The Sweetest Word In The World!
I have a friend who, when I first met him, was at the height of his career as a research scientist. My friend, by nature a personable, generous, good-humored man, came to my office many times during a lengthy and dark period in his life. Broken-hearted and guilt-ridden, tears surfaced much of the time as he poured out his heart regularly to me. He told me that one of the biggest problems of his life was his overwhelming sense of guilt. Guilt as a result of his wife leaving him, causing multiple psychological and social problems in the lives of his children. Guilt because of his past over-involvement in his work which he felt was a contributing cause of his divorce. Guilt resulting from his ambivalent feelings associated with his hard decision to put his parents in a nursing home. Also, his former work as a scientist in biological and hereditary research involved some moral and ethical problems which were in conflict with the Christian beliefs which he was taught as a child and youth. In addition to these various guilts associated with his relationships with his wife and children and parents and job, there was the recurring guilt that surfaced to his conscious mind to plague him – the guilt caused by his wartime experiences during World War II.
Some would give almost anything to be rid of their plaguing sense of guilt! To many people, the word 'Forgiveness' would be the sweetest word in the world!
In thinking of guilt, three classes of people come to mind. First, there are those who are guilty, but who think that they are innocent. These people need conviction of sin. Second, there are those who are innocent, but who think that they are guilty. These people need comfort and reassurance. Third, there are those who are guilty and they know they are guilty. These people need forgiveness and cleansing.
Christ has the answer to those who should feel guilty and don't. He has the answer to those who should feel innocent and don't. He also has the answer for the many who feel guilty and should. Through the Holy Spirit's convicting, forgiving, and comforting ministry, the needs of all persons can be adequately met.
Because many sincere believers find it easy to be plagued with guilt feelings, for no apparent reason, we must take time to deal with False Guilts. Living the Spirit-controlled life means effectively dealing with False Guilts. We must look at both the causes and the cure, in our treatment of false guilts. There is comfort for the people of God!
"Father, help me to distinguish between real and false guilts in my life. Help me to expose myself to the cleansing blood of Christ when I am truly guilty of sin, and to the comforting presence of Christ when I am needlessly swallowed up in unfounded guilt feelings."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will commit my accusing conscience to the verdict of the cleansing blood of Christ and the comforting presence of the Spirit.
The Condemnatory Voice Of An Overly-Sensitive Conscience
Among the many causes of false guilts is the condemnatory voice of an overly-sensitive conscience, seeking to accuse, even though there is no Biblical or objective basis for such condemnation. Sometimes this overly- sensitive conscience is developed in one's childhood. Children can develop notions and impressions that some things are wrong or evil, even though the things which are producing guilt feelings are not wrong at all. Such false guilts need to be thrown aside and a new confidence with God and man regained. God is greater than human ideas and notions, and in God's sovereign love am mercy He will calm human doubts and deliver from false guilts.
Perhaps a few illustrations will help make this point clear. Some have said that sex feelings are sinful or that attraction to the beauty of the opposite sex is sinful. These feelings and attractions are not lust or sin but are part of our normal, healthy life – everybody has them. Lust is sin, but not sexual attraction.
Some have imposed false guilt on conscientious persons by saying that self-love is sinful. Self-love is not sinful! Self-love is assumed in Christ's commandment to love one's neighbor as one's self. To act as if you had no self-love is to act dishonestly, Self-centered love is sinful, but not self-love. Loving Christ supremely, you are to love yourself subordinately and others sincerely. But to love others sincerely, you must love yourself truly. You need not feel guilty because you love yourself!
Some have imposed false guilts on teenagers by saying that ambivalent feelings by teenagers toward parents is wrong. During adolescent development, it is normal for young people to experience ambivalent feelings towards parents at times, for these feelings are part of the unconscious struggling for adult status am independence.
