Everyone must deal with guilt at some time in their life. Understanding where guilt comes from, the right and wrong ways to handle it, and recognizing the many misconceptions about guilt are essential for dealing with it properly.
A. Where does guilt come from?
1. It comes as a natural result of breaking God's Law (Rom. 3:19).
2. It comes as a result of violating your conscience (Rom. 2:15).
3. It can come from your own heart condemning you (1 John 3:20) (Rom. 14:22).
4. It can come from other people condemning you (Psalms 109:31) (Luke 6:37).
5. It can come from the devil condemning you (1 Tim. 3:6) (Rev. 12:10).
B. Two ways to deal with guilt.
1. The wrong way
You can do what Adam and Eve did after they disobeyed God. They ran from Him, hid themselves, excused themselves, they blamed God, then they blamed each other and Satan for their problems (Genesis 3:7-13). Similarly, you could do what King David did after committing adultery with Bathsheba. He manipulated and deceived people, to cover the guilt of his sin. This behavior is what led David to commit the even more grievous sin of murdering Uriah (2 Sam. 11). It's important to note that none of these actions did anything to solve David’s problem with guilt. His actions only made things worse.
2. The right way
There are a few simple words that sum up God's way to relieve men of their guilt. They are: repent, confess, and forsake (Mark 1:15) (1 John 1:9) (Prov. 28:13) (2 Cor. 5:20) (Matt. 5:24). Believe God's promise of forgiveness, repent of your sins, confess these to God and man, then turn and forsake these sins. Next, seek reconciliation with anyone you have offended. Each of these steps will cause you to experience freedom from the guilt of the past. This is the promise of God's Word. God doesn't want you to live under guilt and condemnation. Jesus said He didn't come to condemn the world, but He came that the world might be saved (John 3:17). God wants to forgive your sin, not condemn you. Deal with your guilt God's way, and joy and freedom will result!
C. What causes a Christian to struggle with guilt, even after taking the above steps?
A. You don't understand or believe the reasons God has declared as to why you have sinned and failed.
1. When you were a non-Christian you must understand:
a. You sinned and failed in your behavior because you are a sinner by nature (Rom. 5:12) (Eph. 2:3).
b. You sinned and failed because you were blinded by sin and Satan (2 Cor. 4:4) (1 John 2:11) (Luke 23:24).
2. Now that you are a Christian:
a. You sin because you underestimate the power of your sinful nature and the influence of temptation to compromise your beliefs (Rom. 7:11-24) (Luke 22:46).
b. You will sometimes choose to not walk under the control of the Spirit and, therefore, you end up fulfilling the desires of your flesh (Gal. 5:16,17). This brings forth every evil work (James 3:15,16).
The underlying problem you must address: You think you have sinned because you are some kind of especially evil person. You think you are more than just a sinner by nature.
B. You don't understand or believe your present standing in Christ.
a. By grace you have been saved. You have been freely justified by His grace alone. The word freely in Greek means “For nothing” (Rom. 3:24). You have your standing in Christ today by grace only. You have done nothing to deserve this.
b. You have been declared righteous and holy in Christ simply because of your faith in His finished work (Phil. 3:8,9) (Col. 1:19-22) (2 Cor. 5:21). Your past has been put away once and for all (Heb. 9:26).
The underlying problem you must address: You don't truly understand what it means to be justified by Christ.
C. You do not understand, believe, or accept God's forgiveness.
1. God's forgiveness is His promise not to mark or mention your sin ever again (Psalms 103:3,4) (Isaiah 43:25) (Heb. 8:12). The Hebrew word for remember means to mark, mention or recount. What a promise! This means that God will not be mentioning to you your past forgiven sin just so you will feel bad and want to repent again. He chooses not to remember it against you forever.
2. His forgiveness has nothing to do with forgiving yourself. Forgiving yourself is not a biblical concept, but has filtered into the church from secular psychology. As sinners, we don't have the right or the ability to forgive ourselves. Only God can forgive our sins. Even the Pharisees understood this (Mark 2:7).
The underlying problem you must address: You must still believe that God has not forgiven you.
D. You don't understand what it means to forget what is behind.
1. In Phil. 3:13, the word forget means to neglect, or put out of your mind.
2. You must learn how to discipline your own thoughts. Many Christians don't believe this is even possible. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit doesn't put fear in our hearts, but love, power and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). The fruit of the Spirit will help you to make the choice to discipline your mind and not think about the evil done to you or the evil you have done to others (2 Cor. 10:5) (Phil. 4:8). Your daily choices to control your thought life will enable you to not go back and dwell on your past sins.
The underlying problem you must address: You are allowing your mind to dwell on your past sins. Choose to control these thoughts with the help of the Holy Spirit.
D. If you are confident that you know and believe the above truths, and yet still struggle with guilt, what could be wrong?
1. Satan may be condemning you. He is the accuser of the brethren and the father of all lies (Rev. 12:10) (John 8:44).
2. You may be continuing in a behavior that you are unwilling to admit is sinful. Your conscience will accuse you for this behavior, and the result will be guilt (Rom. 2:15).
3. The only other reason for guilt could be self-deception over one of the above truths. If your conscience is still "accusing you" then something is wrong (Rom. 2:15). You must determine what this is and resolve it.
E. How You Can Resolve Your Guilt?
1. First, determine from the above study the cause of your guilt.
2. Take the appropriate action.
a. Reconcile with God.
b. Reconcile with man.
c. Believe God's Word about what God has said about you.
d. Receive God’s forgiveness and pray for His deliverance (Psalms 51:14).
e. Control your thought life.