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Is Guilt Good or Bad?

I went through a beautiful period of time where I was a Christian-podcast junkie. Though there were many sermons and many pastors and even more influential sayings, one stays with me, and I am forever grateful.

One teacher said that he once met his idol- a man that seemed so spiritually mature and secure. The teacher asked his idol for one piece of wisdom/advice. “What is the key to your spiritual maturity?”

And though this man probably could have answered with many different disciplines or works, he responded with something that was so rested in God’s mercy and grace. He answered,

“I am quick to ask for forgiveness and quick to accept forgiveness.”

I sat and stared. I don’t think I could have picked any single thing in Christian living that I was WORSE at:

-accepting God’s forgiveness.

But that moment started a journey- to find the freedom in forgiveness that God wanted to give to me. And now I sit in rest, wanting so deeply to share these truths with you.

For a great majority of my life, I would ask for forgiveness for the same few past events. Breaking down in tears. Confessing to others. I just could not fathom the idea that it was forgiven- truly forgiven. I worried that I hadn’t repented ENOUGH, that I hadn’t been sorry enough.

(And this part is important) --And I thought that feeling guilty would prove to God that I am repentant. I thought that if I held my past sins so tightly to my heart, I would fully hate them ...and that then God would know how truly sorry I was.

Am I alone in wrongly thinking that guilt proves something to God?

While thinking over this, I pictured my sins as a hot coal. I held the hot coal in my hand until it started burning my skin. Jesus stood in front of me and said I could drop it. He wanted me to drop it. I kept holding- looking at him, as to prove myself. He told me to drop it…that He wanted to use my hands for better things, yet I held on.

Ugh. I don’t want to be that burned-hand girl. Often, God has told me “I have already forgiven you.” And I respond in more repenting ‘Are you sure? I can keep asking!’

He has.

In actuality, the idea that we have to feel guilt doesn’t sound Biblical to me. I think it was easy to get confused in the past. How easy is it to mix up conviction with guilt/condemnation?

Here's what I found about guilt in the Bible:

In 2 Corinthians 7:10, the Bible talks about conviction (Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret). Conviction is such a gift and it leads us to repentance (so that’s great!). In John 16:8, we learn that conviction comes from God, (And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.)

Then there’s condemnation (whole different thing! and the kind of guilt I am talking about). In Romans 8:1 (There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus) and Romans 5:1 (Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.), we are said to be free from this guilt after we are forgiven. FREE.

Conviction is what shows us the way to righteousness and repentance... GUILT is the condemnation we feel after we have already been forgiven. Guilt is the idea that we are holding onto the dumb coals and not letting go.

Most of the time, when we hold our sins and feel guilty, we are just letting Satan convince us that we aren't forgiven.

By thinking a lot about our past sins that were forgiven, I dare to say we don’t do God any favors. In fact, I think it’s a brilliant way of Satan to get a stronghold- to tell you that you are worthless.

And we know that are sins are forgiven when we repent.

Repenting is simply turning from sin to God. Even typing that terrifies me. How could I truly be repentant when I keep sinning? But I picture it as being in between two people- Satan and Jesus. As I stand in between them, I know that my sinful deeds are plans of Satan…and then repenting is when I turn away from that scheming menace and look to Jesus with the words “I’m sorry.” (And maybe even a fast run towards him like a beautiful scene in a movie) It doesn’t mean that I am now perfect and will never again sin, but it means that I see both sides and I am choosing to walk away from sin and Satan and towards Jesus.

After that decision, we don’t have to hold the hot coals (sins) close to our hearts anymore. They are hurting your hands…and God died on the cross so that you would be saved- free from sin and Satan and condemnation (guilt). Set the coals down, or better yet, throw them into an ice-cold lake. You are free. Believe that with repentance, He HAS forgiven you…

and try to forgive yourself because He some great things for you when your hands are free.

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