How to Handle Guilt
By Matthew Black, Pastor
Text: Ephesians 5:25-27
Date: Sunday, March 25, 2009
Tabernacle Baptist Church
7020 Barrington Road
Hanover Park, Illinois 60133
Introduction: Open your Bible to the book Romans 3:19-27. The title of this morning’s message is “How to Handle Guilt”.
Look at Romans 3:19-27, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded.”
A. Misconception of Guilt.
So many people have a misconception of guilt. They say, “I feel guilty”. Guilt is not a feeling. You may feel bad because you are guilty, but guilt is not a feeling but a fact. To give a specific definition…
I. Guilt is breaking God’s Law whether you are aware of it or not.
A. Definition of Guilt. Guilt is the result of offending a holy God through the disobedience of His Word. Biblically guilt is culpability or liability for punishment because of a sin you committed.
B. Possibility of Guilt without even being aware. A person may or may not be aware of the violation, but he is guilty regardless. Leviticus 4:27-28 says that a person can commit sin and be totally ignorant of it, but it says there that he is still guilty (Cf. Leviticus 5:15).
C. Summary. Let me be clear. As the book of Leviticus points out, feelings or even conscious awareness of your sin are not necessary for guilt to be present. You know you are guilty if you compare your life with God’s Law. 1 John 3:4, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”
The lack of feeling guilty after violating God’s Word may be due to either an untrained or seared conscience. Therefore there may not even be any awareness of guilt and certainly not a feeling of guilt.
Transition: This brings us to Romans 3. Paul says that so many people are boasting that they are good people. They think they are good because they are compassionate toward others, they do all these good things for people, meanwhile daily they are breaking God’s Law.
Paul says in Romans 3:10-11, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” No one even comes close to doing good. A good life is a life that fulfills the greatest commandment to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. Do any of us do that in any action, much less all our actions?
We are all guilty whether we feel guilt or not.
II. Consider this second point: The only way to be free of guilt is through Jesus Christ. You cannot barter with God. He will not accept your tears. Your good works are not good. In fact Isaiah says in Isaiah 64:6, “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
A. The proof for our guilt: the Law, Romans 3:19, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
B. The prominence of our guilt. Our guilt is so great nothing we do can take it away. Verse 20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin”
C. The payment for our guilt. Verse 24, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
D. The praise of God for removing our guilt. God is holy, and He stays holy, verse 26-27, “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded.”
Are you guilt free? Have you been forgiven in Jesus Christ?
Perhaps you say,
“well I don’t feel guilty.”
III. The presence of feelings does not mean a person is guilty. In other words, you can feel bad about something which was not a sin committed by you.
A. Consider false guilt.
1. Think about the false guilt of previously forgiven sin. You have sinned as a child of God. You confess your sin. God forgives you. Are you guilty anymore? No your guilt was put on another—on Jesus! In forgiveness, God promises never to bring your sin up again. God says to you: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). God has buried our sins in the sea of His forgetfulness. Yet you feel regret for the sin. This is not guilt. If you have been forgiven, then you are free from that sin. Jesus paid it all. Instead of this false guilt, you need to rejoice in the blood of Jesus. Why?
Punishing self. False guilt can be a way where I punish myself for what was done. This is not right. Jesus paid it all! You are not pleasing God by punishing yourself. Jesus was already punished. Is there regret? Of course, but it is swept away in the joy of Jesus grace and mercy. We can say, Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
2. There is the false guilt of feeling bad for doing something in which you were not responsible. For instance, a person is driving down a quiet road and suddenly a child darts out in front of the car. The driver hits the child, and the driver, who was driving carefully and alertly says, “I feel guilty”.
The person may feel sadness or regret, but this is not guilt because no sin was committed. Guilt needs to be reserved for violations of God’s Word. Through God’s Word a person can gain a cognitive awareness of his guilt by examining his life for any violations against God’s law (1 John 3:4). Guilt is a fact of breaking God’s law and sinning against God. David when he sinned said to God, “against thee and thee only have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4).
3. Thirdly, there is the false guilt of doing something that is not sinful. You may have standards that are not in the Bible that you feel bad for violating. It is not a sin to eat meat on Fridays. That is a man made standard. It is not a sin to marry a woman if you are a pastor. That is a man made standard. You may feel like it is a sin to do a certain thing.
a. There is one exception to this.
If a person may think he is violating God’s Law, even if he isn’t. If you accept something as a standard from God (even if it really is not from God) and choose to violate it, then you are sinning, because you are violating your conscience.
It is a sin to violate one’s conscience, and therefore anyone who does that has broken God’s law. In Romans 14:21-23, we find someone who believes it is sin to eat meat that has come from the idol temple. It was offered to idols. Paul says, meat is meat. It’s not wrong to eat meat to eat meat that was offered to idols because there really are no other Gods. There is only one God.
But if you think it is a sin to eat meat offered to idols, then you must not violate your conscience.
Look at Romans 14:21-23, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. 22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Whatever is not from faith is sin. The faith must be based on biblical concepts, not his conscience.
There are many man made rules that we need to throw out the window and re-educate our conscience. Every Christian must diligently conform his conscience to the Bible.
b. The “Holding Principle”. If the person is not sure that what he’s about to do does not violate biblical principles, then he should not do it. This is called the “holding principle”. The believer has to put the activity on hold until is sure it in no way violates God’s Word.
There are five steps for a Christian to handle guilt in a way that pleases God.
(1.) Acknowlege the action as sin. Psalm 51:3-4, “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.”
(2.) Confess the sin to God and forsake it from your life. Confess your sin and put off the old man and put on the new way of living.
David said in Psalm 101:3 I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me”.
1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.
Psalm 1:1-3, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
(3.) Confess the sin to offended people. Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” James 5:16, “Confess your faults one to another”.
(4.) Make restitution for harm done by the action. Zacchaeus was a tax collector that robbed people of money. He was a well know deceiver in Israel. When He was born again, he said in Luke 19:8, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
(5.) Change the thinking and actions that were involved in the sin Ephesians 4:22-24, “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness”.
Conclusion: When something damaging occurs, and it is no fault of my own, I can apologize or say sorry, but if I have sinned, I need to ask forgiveness.
 Robert Smith. “Helping Counselees Understand Their Emotions” from class notes at Faith Biblical Counseling Conference, Lafayette, Indiana, February 11, 2009.