Overcoming GuiltPsalm 32:1-11
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
The Encarta Dictionary defines it like this: "An awareness of having done wrong or committed a crime, accompanied by feelings of shame and regret." As we continue our study of debilitating sins that prevent us from being overcomers in Christ, we can't go without a sermon on the subject of guilt.
We are hardwired by God to feel guilty when we commit some type of violation. Some guilt can be good. Some guilt can be bad. Either way, we know the pain of guilt and how easy it is to be enslaved to this feeling. There is no way any believer overcome by guilt, whether god or bad guilt, can fully realize and experience the liberating blessings that are promised in Christ.
Some questions: So what specifically brings upon guilt? Why does God use guilt? How does the devil use guilt? What are the different types of guilt we can experience? How should we process the guilt we face? How can we overcome the guilt in our lives? As the Lord permits, we'll answer those questions this morning.
As I already mentioned, guilt is a response we experience when we have done something we know is wrong. Not always, but oftentimes the degree and duration of the guilt is proportionate to the seriousness of our offense. For instance, a white lie carries less guilt than adultery. So, as we consider parts of Psalm 32 this morning, we'll see read about the guilt King David experienced. Many believe he wrote this Psalm just after he committed his affair with Bathsheba.
In verse 10 of Psalm 32 we read, "Many are the sorrows of the wicked." Why does the wicked have "many…sorrows." It's simple. Every time we disobey God's law we bring misery upon ourselves. Sin brings all kinds of pain. And the more we sin over the years, the more we deal with the consequences of sin.
That's why God says to us in verse 8, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you." Or the beginning of verse 9, "Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding."
God doesn't owe us any of His instruction, but because He loves His creation, He has chosen in mercy to teach us His ways. We find His ways written to us in the Bible. When we obey the Bible it goes well for us. When we disobey the Bible we are guaranteed consequences: Social consequences, physical consequences, emotional consequences. And one of the emotional consequences that we face every time we sin is guilt. I know you have felt this one before. And I know you know the weight and pain guilt presses upon your soul.
So why did God create us to feel the burden of guilt when we commit a wrong doing?
I'll give you an illustration. We give our children many instructions for their physical safety. One that I have repeated mentioned with my kids is the need to watch your hands when car doors are closing. With a family of six, doors in the minivan are always opening and always closing. Not long ago we arrived at church. We unloaded from the car and closed all the doors. Unfortunately Shane's hand was located in the wrong place. All I could hear was a faint, "Dad, Dad, Dad." I looked back and his finders were trapped in the door. Thankfully he was fine, but he hasn't made that mistake again. You see, God has given us something called nerves that produce physical pain. Hopefully our children listen to our instruction for physical safety, but when they don't, physical pain has a way of warning and preventing them in the future from making unsafe choices.
Likewise, our Father in heaven gives us His instruction for our spiritual safety. Yet like ignorant and carefree children, we at times ignore His teaching. We at times want to do things according to our own estimation apart from the Scriptures. And when we do this, God in His mercy allows us to feel pain. Guilt is a gift from God that makes us sensitive to sin. Another word for this that we commonly use is conviction.
Now when we face the weightiness of true guilt we all know how unpleasant it can be. King David said in verses 3 and 4 of Psalm 32, "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer." Barring a few masochists, nobody likes to stay in a state of guilt. So it's a natural human reaction to remove it. However, very sadly, many go about trying to remove their guilt in all the wrong and useless ways. Permit me to explain.
Some choose the intellectual route. For example, "The only reason I feel guilty about sleeping with my girlfriend before marriage is that I have been trained to believe a Christian standard of ethics. I need shake off this outdated culture and convince myself that there is nothing wrong with my actions. And if I believe there is nothing wrong with my actions (better yet, if I can convince myself that my actions are good), the guilt will disappear."
