For most of my life, I’ve felt guilty. About lots of things.
For not being the awesome dad who recites the Apostle’s Creed every night with his kids.
For having sucky, pedestrian devotions (15 minutes is a good day recently). For not communicating well with Jen.
For checking Facebook a stupid amount every day, despite the fact that it makes me feel like crap and makes me stupid (“Wow, what a neat Drake meme! Hey, there’s a political fight! I bet I can solve it!”).
Feeling guilty seems to be woven into my DNA. I know a lot of people like this. Perpetually guilty. Always feeling like a failure. Constantly experiencing some amount of self-loathing because they’re not the person they think they should be.
It’s time to stop feeling guilty. For anything.
I know, I know. It sounds like I’ve embraced some sort of loosey-goosey, free grace buffet (which would be a great band name) nonsense. That’s not what I’m talking about.
Biblical Guilt Versus Vague Guilt
Typically, scripture uses the words “guilt” and “guilty” in one of two ways:
1. Committing a particular sin. You are guilty of breaking God’s law when you sin. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10).
2. An overall standing of guilt and condemnation before God, both because of Adam’s original sin and our own particular sins. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation [guilt] for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18).
No deep theological understanding required here. In the Bible, guilt is always very specifically tied to sin. It’s not generic or vague. It’s not ambiguous. And people never repent generally. They repent for specific actions against God.
This is the problem with our guilt.
Stop Feeling Guilty
For the sake of the post, I’m going to make a distinction that is extra-biblical but not unbiblical. In other words, the Bible doesn’t use this exact terminology, but I think it’s helpful and biblical.
There is a huge difference between our typical experience of guilt (vague, persistent, ambiguous, not specifically related to sin) and the biblical experience of conviction.
Here’s the thing: the Holy Spirit is never vague.
When he convicts of sin, it is always specific, to the point, and leads to repentance.
When Satan or our faulty consciences make us feel guilty, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to get out of the tar pit of guilt.
That type of guilt is unbiblical, unhealthy, and never (NEVER!) productive. In fact, I think that guilt tends to lead to sin in that it tempts us to believe that the blood of Jesus isn’t enough to cover our guilt.
When I sin, there’s not much doubt in my mind. When I’m impatient with my kids, I know it. The fact that I’m having thoughts like, These are the worst human beings ever born, is a pretty good indicator.
When I’m angry, the fact that I want to go Mike Tyson on a wall clears things up.
And the Spirit always makes the next steps clear. Usually, those next steps are repentance to God and repentance to others (if relevant). I don’t need to be some sort of forensic CSI expert to figure this stuff out.
Satan, on the other hand, wants me (and you) to feel vaguely guilty all the time. He also never wants us to repent of anything. His typical strategy involves creating feelings of guilt over things that aren’t sin, or if they are sin, it’s sin we already repented of.
And… (this one is really important), Jesus died for real, actual sins. The blood of Jesus doesn’t cover things that aren’t sin. I mean, the blood of Jesus sanctifies everything we do, but you get the point. It’s difficult to run to the cross when you don’t know why you’re running.
– Tied to very specific sins
– Leads to repentance
– Covered by the blood of Christ
– Doesn’t lead to repentance
– Not covered by Christ
This Is Good News
The good news of the gospel is that there truly is ZERO condemnation in Christ. None. I don’t need to feel guilty for not going on my daughter’s 8-hour field trip because I had to work (and seriously…8 hours?!?).
I didn’t sin (unless I skipped out because I was organizing a Ponzi scheme). I’m not being a negligent father. Lay off Satan, lay off faulty conscience. We don’t serve your kind here (to quote Star Wars).
It’s also time for you to stop feeling guilty over things that aren’t sin. Feeling guilty doesn’t make you more godly. You can’t guilt yourself into holiness. Trust that God will specifically convict you of your sin and stop agonizing so much.
You’ve got better things to do.