Guilt is a sense of responsibility concerning something negative that has
befallen others or yourself. It is a feeling of regret over some action taken or not
taken. Guilt is a terrible feeling to bear. We are not built for guilt, and it damages
our souls and personalities—even our health. Guilt steals our peace and joy. It
can become a prison without a key.
Guilt leaves us with a sense of obligation to make up in some way for the
wrong we did or imagine we did. The burden of guilt coupled with a desire to
pay for our crimes is a miserable life indeed. I know a woman who spent
hundreds of thousands of dollars in treatment programs and found no help until she received Jesus as her Savior and believed that He paid the debt she owed
when He died on the cross. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news indeed!
Because we could not, He paid, and now there is no condemnation or guilt for
those who are in Christ (see Rom. 8:1).
We don’t ignore our sins, but instead we face them boldly; we confess them
(telling all) and receive God’s amazing forgiveness.
I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, I
will confess my transgressions to the Lord [continually unfolding the past
till all is told]—then You [instantly] forgave me the guilt and iniquity of
my sin. Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]!.(Psalm 32:5)
Let’s do what the Scripture suggests. Let’s pause and calmly think of what
the verse is saying. If we acknowledge (admit) our sin to God and tell all,
refusing to hide our sin, God will instantly forgive us and remove the guilt. If the
sin is gone, there is nothing to feel guilty about. The feeling of guilt does not
always go away instantly, but we can take God at His word and say with Him, “I
am forgiven, and the guilt has been removed.” I have discovered that my
feelings will eventually catch up with my decision, but if I let my feelings make
my decisions, I will always be a slave to them.
I know of a woman who was a real warrior for the Lord. She taught Sunday
school, visited women in the local prison on Friday nights, volunteered to clean
the church sanctuary on Saturdays, and tithed regularly. She raised two
daughters who became committed Christians and led hundreds of people to the
Lord over her lifetime. When she died, grown men came to her funeral and
cried. They told her daughters how their mother had given their wives food and
money when they themselves had squandered their paychecks.
Only her daughters knew that their mother was one of the unhappiest women
in the world. Despite her strong faith, she had committed sins in her youth that
haunted her throughout her life. While God had forgiven her, she couldn’t
She was stuck in condemnation.
I think stories like this one are some of the saddest in the world. I am sure the
woman in the story told others of the love and mercy of God, yet she never truly
received it for herself. Perhaps she never understood that she was much more
than what she felt. She felt guilty, and so she assumed she was guilty and let it
steal her joy. This story is repeated in multiplied millions of lives and is one of
the reasons I am writing this book. We can live by the truth in God’s Word and
not the way we feel.
We can live by the truth in God’s Word and
not the way we feel.
Condemnation and Conviction
We must learn the difference between condemnation (guilt) and true conviction
from God that we have done something wrong. Condemnation presses us down
and manifests as a heavy burden that requires us to pay for our errors.
Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is showing us that we have sinned
and inviting us to confess our sins, to receive forgiveness and God’s help to
improve our behavior in the future. Condemnation makes the problem worse;
conviction is intended to lift us out of it. The result of each is entirely different
from the other.
When you feel guilty, the first thing to do is ask yourself if you are guilty
according to God’s Word. Perhaps you are. If so, confess your sin to God; turn
away from that sin and don’t repeat it. If you need to apologize to the person you
have wronged, do it. Then… forgive yourself and let go of it! God already did,
and if you refuse to, then you’ll miss out on the joy of redemption that God
wants us all to experience.
Sometimes you may well find that you are not guilty according to God’s
Word. For example, I can recall feeling guilty when I tried to rest. For years I
drove myself incessantly to work, work, work because I felt good when I was
accomplishing something and felt guilty if I was enjoying myself. I finally came
to a crisis point and cried out to God about why I couldn’t enjoy resting, and He
showed me that the guilty feelings were leftovers from my past. My father
seemed to approve of me more when I was working and he did not value
enjoyment of any kind, so I learned early in life that work is applauded but rest
had little or no value.
That thinking is totally wrong according to God’s Word. Even He rested
from His work of creation and has invited us to enter His rest. The guilt I felt
when I tried to rest was unscriptural, irrational, and downright ridiculous. When
I stopped believing my feelings alone and started truly examining them in the
light of God’s Word, I uncovered a huge deception in my life.
What makes you feel guilty? What does God’s Word say about the situation?
You may discover that yours is a false guilt or it may be real, but either way, the
Word of God holds the answer to your dilemma. If it is a false sense of guilt,
then declare it to be so and be determined not to let your feelings rule you. If
your guilt is based on a real sin, then follow the scriptural pattern for getting rid
of it. Repent, tell all, ask for forgiveness, and receive forgiveness by faith. Now
believe and confess that your sin, and the guilt, has been taken care of by Jesus.
And move on!