This is why people first dismiss and then rationalize and justify sin. This is why we are masters in our society to take biblical vices and actually proclaim them as virtues. I could give you many examples but sexual sins, greed and self-esteem clearly make my point. The goal is to remove guilt.
Some have chosen the physical route to remove guilt. For example, "I have these miserable feelings of guilt, but the way I get through life is to deaden their impact. I self-medicate. I use drugs and alcohol. Oftentimes I just keep the television on and blaring throughout the day to prevent the sound of silence. I stay very busy to keep my mind off these nagging waves of guilt."
Some have also in error chosen the religious route to remove guilt. For example, "I know my guilt is a result of violating God's expectations for my life. I have offended Him, so I need to appease Him to get back in His good graces. Sometimes I punish myself by denying myself privileges. Sometimes I make sure I spend a lot of time at church. Sometimes I do good things for others that will outweigh the bad things I've done to God."
Listen beloved, there is one reason God allows all humans to experience guilt. And that's so we might run to Him for true healing and forgiveness. Guilt is the symptom that drives us to the cure. And that cure is Jesus Christ.
You see, guilt comes because of sin against God. Therefore the moment we can get God to forgive the sin is the very moment the guilt disappears. That's why the first and last step in overcoming guilt is the Gospel.
As David said in verses 1 and 2, "How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!"
Though we often sin against people, every sin we commit is ultimately an offense against God. In Psalm 51, David's other Psalm after his affair with Bathsheba, He said, "Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight" (Psm. 51:4). Our iniquities are against God. But how can God "not impute iniquity" as Psalm 32:2 taught us when He is a holy God that must according to His just nature punish sin?
The answer lies in the Gospel. In Romans 3:23 we read, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Everyone experiences guilt because everyone is guilty of violating God's law. James 2:10 says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." Everyone deserves God's just condemnation in hell. But God in His love and mercy sent us a Redeemer. He sent us One that would take our sins upon Himself. He sent us Jesus Christ. And after receiving our sins, the Father spent His wrath upon Him. The punishment for all our sins was received by Him. Thus with the penalty of sin now taken away for those in Christ, we can receive a full pardon for our sins. Remove our sins from God's presence in Christ and naturally you remove the guilt as well. Romans 3:24 teaches that we have been "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus."
Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Listen to verses 8-9, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him."
The remedy to overcome guilt is to understand that yes, we have sinned and still do sin against God. But thanks to the work of Jesus Christ, all those sins have been paid for and we are no longer susceptible to their penalty or the loss of God's favor. Guilt removed!
Listen to these verses from Romans 8: Verse 1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Verse 2, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." Verse 34, "Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us."
Unbelievers may appear to live a carefree life, but only Christians can go through life not burdened by guilt. Only we through the Gospel through receiving Jesus Christ by faith understand and receive grace as we rest not in our works to appease God, but rather in the finished work of Christ. The One who takes away all our sin before the Father is the One who thus takes away all our guilt.
In theory we as Christians can hopefully all agree with what I just said, but so often Christians struggle with guilt because we still struggle with sin. You see, just because we come to Christ, doesn't mean we stop sinning. And when we sin, we continue to experience guilt. What are we supposed to do then?
Let me briefly tell you some wrong ways I have heard Christians deal with their guilt.
One, they can't come to terms with the fact that Jesus has indeed died for all of their sins. They see some sins as unforgivable. Seems humble, but very prideful to conclude that Christ's sacrifice didn't fully get the job done.
Two, that although Christ died for my sin, I somehow need to punish myself in order to be fully cleansed. In other words, there is something I must do to win back God's favor. More pride.
Three, although God has forgiven me, I can't forgive myself. Listen to what one author said about this. "This statement may be another form of pride masking as false humility. God, the Judge and Arbiter in the highest courtroom, pronounces you 'not guilty' by virtue of what Christ has done for you on the cross. But when you make this statement, you function as the judge and arbiter in a much lower court and overrule the higher court's decision. This reveals contempt for God's stature as the ultimate Judge" (Timothy Lane, Forgiving Others, p. 20).
