Good Guilt vs. Bad Guilt

The idea of a good, god-glorifying guilt has been a truth in my heart for years now, but it has gone against what I hear a lot of my Christian community saying, leaving me confused. They say, “Guilt is not from God, but from the enemy.” I feel like the word “guilt” has acquired a taboo-like feel in the Christian community because of this view, when by definition it is “the fact of having committed a specified or applied offense or crime.”

Don’t get me wrong, I agree 100% that it is also used by the enemy – he is, after all, a liar with a limited bag of tricks. It only makes sense that he would take something God intended to use for good and pervert it in order to confuse and condemn those that aren’t watchful of his schemes. See below for more details.

But a part of me has always known that guilt has been a necessary part of my transformation. Without guilt or remorse, I would not have changed by sinful behaviors. I felt guilt when I knowingly stepped out of God’s will, therefore hurting myself, the Lord, and sometimes others. That feeling is what spurred me to repent, turn from those actions, get myself right with the Lord, and turn a new leaf. Had I not felt this guilt, I would not have felt that what I had done was wrong. That feeling was the clearest way the Spirit chastised me in those moments, and I was grateful for it!

Let’s check it out in scripture.

Context: Paul had written a letter to the church of Corinth, calling them out on sinful behavior. The letter he wrote has a reputation for being severe. He was concerned about how they would react. Then Titus brought him the news that they reacted with “godly sorrow,” rather than anger, resentment, rebellion, ect. Though Paul was sad to have caused them pain, he was joyful that they received the truths he stated in the letter.

2 Corinthians 7: 9-13

“…yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.  So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged.”

I know it doesn’t spell out “guilt” in this verse, but in my Bible, right next to these verses, it explores this idea and what they are referring to when they say “godly sorrow.”

Godly guilt is an emotional and spiritual weight. It’s the sorrow you feel when the Lord has shed light on a sin and has made it clear that it is just that – and therefore something you need to confess, repent, and ask forgiveness for. It really can be seen as a gift! It is the Lord disciplining us as His children, molding us to be more like Christ.

“Christ taught that the acknowledgment of our true guilt is the door through which we can experience the cleansing and renewal of being forgiven,” which He talks about in 1 John 1.

“This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claimed we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word is not in us.”

So you see, this chastising, this disciplining, this method of correcting is necessary to be in fellowship with the Lord. We all sin, and because of that, we all have room to grow and be molded. We all have stuff to confess, repent, and ask forgiveness for. Godly-guilt is what keeps us on that path of growth and keeps us from the rut of sin.

Well then, what does bad guilt look like?

Let me write out a list of questions for you to explore with the Lord.

Do you struggle with the feeling that you have nothing to offer?

Do you struggle with the feeling that you are not as ________________ as somebody else?

Do you struggle with feeling worthless?

Is there something in your past that you have not forgiven yourself for? 

Is there something in your past that you have never spoken to the Lord about because of shame?

Is there something in your past that you have not accepted the Lord’s forgiveness for?

Is there something you feel like you’ve done that does not deserve forgiveness?

I have found that the enemy’s version of guilt goes hand in hand with shame and condemnation. Shame, by definition, is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Shame keeps a child from the Lord. Shame causes us to run and hide from Him, like Adam and Eve did in Genesis. Shame is a feeling so painful that it often leads to a feeling of condemnation.

Condemnation by definition is “the expression of very strong disapproval; censure.” It is the feeling that you are unworthy of God’s grace. That you should feel shame and you should feel like you are beyond saving or healing. That you are nothing special. Unimportant, with nothing to offer. Sometimes, it’s even the feeling that the death of Jesus was not meant for you.

Those are LIES. The Lord intentionally created you with purpose. The sacrifice Jesus made was not only for the people that have “little sins,” but also for the murderer hanging on the cross beside him. It covers EVERYTHING. Do not live a life of deception thinking you are something you’re not – you are NOT worthless, or unworthy, or unsalvageable, or too broken, or too hateful, or too far gone. God sees you as His child in need of healing. Accept what God did for you. Accept the loving sacrifice He made for your sins, to conquer these feelings and these wounds. He did all this knowing that not everybody would accept what Jesus did, because God needs to be chosen, too. Forced love is not real love, God designed it to be a choice.

Think of it a different way. Think of it as somebody you care about giving you a heart-felt gift out of the blue. They got it for you to bring you joy. You may want to say “Aw, you shouldn’t have!”  But ultimately, they got it for you, so you accept it. That is the same as the selfless act that Jesus did for you, only on a much smaller scale. Don’t deny God the blessing of the gift of Jesus because it was unwarranted. Jesus is the pinnacle of God’s grace! And God’s grace cannot be earned. So it doesn’t matter how far you’ve strayed or how bad your past is. Jesus is enough!!

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