilt, perhaps you are experiencing false guilt.
B. False guilt occurs for three reasons:
(1) You fail to believe God’s Word concerning the forgiveness He offers you.
(2) You believe God has forgiven you, but falsely think you have not forgiven yourself.
(3) You believe you have committed a sin, but in reality you have not.
C. Let’s examine each reason and how to deal with it in light of Scripture.
D. First, You fail to believe God’s Word – Numbers 23:19 says: “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he spoken, and shall he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?”
E. When God gives you the prescription for having your sins forgiven, He is not a man that He would lie about it, or repent (in other words, change His mind).
F. He will do exactly what He says, if you will do what He asks of you.
G. It’s not complicated, or obscure.
H. He does not make it hard to understand or to do.
I. If you confess (admit, own up to, tell the truth about) your sin, and forsake it, He will forgive it!
J. This is not hard to understand; neither is it a trick that really demands some hidden qualification in addition to what He has said.
K. If you will do this, confess and forsake your sin, He will do what He said, forgive and remove your sin from you.
L. When God forgives your sin, He removes your sin.
M. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”
N. Did you know if you are at the South Pole and go north that you will eventually meet the North Pole?
O. But, if you travel east, you will never get to the “West Pole.” You will always, forevermore, be going east.
P. The same is true when going west; you will never meet the “East Pole” but will always, forevermore, be going west.
Q. In other words, once your sin has been forgiven, it will never again resurface for you to have to face it anew.
R. It is gone forever!
S. That is God’s Word. Believe it!
T. Second, You think you cannot forgive yourself – The truth here, is that the Bible never mentions you forgiving yourself.
U. Forgiving yourself is neither possible nor required.
V. If you feel God has forgiven you, but you are just not able to forgive yourself, you are demanding something of yourself that is impossible for you to do.
W. Forgiving yourself is not possible because it is not a real issue.
X. This is an imaginary problem that does not exist, and therefore, can never be done.
Y. If after you have followed God’s prescription to be forgiven, you are still experiencing guilt, you have never believed God’s Word concerning His forgiveness.
Z. Your guilt exists, not because you have never forgiven yourself, but because you have never truly trusted God’s forgiveness.
AA. Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
BB. So, we see that the blood of Jesus is the only cleansing agent in the universe that can purge your conscience.
CC. Forgiving yourself cannot purge your conscience; only the payment of Jesus’ blood can purge your conscience and make it clean again.
DD. False guilt, believing you must forgive yourself, is Satan’s way of keeping you bound in guilt by your unbelief in the real cleansing agent that can genuinely remove your sin and free you from your guilt.
EE. Third, You falsely believe you have committed a sin – Some people consistently feel they are sinning when in fact they are not.
FF. This problem can arise from a lack of understanding of what constitutes sin:
(1) Not understanding that temptation is not sin; that being enticed, and submitting to that enticement are 2 different things. James 1:14 and 15a say, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin…”
(2) A background of having been made to feel guilty by someone who was always placing blame on you that you didn’t deserve.
(3) A very sensitive, over-active conscience causing you to always fear that you have offended God in some way when you haven’t.
GG. Remember, sin is intentionally breaking the law of God.
HH. 1 John 3:4b says, “Sin is the transgression of the law.”
II. If you have not broken God’s law, your guilt is imagined, and will disappear when you realize the truth.
JJ. False guilt then, is the result of: you not believing or trusting the forgiveness of God, misunderstanding your role in forgiveness, or, misunderstanding what constitutes sin.
3. Let’s evaluate. How do I determine if I am experiencing Genuine Guilt or False Guilt?
A. First, you must evaluate the source of your guilt and determine if a sin has genuinely been committed.
B. If you have never received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you are in a sinful state; your guilt is genuine and will not go away until you receive Him into your life.
C. If you are saved, and a sin has genuinely been committed, your guilt at least could be genuine.
D. If you have not genuinely committed a sin, and you are saved, you can automatically realize your guilt is false, and can begin to evaluate why you are experiencing false guilt.
E. Second, if you have committed a sin, you must determine if you have followed God’s prescription to have your sin forgiven which would eliminate any guilt for that sin.
F. If you have simply tried to stop committing your sin and do better, but have not sought the forgiveness of God for your sin, your guilt is genuine because you have not followed God’s prescription for cleansing.
G. If you have tried some other way to get rid of your sin besides God’s prescribed way, your guilt is genuine.
H. Sometimes people will try medication for anxiety, distracting themselves from their guilt by busying themselves in some activity, and myriad other ways to escape their guilt without dealing with the source, which is sin.
I. When it comes to sin and guilt, we don’t need medication; we need eradication, which only comes when God forgives.
J. Third, if you have sinned, and have followed God’s prescription to have it forgiven, and your guilt remains, you must determine if your repentance and faith was genuine.
K. How do I do this?
L. Repentance – If your sin was habitual, meaning it was not just an isolated incident but a continuing activity, when you confessed it, did you abandon it? Did you stop doing it?
M. Proverbs 28:13 which I have already quoted says, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
N. Confessing but not forsaking, or abandoning, your sin, is evidence that your repentance was not genuine; and remember, it is by genuineness, in other words, truth, that transgressions are purged.
O. If your sin was an isolated incident, forsaking it means you yield it up to God – you let it go when you repent of it; you don’t continue to hold on to it as though you deserve the guilt and punishment you are experiencing.
P. You must release it to God when you confess your sin, so that He can remove it from you as far as the east is from the west.
Q. Faith – If your repentance was genuine, and you followed God’s prescription, have you believed His Word that says He will forgive you if you will genuinely confess (repent)?
R. If you have followed God’s prescription, and your repentance was genuine, and your guilt remains, it is because you have not trusted the forgiveness God has extended to you.
S. Believe it! Receive it!
T. Fourth, if you have not genuinely sinned, or have genuinely sinned and have genuinely followed God’s prescription for forgiveness, and you are still experiencing guilt, your guilt is false, and you need to determine the reason you are experiencing false guilt and deal with that problem, rather than attempting to deal with the problem of sin that does not exist.
U. To distinguish between genuine guilt and false guilt you must determine if genuine sin has been committed, and if you have genuinely repented of that sin.
V. If genuine sin has been committed and you have genuinely repented and guilt remains, it is false guilt.
In Conclusion: Guilt is God’s built-in alarm system that alerts you that something has occurred, or is present, that is interrupting your peace with God, and therefore must be dealt with before you can successfully proceed with your life.
Genuine guilt is experienced when sin is present, either as an isolated act that has not been repented of, or as an ongoing sinful behavior.
In order to relieve our selves of genuine guilt the sin must be genuinely repented of; that means confessed and forsaken – abandoned if it is an ongoing behavior; and released if it was an isolated act – and God’s forgiveness must be received. This is the only prescription available that can free us from the bondage of our genuine guilt.
False Guilt is experienced when:
(1) You fail to believe God’s Word concerning His forgiveness;
(2) When you falsely believe you must forgive yourself;
(3) Or when you believe you have sinned but you really have not.
Are you, experiencing guilt right now?
If you are, is it genuine guilt or false guilt?
Will you take the necessary steps to free yourself of your guilt? Will you do that right now?