Writes J. B. Phillips, "All religions, Christianity unfortunately not excepted, tend to excite in certain people an artificial sense of guilt, which may have little or no connection with a man's actual standing before God. Probably Pharisaism, which Christ attacked with bitter scorn, represents this tendency at its highest… The danger of such a system, am the reason why Christ attacked it so violently, is that its values are artificial. The proud am correct feel 'right with God' just when they are not, and the sensitive humble man feels hopeless am overburdened for the wrong reasons." (The Newborn Christian; pg 174) As C. S. Lewis says, "We may create scruples. And scruples are always a bad thing – if only because they usually distract us from real duties." (The Joyful Christian; pg 170)
"Father, awaken my conscience to discern the sinfulness of real sin and the innocency of manmade scruples. Help me to deposit in the moral wastebasket all false guilts which are robbing me of peace of mind and joy in living. I want to live abundantly!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The Son has made me free, therefore I will not burden myself today with the needless baggage of false guilts!
Learning To Practice Self-Acceptance
Many feel guilty because they cannot accept themselves. Some sincere believers cannot accept themselves because their overly-sensitive conscience has been wrongly trained to condemn them. The conscience, by itself, is not always a reliable guide to determine right or wrong actions or attitudes. The conscience simply stands guard over the values that one puts into his moral nature, and therefore the conscience itself cannot determine the objective rightness or wrongness of a moral value. One must refer to an objective moral standard (a standard not dependent upon cultural, social, or personal preferences) to determine the actual rightness or wrongness of moral values.
Where does one find the right moral values to feed into his moral nature, over which the conscience merely stands guard? The Holy Scriptures, carefully applied to the believers' mind by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit applies those Scriptures to one's life through the channels of prayer and meditation and counsel. One must always evaluate his conscience to determine the source of its training – whether or not the trainer of the conscience is reliable. It is important to look to Jesus, rather than primarily to others, for a standard for Personal Convictions. (See Romans 14:5, Romans 14:22)
Some believers have a hard time accepting themselves because of a sense of personal unworthiness in light of the great personal sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. There are those believers who feel guilty because they know they are partly responsible for Jesus' death on the cross. To counter this false guilt (if it can be called that), one must recognize that he is made worthy and acceptable 'in the Beloved' and he has been made an inheritor of the riches of grace. In response to these unspeakable blessings, let him be full of gratitude and full of good works (Titus 2:14), not full of guilt and self-despising.
Some feel guilty because of their failure to live up to someone else's expectations, or because of failure to live up to their own expectations. "Much of our tension and anxiety can be traced directly to a fear of inadequacy. We should meet this fear… by learning to accept ourselves. We probably are Not adequate for all our ambitious schemes, and only at the cost of enormous nervous energy can we succeed in becoming momentarily what we really are not… Suppose we accept ourselves good-humoredly, realizing our limitations and how much we have to learn, with cheerfulness and without envy of those who are, or appear to be, more adequate than ourselves." (The Newborn Christian; pg 129; J. B. Phillips)
"Father, deliver me from the self-imposed tyranny of forcing unrealistic expectations upon myself and of pursuing overly ambitious plans which are the inventions of my own unsanctified imagination. My perfectionist standards have caused undue strain and drain in me, inflicting in me needless guilt and causing me needless envy of others whose attainments are higher than mine. Give me a faith, sane estimate of myself and of my abilities and potential."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The gift of God's peace can only be received when I have ridden myself of my over-mastering desire to appear bigger than I really am!
2 Corinthians 1:8-11; 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 1 Kings 19:1-9
Living In 'Earthen Vessels'
Because the treasure of God's salvation is contained in 'earthen vessels', the emotions of even Christians can play tricks on them. Christians are not exempt from bouts with depression caused by physical and mental weariness. Believers must remember that they were not saved by their feelings, nor do they remain saved by their feelings! We walk by faith, not by sight or by feelings! Therefore we must not gauge our spiritual lives by the tone of our feelings. We must continue to live by faith, based upon the commitment of the will, and not live by emotions which are greatly influenced by changing circumstances and by changing health.
"Many of the greatest saints have witnessed to the fact that there were times in their lives when it seemed that they had no faith at all. They tell us that Francis Asbury used to preach with great unction and power, and then go to his room and have spells of melancholy until he would feel that he was lost and there was no hope for him at all. Now this feeling came from the fact that his body was exhausted and his nerves frayed.
