Summary: This is a sermon I did in two prisons in Arkansas and Mississippi on dealing with guilt.
"This message was preached in Tucker prison and also Parchman prison. This can be adapted to any situation."
There are so many of God’s people today who live under a heavy burden of guilt because of their past. They have a hard time believing that God could forgive them much less forget their sin. Part of this may be because others remind them of their past. But even more prevalent than that is, they just can’t forgive themselves. If incarceration is involved then this complicates matters further.
You need to understand the difference between paying your debt to society and paying your debt to God. The scripture gives us insight on this matter. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” ROM 8:1-2. What is condemnation? Greek scholars tell us that this word means, “ judgment which results in a guilty verdict and the execution of its sentence.” Does this sound familiar? Did you ever stand before a judge and receive a guilty verdict? Did this judge pass a sentence on you? The execution of that sentence could be 10 years in prison or life without parole. Your sentence may be the death penalty. I know that this may bring up an unpleasant memory for you, but I want you to understand the biblical meaning of condemnation. Now let’s look at the text again in the light of this understanding. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. ROM 8:1. This simply says that if you are in Christ Jesus, which means saved or born again, that you will never receive before God a guilty judgment and execution of sentence because of your past sins. Now isn’t that good news? The courts of heaven don’t have any record of wrongdoing where you are concerned! How can that be? Jesus took your guilt and shame and bore it on the cross for you. You deserved to be executed because of your sin but Jesus took your place. “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed.” 1PE 2:24.
You may ask the question, why then do I feel so guilty and depressed because of my past? There are several reasons that this may be true. (1.) If you don’t understand what Jesus did for you on the cross, then Satan gains an advantage because of your ignorance. The prophet Hosea tells us that, “ My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. HOS 4:6”. Satan thrives where ignorance of God and His ways are not known or where we know them and ignore them. (2.) We don’t understand the difference in healthy guilt and unhealthy guilt. Healthy guilt occurs when we sin. It helps keep us in the will of God. Guilt can be a little like physical pain. If I touch a hot stove, I feel pain. The pain tells me to move my hand or I will be harmed. When I sin guilt tells me to remove myself from that situation because it will harm me. Unhealthy guilt is guilt that persists after I have repented of wrongdoing. “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1JO 1:9.” When we confess our sin to God, he legally forgives us because Jesus has paid the price for our pardon. There is no reason for us to continue to torture ourselves about our past sins. Once we confess them as sin to God and receive forgiveness then it is a past sin. There is no record of it in the courts of heaven. Understand that unhealthy guilt doesn’t come from God but from Satan. This is the kind of guilt that cripples many Christians’ lives and causes them to be nonproductive in the kingdom. This kind of guilt opens the door for depression and despair. This kind of guilt actually keeps us tied to our old sin. We develop a sin consciousness.
What can you do to overcome this guilt? First, you need to make sure that your relationship with God is on steady ground. Ask yourself the question; have I made Jesus my Lord on the basis of what He did on the cross or on the basis of my earning His salvation? When you realize that you cannot be good enough to earn His salvation or be bad enough that He can’t forgive you, then a heavy load will lift off you. The next thing you must do is to make sure you are walking with Him in close fellowship. If there is any unconfessed sin in your life you need to ask for His forgiveness and then receive it by faith. Thirdly, you need to get the truths of the liberating word of God into your mind and heart. “ I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (2) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. ROM 12:1-2.” You must prove His will in your life. Another thing you need is fellowship. If you have a church in your institution, you need to get involved. Find someone who can hold you accountable. Confess your sin to them and have them to ask you direct questions about your behavior. Make sure this is a person that you can trust. The last thing that I want to share with you is the need to tell others what God has done in you life. This is good for you. It keeps you from dwelling on all the negative things in your past and your present situation.