The Holy Spirit is given to us for many reasons, and one of the really
important ones is to convict us of sin. We should love and appreciate all
conviction because without it we could easily live lives of self-deception. A
spiritually mature person can receive conviction and not let it condemn them.
Correction from God is never rejection. It is a sign of His love that He is
unwilling to leave us as we are, but He works daily to change us into His image
and help us develop His character.
Real and Imagined Guilt
When you are prone to guilt, the devil has a field day. I guarantee you that he
will definitely take advantage of you by working through others to play on your
guilt. They may make you feel that they’ll suffer greatly if you don’t do as they
ask. Your response must be to follow your own intuition from God and not take
responsibility for their joy. You may have elderly parents who will make you
feel guilty if you don’t cater to their every whim. We do have a biblical duty to
our parents to be sure they are taken care of in their old age, but we cannot be
responsible for their joy. Many of the things people expect are their
expectations, and they can be quite unrealistic. They may be thinking only of
themselves without having any understanding of you and your other
The sense of guilt is so awful that we usually will do almost anything to
alleviate it. If we allow others to make us feel guilty, they soon learn how to
manipulate us by using our weakness to get what they want. You must
understand that you are not obligated to do a thing just because someone else
wants you to or thinks that you should. This does not mean we don’t want to
please people and do what is for their benefit, but we cannot let their desires rule
Guilt can be from a real or imagined misdeed. I felt guilty about the abuse in
my childhood even though I was not the perpetrator and hated what was being
done to me. That guilt developed into what I call an addictive guilt. I just felt
guilty all the time over nothing in particular as well as mistakes I did make. I had
a false sense of guilt that was rooted in shame.
Emotions have a mind of their own, and Satan uses them to deceive us. We
cannot assume because we feel a certain way that those feelings are telling us the
truth. In other words, just because I feel guilty does not mean I am guilty.
Likewise, I may not feel guilty and yet I have committed sin. I may have
reasoned in my mind that what I did was justifiable even though it was against
God’s Word, and by doing so I deceived myself. The apostle Paul said that he
didn’t feel anything against himself, but that he was not justified by his feelings.
He left everything to God and expected that God would convict him of sin when
needed: “I am not conscious of anything against myself, and I feel blameless; but
I am not vindicated and acquitted before God on that account. It is the Lord
[Himself] Who examines and judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4).
Men who batter their wives make them feel as if the battering is their fault.
The women who allow such treatment have little or no self-worth. They feel that
if the marriage fails it will be their fault, and many of them actually believe they
must deserve the treatment they get. I have heard that 7 percent of all women are
physically abused, and 37 percent are verbally or emotionally abused. That
means there are a lot of women who feel guilty and have no self-esteem.
Guilt and Anger
Guilt is one of the root causes of anger. We inherently know that we are not built
for guilt. We may not consciously realize it, but our system rebels against it. God
wants us to feel loved and accepted, and for that reason we are told again and
again in His Word that He loves us unconditionally. Even when we were still in
our sin and before we cared about God at all or even attempted to do anything
right, He loved us and sent His Son to die for us and pay for our sins.
When we receive Jesus as our Savior, He takes our sin and gives us His
righteousness (see 2 Cor. 5:21). I doubt that many of us understand the full
impact of that. At no price to us, we are made right with God. We can feel right
instead of wrong!
Why not take a step of faith and try it? Say or think something good about
yourself. I am not encouraging a wrong kind of pride, but I am encouraging you
to be bold enough to believe you are the wonderful person God says you are.
In Psalm 139, David confessed that he knew God had made him and then
said, “Wonderful are Your works, and that my inner self knows right well” (v.
14). Do you believe in your heart that God carefully created you and that you are
wonderful? Most people would be afraid to believe that. Why are we more
comfortable feeling bad about ourselves than feeling good? Is it because we
focus on our faults and rarely even glance at our strengths? We punish ourselves
for our failures, but rarely celebrate our victories.
The Song of Solomon is an allegory of the love story between God and His
people. Look closely at the following scripture:
[He exclaimed] O my love, how beautiful you are! There is no flaw in
God loves you and sees the good in you. He sees what you are becoming and
will be and is not overly concerned about your faults. He knew all of them when
He invited you to be in an intimate relationship with Him. All He wants is your
love and a willingness to grow in Him.
Your presence is a present to the world. You
are unique and one of a kind. Do not ever
forget, for even a day… how very special you
Your presence is a present to the world. You are unique and one of a kind.
Do not ever forget, for even a day… how very special you are!
Take a Step of Faith
Will you take a step of faith and no matter how you feel, agree with God that He
loves you? You are wonderfully made and have many talents and strengths. You
are valuable, and as a believer in Jesus, you are the righteousness of God in Him.
You have rightness before God instead of wrongness!
Begin to speak out against feelings of guilt and say, “I am forgiven;
therefore, I am not guilty. I am right with God.” I think I shared earlier that we
believe more of what we hear ourselves say than what others say, so start saying
something good and drown out the other voices that condemn you.
