Summary: Stuff Jesus Changed, part 2. This messages examines the most prevalent feeling people experience in relating to God (and to one another) -- guilt. It looks at where guilt comes from, at sin-guilt, and at how to live as guilt-free as possible.
Stuff Jesus Changed, part 2 – Guilt
Wildwind Community Church
David K. Flowers
April 15, 2007
A defendant was on trial for murder. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no corpse. In the defense’s closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all,” the lawyer said as he looked at his watch. “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.”
He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened. Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But you all looked on with anticipation. I therefore put it to you that there is reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.”
The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. “But how?” inquired the lawyer. “You must have had some doubt. I saw all of you stare at the door.” The jury foreman replied: “Oh, we looked. But your client didn’t.”
I want to talk to you about guilt today. We’re in part 2 today of our series “Stuff Jesus Changed.” Basically I think people fit into one of three groups with regard to guilt. First there are the people who never feel guilty. Interestingly enough, they’re usually the ones who have most to feel guilty about, but they have antisocial personalities and no conscience and no amount of wrongdoing leaves them feeling guilty. Second, you have people who feel guilty sometimes – they have fairly healthy guilt mechanisms. The problem is they don’t always feel guilty about the right things! Third is those people who feel guilty all the time whether they’ve done anything wrong or not! These are your Charlie Browns. I want to talk to group two and group three people today, since there’s little point in talking about guilt to people who never feel guilty. Besides, most of those folks aren’t exactly regular church-goers, so I don’t think anyone will be getting left out today.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines guilt as "feelings of culpability, especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy; self-reproach." The definition tells you something important about guilt, doesn’t it? Nowhere does it say that guilt is related to things you actually did wrong! So let’s begin there, with the guilt many people feel for imagined offenses. The guilt you might feel for not mowing the lawn on the only day last week when it didn’t rain. The guilt from not joining that committee at work you were asked to join. The guilt from not giving to your church as much as you wish you could give. The guilt from not providing for your children in the way you believe you should. The list is endless. Let’s address this guilt from a Biblical perspective.
Actually, the only way to address this kind of guilt from a Biblical perspective would be to ignore it, because any time the Bible speaks of guilt, it speaks only in the context of sin. Most guilt we experience is related to social faux pas and situations, and scripture doesn’t have much to say about that. Still it’s a constant force in the lives of some people. So we’ll address this before moving on to what we might call legitimate Biblical guilt.
Where does guilt come from? Folks, this is huge, please listen carefully. I believe guilt comes from three places. First is a failure to live up to your standards for yourself. You failed to get the lawn mowed on the only clear day last week. What do you tell yourself? “I’m a terrible father. A good provider would have taken better care of his family. I’m not handling this single mom thing very well.” Your standards for yourself are basically a list of shoulds. A good father should be like this. A good mother should be like that. A good employee should be this way. A good church attender or member should do these things. A good husband or wife should do this or that. Anytime you fail to live up to your standards for yourself in one of these areas, in other words, anytime you violate one of your shoulds, you tend to feel guilty. After all, you didn’t do it, but you SHOULD have. You should have attended that class, or paid that money, or mowed that lawn.
Second is that false guilt comes from a failure to live up to the standards of others. The funny about this is the situation can be the same, but the guilt can come from a different place. Perhaps you don’t feel all that bad about not mowing your lawn, but you have a neighbor that keeps a stellar lawn, and you know HE thinks good homeowners mow their lawn every two days. In not mowing the lawn, you didn’t violate your own standards, but you violated HIS, and you feel terrible. You feel guilty, like mommy or daddy is going to be let down. You probably feel embarrassed about your yard. Maybe you feel lazy, or worry that he might think you are lazy.