Summary: The sources and effects of guilt and the solution to the problem
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us
2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
This is the third week in which we have looked at the first chapter of the first letter of John, and now we have got onto the most precious part of all. It talks about a common problem in life and gives us a solution to that problem. That problem is guilt. A problem that holds many lives in bondage
There is a widely accepted dogma in contemporary culture that guilt is wholly negative, that feelings of guilt and failure cripple many lives. That it is the fault of an authoritarian or judging society. Quite often the blame is laid at the door of the Church, of the Christian faith, of the gospel that is seen as binding people.
The solution propounded by the secular world, and the counselling industry is to convince yourself that you have not failed, that there is no reason for guilt. Then, it is believed, people will be free.
However, John teaches us that this contemporary, secular approach is wrong in both the causation and solution of the problem. I believe that guilt can be positive or negative, depending on where it comes from and on its results, but that the solution is the same. Let us look first at negative guilt.
Negative guilt is that which binds, that keeps us in prison, that makes us continually suffer, constantly revisiting past sins and failings, real or imagined. That prevents us from fulfilling our potential as children of God. It is not from God. It can be from our own thinking, possibly from past life experiences and expectations of other people or what we have been told about ourselves. It can also be from Satan, whose name means the adversary or the accuser. He loves to disable Christians by guilt tripping them.
This sort of guilt delights to dwell on a forgiven past. For Christians it casts doubt on whether God has truly forgiven the past, it limits his atonement. But John tells us that if we confess our sins he will forgive them. Not he might, but he will. If we have humbly come to God through Christ and confessed our sins, he has forgiven us. That is the end of the matter as far as he is concerned.
I know of a Christian who went to see one of the leaders of his Church because he was feeling guilty about past sins. This guilt had been interfering with his Christian life and had become a major preoccupation for him. He said to the pastor “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself”. He was surprised by the reply, which was “You arrogant ****, who do you think you are? If God has forgiven you, what right have you got not to forgive yourself?!” While I would not express myself in the same way, I agree with the sentiment expressed. When God forgives us, he totally forgives us, as it says in his word as far as the east is from the west, so far has the Lord removed our transgressions from us. Satan loves for us to doubt that, to act as if his forgiveness were only partial and for us to live as if the slate is not made totally clean, but just smudged.
Satan also likes to try and distort our conscience and to blame ourselves for things that are not our fault. Or to think legalistically and to live in fear or shame because of not living up to some standard of perfection in everything, or that we must always please others. Again guilt about this can cripple our lives. Again, we must remember, and not doubt God’s free grace.
However, before we can think of our guilt as negative, we must look at ourselves and pray to see if it is actually the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin in our lives.