By Chad West
We seem to believe that guilt is the ultimate motivation. “If you really loved God, you’d come to church more often… you’d stop smoking… you’d give more.” Guilt is our go-to when we need or want something. No, not just in the church, but certainly there. We Christians know how to use it to our advantage. And that’s not a good thing.
THE GUILT LEASH
Guilt is not an emotion that we should want to rid ourselves of. While it’s not pleasant, it serves positive social and moral functions. It motivates us to right wrongs and to repent. But guilt is a weird emotion, and so potent that it can become dangerous in the wrong hands.
I love talking to people who have just discovered grace–that God’s love is unearned. A lot of silly, superficial “rules” go out the window and the freedom is dizzying. They are like newborn chicks, and I mean that in the best possible way. They go boldly at times, but at others they are hyper-conscious of their surroundings, nervous that they might be taking grace too far.
Like with most of our learned behavior, a lot of it has become such a part of who we are that we don’t see it as negative until someone else points it out. A lot of times, all those curious chicks need is permission to be free. Guilt so warps us that we don’t even know what freedom looks like. We’re so used to the pull of that guilt leash that we’re always waiting for its sudden yank against our necks. With God, there is no leash, only loving arms.
You feel guilty? Go to God. Still feel guilty? That’s a lie.
GUILT IS AN ALARM
Guilt serves much the same purpose that pain does in the body. If you’ve got an awful ache in your gut or your big, Fred Flintstone toe, then that’s probably pointing to an issue that needs to be taken care of. Guilt is even a type of pain. And it’s presence signifies that there is an issue that needs to be resolved.
Maybe you were rude and you need to apologize.
Perhaps you took something when someone wasn’t looking.
Could be that you gave in to temptation again.
Guilt. It’s a sign you should do something about it. But what if you already have and you still feel guilty?
People who have lost limbs often talk about an odd, phantom pain where that appendage once was. Is that pain real? Your brain thinks it is. That’s sort of how unhealthy guilt works. You’ve apologized, you’ve returned the stolen merchandise and you’ve asked forgiveness. There may be some actual consequences to your actions that you need to take seriously (jail, for instance), but guilt is over and done.
REGRET, NOT GUILT
Guilt is a proclamation. It is the firm fact that we have committed a wrong. Regret is simply the knowledge that you messed up coupled with a desire to do better next time. It is a permanent mental stop sign against that behavior. It’s not the same thing as guilt at all.
But do you see how stinking amazing it is to no longer be found guilty of that which we are clearly guilty? That’s God’s forgiveness.
It should be the kind of forgiveness we strive toward as well.
People will be quick to remind you of your sins. And you will want to spiral and feel guilty all over again. You can still have regret over your actions, and act accordingly–as is healthy–toward a wronged individual. (For instance, if you stole from someone, you will have to work long and hard to earn back their trust.) But forgiveness crushes that heavy weight of guilt on your shoulders to bits and whisks it away forever.
So, understand, if you still feel guilt, it’s just a lie.
Our false guilt is a symptom of other’s need to control.
Our false guilt is a symptom of our need to control.
You can’t be in control. Life doesn’t work like that.
It’s okay to be where you are.
You can’t be good enough to gain God’s favor. The Creator of the Universe stepped into the Creation, becoming a man, perfect, sinless, to become sin and die in our place. Do you think He would have gone to such lengths if less porn and praying more would have cut it?
The Good News is that Jesus’ death and resurrection made forgiveness possible. Not just a little forgiveness until the next time you botch it up. All the forgiveness. Jesus traded his perfection for our sin because of his great love for us. That means, if you belong to him, you’re clean.
No more useless guilt.
The only guilt you should allow in your life is that which sends you back to God when you mess up. If you screw up, you’re going to feel it, and guilt can make you run from the one against whom you’ve sinned. But not if you know that He will always be there with open arms. Your forgiveness is a foregone conclusion. Repentance just brings you back to him after you mess it up.
No condemnation. I’ll say it one more time: Guilt brings you to God, then it’s done it’s job. If you’re forgiven, and you’re still feeling guilty, that’s a lie. Don’t let someone steal your freedom. Don’t let them control you.