DEALING WITH GUILT
I think that we all have some situations in our lives, some things that we said or did that fill us with regret. Now, we can try to compensate for the mistake, or be punished in some way as a consequence – but it won’t change the past. And that is why guilt is such a powerful force, because there really isn’t anything that we can do that can take it away.
Guilt is the burden that we carry after having done something wrong. It is the realization that we cannot undo what we did, however much we regret it.
Seven Pounds ***SPOILER ALERT***
In the movie Seven Pounds, Will Smith plays the role of a man who made a huge mistake that caused seven people to die. The guilt is eating him up from the inside and he desperately tries to compensate for what he did by doing extremely good deeds and giving away everything that he has, including a lunge and part of his liver. But after all of that, the guilt is still there. In the final scene he commits suicide so that his heart would be available for donation as well. The movie is a vivid picture of how guilt can eat you up from the inside.
David’s sin with Bathsheba
In the Bible we also meet a man that is confronted with a sin he cannot undo. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and when she fell pregnant, had Uriah killed and then married her to cover up. When a prophet comes and confronts him with this sin, he is overwhelmed with guilt.
But other than Will Smith in Seven Pounds, David knows where to take his guilt. He brings it before the Lord.
Psalm 51:1-2 (NLT)
Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
1. Take ownership
The first thing that we need to do when we experience guilt is to take ownership. We see this very clearly from these verses, David is overwhelmed with regret. He feels dirty and unworthy and is begging God for forgiveness and purification.
We cannot deal with guilt if we don’t recognize the fault. Has anyone of you ever solved a conflict by saying: “I’m sorry that you are upset”? I know I’ve tried, and can testify that it has a very strong counter effect. That’s not taking ownership of the fault! Actually, you are blaming the other for being upset. The right thing to say is: “I’m sorry that I did (…) and recognize that by doing this I have upset you.”
So, first step to deal with guilt is to own up and take responsibility for the wrong that you’ve done, without blaming others, without defending it and without trying to nullify what happened.
2. Recognize the source
Psalm 51:3-4 (NLT)
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
David identifies the sin that he committed as ‘rebellion against God’. Quite often we dismiss sin as a mistake, or even a misunderstanding. David’s analysis is that it is something that he did out of rebellion against his Creator.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul analyses the process of sinning in a very open and clear way.
Romans 7:15-16 (NLT)
I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.
Paul is portraying that there is an inner struggle going on. We know through God’s revelation what is right, but still we choose to do wrong. Why? Paul identifies the root as our ‘sinful nature’ – or ‘flesh’ in other translations.
Romans 7:18, 23-24 (NLT)
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.
There is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Since Adam, we are born with a natural inclination to rebel against God and stray from His perfect path. There is no escaping this fact. History shows that when given the opportunity, human beings are capable of doing things that are evil and harmful.
But there is good news!
3. Find renewal in Christ
Romans 7:24-8:4 (NLT)
Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Jesus broke the power of sin completely! He took away the rightful punishment, the consequences and the root of sin away!
Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ receives a new nature and is not inclined to run after the desires of that sinful nature anymore, but inclined to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, we can still experience guilt over our sins. And guilt, even though it is necessary to take ownership, can also pull us away from God, feeling dirty and unworthy like David. What Paul is telling us here, is that we should recognize sin as belonging to the old you.
He says, “I know, I struggle too – but here is what I learned: there is a new life available for you”. You are not that person anymore, you have a new life with Christ. He already has exchanged your dirty clothes for new ones. He already has exchanged your old heart of stone for a heart of flesh. Stop looking at yourself as a sinner, you are a saint. Stop letting that guilt pull you back down to do the thing that you hate – you are a new person now!
You see, guilt is trying to tell us that we are dirty, unworthy and that we will never be good enough. This is only half-true! There is a new reality in Jesus Christ. Through His forgiveness, we are deemed worthy, acceptable and made holy.
Guilt is trying to tell you that your sinful nature is your true identity, but Jesus says that you have received a new identity – forgiven, worthy, holy and spotless.
David continues his prayer in Psalm 51 with a number of things that he desires from God. He begs God to renew him. And what he is praying for, is exactly what we have received in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 51:5-15 (NLT)
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
1 Peter 1:8-9 says we can rejoice with inexpressible joy because of our salvation
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
2 Corinthians 5:17 – Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.
Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;
then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
Unseal my lips, O Lord,
that my mouth may praise you.
Romans 12 says that we can now offer our lives as a sacrifice of worship to God which is acceptable to Him.
Christ changes your story
There is a little voice that will tell us that we will never be able to escape the traps we have stepped into. Once a ___________ always a _________ (fill in the blank)
If the label others put on you or you hold on to is something that is reminding you of your past, then it is not the label that Christ has for you.
In Christ, you were once a sinner, but now a saint.
once a liar, now an honest person. once unfaithful, now faithful. once an addict, but now set free.
This is not some phoney positive thinking trick – this is the new reality in Christ!
The mistakes of your past don’t have to determine your future. The stain of your guilt has been washed clean. You may not be able to change your past, but Christ can rewrite your story and change your future!