Can we please set the record straight on this one? There is nothing in the Bible about forgiving yourself. And the reason being is that we are always the offender and God is the offended. "By focusing on ourselves, we have taken the spotlight off of God and pointed it at us, making it doubly difficult to let go of our sin" (Swindoll, Getting Past Guilt). We sin. God forgives. We receive His forgiveness.
Four is the belief that God is punishing us for our sins. Beloved, there may be natural consequences you face because of your sin, but that is not God's punishment. In love, God also disciplines His children, but again, He does not punish His children. Jesus received every single bit of punishment you deserved.
I think you'll agree, possibly from experience, that all these tried tactics to remove guilt set the Christian up for failure. I believe it comes down to the fact that we simply don't fully understand or are too prideful to accept or can't get our minds around the greatness of God's grace.
So the goal of the Christian life is that we do not sin. 1 John 2:1, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin." However, we still blow it. That's why the verse continues, "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." For those who believe in Him, Jesus took care of the sin problem. The next verse in 1 John reads, "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins."
So when we sin, even as Christians, we experience guilt. We experience the shame of disappointing our heavenly Father. We are broken and contrite. The Lord wants us grieved over the times we offend Him. It breaks fellowship with Him. It breaks His heart and it should break our heart as well. We experience guilt.
But we don't stay in the guilt. Again, the guilt turns us to Christ. We confess the sin, repent of the sin and experience the blessing of His pardon. 1 John 1:8-9, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Here is how David put it in Psalm 32. This is so good! Verse 5, "I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD'; and You forgave the guilt of my sin."
This guilt issue follows us throughout our Christian walk. And as we mature in Christ we learn the value of dealing with it rightly and the dangers of dealing with it wrongly. We learn that even though God has forgiven us, we can sense it when not God, but Satan "the accuser" (Rev. 12:10) seeks to remind us of our failures and faults. We learn how to engage in spiritual battle to prevent this false guilt from setting in. We learn to not trust in our feelings as it pertains to guilt, but fully receive the promises from God's Word. We learn to allow that which makes us guilty to only be the things that violate God's Word. We learn the difference between real guilt and an overactive conscience. We learn the need to keep excelling in Christ, but refuse to allow the conviction to grow spiritually become a continual self-loathing low-grade guilt that we aren't doing enough for Jesus. We learn to greater recognize our sinfulness and yet the incredible promise that we can always "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
My friends, guilt is a universal experience for all humans. In His mercy, God has made all of us to experience guilt when we sin against Him. From birth, Romans 2 tells us that "the work of [God's] Law [is] written [on our] hearts." Therefore the verse goes on to say that our "conscience [bears] witness and [our] thoughts alternately [accuse or defend us] (Rom. 2:15). It doesn't matter how much our society or government ignores or explains away God's law. The violation of His law universally results in guilt.
If you are not a Christian, there is nothing you can do to adequately remove your guilt. You have offended God and you need His forgiveness. You need His pardon. You need His cleansing. Will you come to Jesus Christ today on the basis of faith and be set free from your guilt? Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Mt. 11:28-29). Do you feel the crushing sense of fear that you have offended the living God? Do you need rest from the perpetual life-crushing guilt? If you are breathing, there is hope for you to experience the liberating forgiveness and rest found in Christ.
And for those of us in Christ Jesus, let's remember that Jesus Christ promised to us abundant life (Jn. 10:10). Similar to the other life dominating sins we've studied like fear and bitterness and addictions and cynicism, guilt has a tremendous ability to rob your joy and steal your peace. Know the value of guilt to draw you to the Savior's arms, but know the greatness of your Savior to remove guilt in all its entirety.
Listen to how David closed Psalm 32 in verses 10-11. "Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart."
May that be the experience for all the forgiven sinners in this room!