"I think that the same thing must have been true with Elijah when he went off under the juniper tree and had such a spell of the blues. It was the physical reaction that came after his great conflict with evil on Mt. Carmel. His spiritual condition was not changed, for God went out to him am helped him." (Earthen Vessels; pg 44,45; John Church)
How can one counter problems of guilt feelings, because of weariness? First, get rest. Such a person in this state needs not to struggle in prayer, but he needs to sleep and rebuild his body, or perhaps to re-create himself through exercise and leisure. Second, this person needs to keep living by faith, not by feelings. "If you expect to live by your feelings, you will find yourself in a constant state of doubt am uncertainty am you will always live an up-and-down life. You will find that your feelings fluctuate and go up and down like a window shade, but thank God that does not have to be true of your spiritual state and standing in Jesus. The Fact that you are in Jesus Christ is a fact that was established by a deliberate choice of your will, and that fact can only be changed in one way, and that is by a choice of your will." (Ibid; pg 45,46)
"Jesus, Thou are all compassion. Amidst my changing emotions, you remain steadfast and faithful to me. In my sadness, you are my gladness; in my loneliness, you are my companionship; in my depression, you are my hope; in my sinning, you are my forgiveness. Amidst the changes and chances of life, your resources are infinite to meet all my needs! I am profoundly thankful!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: My faith is fixed on the fact of God's trustworthy character – a fact that keeps my feelings intact!
'The Accuser Of The Brethren'
In Revelations 12:10, Satan is called 'the accuser of the brethren who accuses them before our God day and night.' Satan is able to disguise himself as 'an angel of light' (2 Corinthians 11:14). Satan is the accuser of the brethren, who appears at times as an angel of light – seeking to produce a condemning conscience in the Christian. This is one of the common sources of 'false guilts'. Satan enjoys accusing the believer of things of which he is not guilty!
Believers can be thankful that against this darkening, confusing, subtle force stands the powerful and merciful Spirit of God who comforts believers and who stills the accusing voice of Satan.
The Scriptures tell us how to counter this dreadful accusation of Satan: "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." (Revelations 12:11)
Satan hates the blood of Christ, for it is Christ's blood which cleanses from all sin. (1 John 1:7) Satan also hates the testimony of the humble believer, for that testimony declares Christ's power – the very power that will ultimately vanquish Satan altogether!
In speaking of Satan, there are two traps to avoid. First, it is possible not to take Satan seriously at all. There are those who outrightly deny his existence, which is a great and dangerous mistake! There are others who are ignorant of his evil devices, and thus they are often entrapped in his subtle snares. Paul warned us not to be ignorant of Satan's devices (2 Corinthians 2:11). There are others who believe that if they never think of Satan or mention Satan by name that Satan will leave them alone. All of these responses are responses which show that the persons involved are not taking Satan seriously.
There is a second trap to" avoid in dealing with Satan. It is possible to be overly-preoccupied with Satan. Someone wisely said, "What gets your attention, gets you!" Don't give credit to Satan if you can help it! Don't give Satan undue attention by talking too much or too often about him. Don't focus your attention or interest on Satan; instead, focus your attention on Jesus Christ! Glance at Satan but gaze on Jesus Christ! Recognize that while Satan's power abounds, 'Jesus' power superabounds! Be knowledgeable of Satan's tactics, but be more knowledgeable of the Holy Spirit's works! Never forget that you do not work for a victory, but that you work from a victory – a victory which was won on the cross and through the empty tomb!
"Father, help me to distinguish between your voice of true conviction of real sin in my life, from Satan's disguised voice of false accusations. Help me to arm myself with the Word of God and learn to resist the devil, as I remain steadfast in the faith. Victory is mine, through the Lord Jesus Christ! Thank you. Thank you!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Satan's head has been crushed! Satan's death sentence has been pronounced and his execution date has been set! He is a defeated foe!
