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Guilt and the Christian

Updated: Jul 15


Blog title card; topic is guilt
Guilt and the Christian

God created us to remember the past. Our memory is our link to God’s past works, the context for meaningful relationships, and the foundation for building skills and knowledge. A person who cannot recall cannot survive. However, our memory can go awry in several ways. No doubt you have on occasion disagreed more or less strongly with a family member or friend about the details of an event you both share. On the other hand, a shocking or distressing event may have burnt itself into your memory such that even the suggestion of it pulls you into a well-worn but unpleasant path.


Guilt is not a bug of our memory system; it is a feature. God made us moral creatures, so often our conscience places past events into the category of regret or remorse. If you came to Christ late or spent time as a wandering sheep, your memory includes events before conversion or repentance. I hope you are confident in God’s forgiveness in Christ enough to say with David at the beginning of Psalm 32: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Perhaps, though, you regret your past instead of rejoicing in divine forgiveness. If so, this point is necessary to remember.



Guilt is not permanent

It is possible to live a blessed and happy life on the future side of sin. In fact, it is possible to come before the Lord confident He will impute no iniquity to your account (verse 2). Remember that there is no one on the earth who does good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20), so verses 1-2 are the testimony of a forgiven David, not a man who had successfully managed to maintain spotless standing before the Lord. It is possible to break God’s law and afterwards be forgiven and have restored fellowship with the Lord.



Guilt is objective

It is important to remember that God does not forgive because the sin we commit is actually not so bad after all. Sin is objectively bad, and guilt is miserable because sin is as bad as it is. Guilt is an alarm that alerts our conscience to the presence of sin that needs to be addressed. Verses 3-4 describe what David was experiencing when he knew he had sinned yet refused to address it: his guilt was consuming him from the inside out. Notice in verse 4 that the condition was not a malfunction of his conscience. Instead, it was the hand of God heavy upon him. David had committed objective sin before God.


Guilt is based on objective knowledge. The words used to describe David’s wrongdoing in the psalm—transgression, iniquity, sin, guile—are ways of describing real offenses against the Lord. We properly experience guilt when, in the eyes of our perfectly righteous God, we have committed an offense. The objectivity of guilt is important for several reasons. First, it means that it is our responsibility to acknowledge our offense to God, for it is His law we break. The attitude that refuses to acknowledge guilt is what David spoke of in verse 2; it is a spirit of guile within a man. Later we will see the blessings that come from agreeing with God when we sin, which is the opposite of deceiving ourselves.


Another reason the objectivity of guilt is important is so that we do not confuse a guilty feeling with true guilt. While the heavy hand of God on David was not a malfunction of his conscience, it is possible for a person to experience false guilt. If a man feels guilty over a situation he has confessed and where restitution has been made, he is experiencing false guilt. Likewise, a person who is being blamed, manipulated, or pressured by another person may or may not actually have sinned. It does not matter whether people think we have sinned; what matters is whether we are clear before the Lord. Likewise, a sin before God is worthy of guilt, even if every other person justifies our actions.


The turning point in Psalm 32 comes when David comes clean and agrees with God that he is truly guilty. “I acknowledged my sin unto thee,” he says in verse 5, “and mine iniquity have I not hid.” At this point, David's situation changes.



Guilt is removed by confession

Do you remember the agony David was in when he hid his guilt? In verse 5 that inner torment disappears. The solution is simple but easy to overlook. Continuing in verse 5, he narrates his inner dialogue at the point when he repented. “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD’; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”

Guilt for the Christian is removed by only one thing: confession. As soon as David acknowledged his actions for what they were, agreeing with God’s objective condemnation of his sin, God forgave him. This is an important point because we can confuse forgiveness with restoration. While it may take time to make proper restitution to someone we have sinned against, and while restoration of a human relationship may take time, the sin is forgiven at the moment of confession.


Sometimes we erroneously think that confession is not the answer. We may think we can atone for our sin by compensating for it instead. “If I demonstrate I have changed, they will forgive me.” “When I do enough good things to make up for the bad things I have done, my guilt will go away.” David does not speak to the Lord in Psalm 32 in terms of relieving his guilt through right behavior. He simply humbles himself enough to call his sin what the Lord calls it, and the Lord cleanses him. Verses 7-8 communicate David’s renewed confidence in God’s character. Forgiveness, he realizes, is a humble prayer away. In fact, he says, "for this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found” (verse 7). Not only that, but David remembers that part of God's character is salvation from danger, ruin, and death. "Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance" (verse 7). If God can deliver from physical harm, God can forgive a spiritual offense.


As we approach the end of Psalm 32, notice how the speaker changes. From the beginning of the psalm David has been speaking. In verse 8, God begins to speak instead. He promises to direct his people. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” One specific benefit of being free from guilt is that we are able to detect God’s directing eye. You probably know from experience how guilt weighs on the mind and dulls it to other influences. A believer under the burden of guilt cannot enjoy the benefits of God’s guidance in verse 8.


God also issues a preventative warning to those who might pursue sin’s pleasures and become entangled by guilt. A sinful person is an uncontrollable person, the Lord says. “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee” (verse 9). The reason we wind up in situations with overwhelming guilt is often because we did not heed God’s instruction to listen to His commands. Verse 10-11 end the psalm with great confidence. Should we obey, and cast ourselves on the certain forgiveness of God, instead of guilt we will have joy and the knowledge that before God we are clear and guiltless. "Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about" (verse 10).


Verse 11 ends with two terms that, on our own, humans cannot attain: righteous and upright. How is it possible to be perfectly upright and righteous before God? How is it that guilt is not permanent? The answer is that David was forgiven in advance of the sacrifice of Christ. He was cleansed because hundreds of years later Jesus would take those very sins on himself. God forgives us now for the same reason He forgave David in Psalm 32: the Sinless One took our sins on Himself. We need not harbor guilt any longer than the time it takes us to confess; every sin has already been paid for.

 

The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is a pastoral assistant at NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at strengthforlife461@gmail.com.


Every Tuesday, SFL publishes relevant Bible-based content. Check back next Tuesday to read the next SFL article.

 

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