Summary: According to one psychologist, guilt is the most important and difficult problem in life today. Although guilt is a problem in some ways in another sense it’s actually a blessing. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to guilt.
GUILT-THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
INTRODUCTION: Last week I preached on the importance of having the peace of Christ. One of the things that can easily disrupt our peace is guilt. According to one psychologist, guilt is the most important and difficult problem in life today. Although guilt is a problem in some ways in another sense it’s not a problem at all-it’s actually a blessing. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly regarding the subject of guilt.
1) The bad.
One aspect of guilt is to be at fault. We all do things that are wrong; things we’re guilty of. What’s bad is not just that we are at fault but what we do as a result. We might do things to make ourselves feel better about what we’ve done but that doesn’t cut it. Like the man who sent a check to the IRS with this note, “I’m feeling guilty for cheating on my taxes so I’m sending you this check. If afterwards I still feel guilty I’ll send you the rest.”
As a result of our guilt we might turn to things like drugs or alcohol to numb the pain of guilt. But, chances are, all that’s going to do is cause us to do something else to feel guilty about.
What makes us guilty-sin/wrong doing. What is sin? Anything that displeases God. That involves the bad we do and the good we’re supposed to do but don’t. And we have all fallen into the category of ‘guilty’ for there is none of us who are without sin. The question is-what will we do about it? We can be in denial about it or we can do something about it. However, even if we do the right thing in admitting our guilt, we can do the wrong thing to try to correct it.
Many people think they can remove their guilt by being a good person. But that won’t do it. Jer. 2:22, “Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign LORD.” The soap of good deeds will not remove the stain of sin.
So, the bad is that we are all guilty of sin; we are all at fault. And the bad on top of the bad is that we have wrong responses to our wrong doing. We can be denial about it, we can turn to things to mask the pain or we can try to be good enough to wipe away the guilt. But none of that will work. There’s only one way to take away our guilt-Jesus.
2) The good.
The other aspect of guilt is shame and remorse. The good obviously isn’t in doing something to be ashamed of but the good is in being ashamed. However, although shame is good, the effects of it won’t feel too good. When I realize the severity of what I’ve done I will be consumed with sorrow. When I think about the pain I’ve caused I will be in anguish.
Although feeling shame is a good thing, there can be bad among the good if I don’t respond to my shame in the right way. There’s a positive response and a negative response. The negative response is when it pushes us away from God and others. We can’t stand to be around those we’ve hurt so instead of facing them we avoid contact with them. It’s natural to feel this way. Adam and Eve hid from God when they were ashamed. The positive response to shame is when it brings us closer to God. When my shame causes godly sorrow that will lead to repentance and that will lead to restoration.
We see the difference between the right and wrong responses to shame and guilt in what happened to Peter and Judas. After Judas betrayed Jesus he felt some remorse. He told the Pharisees that he had betrayed innocent blood. But his response to his shame and guilt was not repentance but suicide. His guilt pushed him away from God. Peter, on the other hand, was different. After he had denied that he knew Jesus the rooster crowed and Jesus turned and caught Peter’s eye. Peter then went away and wept bitterly. Later, Jesus forgave and restored Peter.
When Peter preached the first sermon at Pentecost he told the Jews about their part on crucifying the Lord and Savior. Acts 2:37 says that they were cut to the heart, which means they were convicted-they realized their guilt. Their response to their guilt was to ask what they needed to do about it. Peter replied in verse 38 that they needed to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.