1 John 3:18-24
The Basis Of Confidence
Listen to the apostle John's wise advice: "My children, let us love not merely in theory or in words – let us love in sincerity and in practice! This is how we shall know that we are children of the truth and can reassure ourselves in the sight of God, even if our own conscience makes us feel guilty. For God is greater than our conscience, and he knows everything. " (1 John 3:18-20 Phillips)
Notes John Stott, "The suggestion seems to be (from verse 20) that it may not be either an unusually or an infrequent experience for the Christian's serene assurance to be disturbed. Sometimes the accusations of our 'conscience' will be true accusations, and sometimes they will be false… In either case, the inner voice is not to overcome us." (Tyndale Bible Commentary; The Epistles of John; pg 145)
Stott continues, "Our conscience is by no means infallible; its condemnation may often be unjust. We can, therefore, appeal from our conscience to God who is greater am more knowledgeable. Indeed, He knows all things, including our secret motives am deepest resolves, and, it is implied, will be more merciful towards us than our own heart. His omniscience should relieve, not terrify, us. So it is knowledge which alone can quieten the condemning heart, our own knowledge of our sincere love for others and supremely God's knowledge of our thoughts am motives. Stronger than any chemical tranquillizer is trust in our all-knowing God." (Ibid; pg 146)
The one who experiences the divinely-imparted love can be assured that he is of the Truth, am therefore he can have a tranquil heart. "It is the mind's knowledge by which the heart's doubts may be silenced… Love is the final objective test of our Christian profession, for true love; in the sense of self-sacrifice, is not natural to man in his fallen state. Its existence in any man is evidence of new birth and of the indwelling Spirit, and it shows itself' in deed'. 'There are actual things we can point to – not things we have professed or felt or imagined or intended, but things that we have done.' (Law) If we thus love 'in truth' (v. 18), we may indeed have full assurance in our hearts. 'The fruit of love is confidence.' (Wescott)." (Ibid; pg 145,146)
Suppose the condemnation which you feel is because of real sin in your life, and is not the result of false guilt? Then recognize that the Sovereign mercy am love of God is still 'greater than your heart' (1 John 3:20). God knows your heart and can judge rightly. Whatever the source of condemnation – be it false guilt or real guilt – God is greater than the condemnation and can restore the believer to true confidence!
"Father, restore unto me the joy of my salvation. You are the source of my joy, for you are the solution to the problem of my guilty feelings which have stolen away my joy. You came to earth, rot, to condemn, but to save – to save me from the real guilt of my sins and from the false guilts resulting from my inadequacies. Thank you for your total provision!
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: He who is greater than my heart will stand guard over my heart, delivering me from all guilt – both real and false!
Discussion Questions On 'Freedom From False Guilts'
In thinking of the subject of 'guilt', three classes of people come to mind. Name those three classes, and briefly tell what the basic need of each of those three is.
Are you sometimes plagued with 'guilt feelings' for no apparent reasons? How do you cope with such feelings?
Do you believe that it pleases God for believers to feel guilty? Why? or Why not?
Name and describe some of the false guilts which believers have had imposed upon them, and share how you would help such believers to identify and to cope with such false guilts.
What are scruples and why are scruples always a bad thing.
Why is the conscience not always a reliable guide to determine right or wrong actions or attitudes?
Where can one find the right moral values' to feed into his moral nature, by which he may determine what is really right and wrong?
How can one effectively deal with his sense of inadequacy, the feeling of which brings guilty feelings?
What is the relationship between 'Feelings, Faith, Fact' in living the Christian life and in dealing with guilt feelings?
How can one distinguish between feelings which are the result of false guilts and real guilts, especially in light of the fact that Satan is 'the accuser of the brethren' (Revelations 12:10) and is able to incite feelings of guilt?
When one's conscience condemns him, what should he do in order to see his confidence restored (according to 1 John 3:18-24)?
If, as a believer, one recognizes that he has actually and really sinned, thus incurring guilt, what should he do, according to 1 John 1:9-10 – 1 John 2:1-2?
Share a personal experience in which you found wonderful victory over either a false guilt of a real guilt.