Guilt—Friend or Foe?
Are you in an emotional battle over guilt? Is your guilt the loving prod of God used to convict, correct, and conform your character—especially when you’ve gone astray? Or do you battle feelings of shame, disgrace, and disgust—especially when guilt strikes your heart?
True guilt is your friend—a godly companion in your conscience who whispers truth and motivates you to change.
False guilt is a relentless foe—an inner enemy that produces sorrow… worldly sorrow… superficial sorrow that ends in death!
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” -2 Corinthians 7:10
True Guilt—A Gift?
- Is a gift from God, motivating you to change
- Reveals that we all are guilty of sin
- Is concerned about developing your inner character
- Communicates God’s care and concern for you
- Does not make excuses for itself
- Encourages your real feelings to surface
- Lovingly shows you the hurt feelings of others
- Is accompanied by a desire for you to change
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” -Psalm 51:17
Where Does False Guilt Come From?
False guilt is based on self-condemning feelings: when you blame yourself, even though you’ve committed no wrong, or when you continue to blame yourself even though you’ve confessed and turned from your sin.
False guilt often begins in childhood. If you heard repeated messages saying “You’re naughty… You’re bad… Shame on you!” your guilt moved from knowing that you did something bad to feeling that you are bad . Shame leads you to focus not on what you’ve done but on being ashamed of who you are. These feelings lead you to believe:
- “Love is based on my performance.”
- “My performance does not live up to the expectations of others.”
- “I will be rejected and abandoned.”
False guilt is that inner voice saying, “Shame on you!” This guilt causes negative attitudes about ourselves and makes us feel basically defective. It produces a deep sense of unworthiness, leaving us with a constant fear of rejection.
False guilt causes unhealthy patterns of relating to others that can last throughout adulthood. As these patterns develop, true guilt over an action that hurts another (real sorrow over our sin) is immediately accompanied by false guilt (fear of rejection from others).
“If I am guilty—woe to me! Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction.” -Job 10:15
Q: “How should I respond to true guilt?”
You experience true guilt when you recognize the fact that you have sinned.
- Note David’s honesty in Psalm 32:5: “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. . . . And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
- How did God respond? With forgiveness. His response is the same for you. He says, “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sin no more” -Jeremiah 31:34
God is faithful. . . . He will always do what He says He will do. When you totally humble your heart before the Lord, not only does God forgive you, He also removes the sin from you.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” -Psalm 103:12
Q: “How should I respond to false guilt?”
The next time the viewing screen of your mind begins to replay your repented sins, realize that this taunting comes from the enemy, the accuser, to discourage you. Ask yourself:
- “What am I hearing?” (Accusation.)
- “What am I feeling?” (Guilt.)
- “What are the facts?” (I am fully forgiven.)
Use Scripture as your standard to determine true and false guilt. If you have received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and since the Savior died to take away your sins, choose to focus on God’s truth. Turn Romans 8:1 into a prayer: “Thank You, Father, that You don’t condemn me and don’t want me to condemn myself. These feelings of false guilt are not valid because I have accepted Christ’s sacrifice and have turned from my sins.”
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” -Romans 8:1
God’s Personal Guarantee
When you have handled your guilt God’s way, He says . . .
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” -Isaiah 1:18