Fight for yourself! Fight the good fight of faith and refuse to live below the
level at which Jesus wants you to live. His kingdom is righteousness, peace, and
joy (see Rom. 14:17). Don’t settle for anything less.
Guilt is anger directed at ourselves. Will you stop the destructive cycle, take
a step of faith, and declare, “Jesus bore my iniquities and guilt—and I am free!”?
An actress who is very well known has said that she doesn’t believe in guilt;
she believes in living by impulse as long as what she does causes no harm to
others. She has said, “I am free.” This woman is living for herself and doing
exactly as she pleases, but she appears to be very miserable. Although she is a
success on the screen, she is not a true success. Her idea is a very worldly one
that is born out of selfishness and is entirely different from what I am talking
about. When we say, “I am free,” we mean that our freedom was purchased by
the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We live without guilt because He paid for
our sins. Without this knowledge there is no true guilt-free living. People may
say they are free to do whatever they want, but a truly free person is free to live
in obedience to God, and to refrain from doing what they want to do if they
know their actions will damage someone else.
From Agony to Ecstasy
We can learn to control guilt by knowing the truth of God’s Word and looking at
some of the things we feel guilty about in a rational way. It is normal and
healthy to feel guilty when we do something wrong, but when it continues and
becomes addictive, we have a serious problem that will not go away without
Christianity is not a passive religion. God has given us His promises, but we
must do our part. We are partners with Him. We believe and He works! We must
say and mean it: “I will not be a slave to the emotion of guilt.” Study God’s
Word on the subject of righteousness until you have revelation concerning who
you are in Christ.
Our confidence is in Him, not in ourselves, our looks, our educations, our job
titles, our social groups, or any other earthly thing. Our worth and value are in
the fact that Jesus died for us. God saw you as being valuable so He gave His
best. He gave His only Son to purchase your freedom from the bondage of sin
Karla Faye Tucker had plenty to feel guilty about. In the wee hours of June
13, 1983, she and her boyfriend, high on drugs, decided to go “visit” Jerry Dean,
an acquaintance who Karla felt had wronged her. Dean was home asleep in bed,
a woman he’d met that day sleeping by his side.
Tucker and her boyfriend entered the house and surprised the sleeping
couple. She struck Dean with a pickax twenty-eight times and then proceeded to
execute his companion. Tucker was tried, convicted, and given the death
penalty. She lived on death row in the Huntsville, Texas, federal prison for the
next fourteen years.
But that’s just the beginning of the story.
Her case attracted worldwide attention, partly because she was the first
woman to be executed in the United States since before the Civil War. The other
reason her case was covered widely was because Tucker had become a Christian
while she was in prison, and none other than Pat Robertson and Pope John Paul
had learned of her extraordinary work with others during her years of
imprisonment. They both issued pleas to the governor to spare her.
On February 3, 1998, Tucker was taken to the room where she would die by
lethal injection. In her final moments, she said, “I would like to say to the
Thornton family and Jerry Dean’s family that I am so sorry… I’m going to be
face-to-face with Jesus now. I love you all very much. I will see you all when
you get there. I will wait for you.” According to witnesses, she appeared to be
humming softly as she waited to meet her Lord.
Karla Faye Tucker was very guilty. She was guilty of acts that are hard to
even contemplate. She was also redeemed from her guilt by God when she
accepted Christ, and she knew that. She could have spent her prison term
focusing on her guilt. Instead, she spent her remaining years teaching Bible
study groups, helping other inmates, and praising the Lord for His mercy.
If an ax murderer can acknowledge her guilt, accept God’s forgiveness, and
move on, then so can you and I. While my own situation is far less dramatic than
Karla Faye Tucker’s, I had a huge problem with feelings of guilt. I had to fight a
real battle to finally be able to say, “I am free.” If I can do it, so can you. If
anyone can be free, you can be free, so don’t settle for anything less. Living
without the constant companion of guilt is ecstasy; it is wonderful and it is
available to all who will believe.
I heard a story about a man who had been cheating on his income taxes for a few
years. He began to feel guilty, and eventually the guilt was preventing him from
sleeping well. He wrote the IRS a letter and told them he had been cheating on
his income taxes and that he had enclosed a check for $150. He further stated
that if he still did not sleep well, he would send more money later.
Don’t just do enough of what is right to ease feelings of guilt, but instead
make a decision that you are going to learn to live guilt-free. There are two ways
to do that. The first and best way is to choose the right thing in the first place and
then there is no reason to feel guilty. Or, immediately ask for God’s forgiveness
when you recognize that you have sinned. Don’t be satisfied with merely
fighting guilt every day, but instead study God’s Word and pray about it until
you can genuinely say, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ”
(see Rom. 8:1).
Decision and confession: I will not waste my life feeling guilty.