Summary: Psalm 51 shows us how we can deal with feelings of guilt


The scene was San Diego Superior Court. Two men were on trial for armed robbery. An eyewitness took the stand, and the prosecutor moved carefully: "So, you say you were at the scene when the robbery took place?" "Yes." "And you saw a vehicle leave at a high rate of speed?" "Yes." "And did you observe the occupants?" "Yes, two men." "And," the prosecutor boomed, "are those two men present in court today?" At this point the two defendants sealed their fate. They raised their hands. They were guilty – and stupid!! What about you – are you guilty? Apparently increased pupil size is an indication of guilt/lying! What is guilt?

Objective = legal, theological, social, personal

Subjective = regret, remorse, shame – can be appropriate or inappropriate and can lead to self-hatred/loathing > depression/anxiety > stomach aches, headaches, shakiness, insomnia

The bible speaks of godly sorrow that leads to repentance and worldly sorrow that is destructive.

Today I want us to look at a Psalm that deals with the subject of guilt. It answers the question of what to do when you have sinned and also shows us the path whereby we can break free from guilt. In a group of this size there will be people struggling with feelings of guilt that won’t go away - over something that happened yesterday or years ago. Story of David and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11&12)

1. Confrontation

David penned this Psalm in response to Nathan’s confrontation. David was not only feeling guilty about what he had done, he had been brought face to face with himself. We may do/say things that are bad. But what is worse is the realisation of who we are, seeing the dark side that is in us and it may be disturbing. How do we deal with those moments? It is also the case that people who are Christians often have a very keen conscience and may be more prone to feelings of guilt over issues like lying & deceit – A couple of weeks after hearing a sermon on Psalms 51 a man wrote the following letter to the IRS: "I have been unable to sleep, knowing that I have cheated on my income tax. I understated my taxable income, and have enclosed a check for $150. If I still can’t sleep, I will send the rest."; family issues and responsibilities; missed opportunities; being a bad witness, unforgiveness; abortion; sexual issues; many more….

The first stage in dealing with sin or guilt is confrontation. David was confronted by Nathan, but more than that he was confronted with his own sin. Now I want to go back to the definition of guilt again. This is important, because many people feel subjective guilt that is not appropriate, they should not feel guilty – either because they have not sinned according to the bible, or they are forgiven and still feel guilty or their feelings are exaggerated unreasonably. Subjective guilt is unreliable. Some Christians say the Holy Spirit is convicting me – that is sometimes the case, but what is also the case is that the Devil may be accusing us, or we may not have forgiven ourselves even though God has. So I want to encourage you if you are dealing with guilt, to try and focus this morning not on your feelings that are subjective and focus instead on the Word of God that is reliable and objective.

A Sunday School teacher had just concluded her lesson and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She said, "Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?" There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up. "Sin," he said.

David had certainly sinned & was right to accept responsibility, this we see throughout. He didn’t try and make excuses: ”My iniquity”, “My sin”, “My transgressions”. He didn’t try to blame someone else, Bathsheba for bathing where she could be seen, Uriah for not sleeping with his wife. his wives for not meeting his needs, AND he didn’t try to blame God for allowing him to be tempted. He had broken God’s Laws. So let me ask you does the New Testament (OT law is not a simple case as it includes ceremonial and other elements that relate to Israel only) specifically state that whatever you feel guilty about is sinful? If so, let it confront you, accept responsibility, if not your guilt has another cause – I am happy to help if there is a need to clarify.

2. Confession

The next stage expressed in the Psalm is a confession of sin upon the basis of the mercy of God. Confession is important from our point of view, it is how we deal with sin and guilt. In it we accept responsibility, we admit our need and we remind ourselves of God’s great mercy. Never underestimate God’s capacity to forgive -1 John 1:9. Remember this Psalm was written before Calvary. Under the Old Covenant there was provision for unintentional sins but not for intentional sins. For those like adultery and murder the punishment was stoning! Yet David was appealing to God – on what basis – the Law! No, on the basis of God’s grace and mercy. There is no sin too hot to handle. There is not sin you can commit from which you cannot return to God and find forgiveness. Forgiveness is instant. The promise of God is clear he will forgive us and cleanse us. All we need to do is ask. If you have asked God’s forgiveness and are trusting in Christ then any guilt you experience is not from God. He wants us to be free. Perhaps we need to learn to forgive ourselves e.g. priest in the Philippines, a much- loved man of God who carried the burden of a secret sin he had committed many years before. He had repented but still had no peace, no sense of God’s forgiveness.

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