A friend called me Saturday about a woman in his Sunday school class dealing with guilt. A few weeks ago another friend talked to me about a man he met on his job dealing with guilt. Both of these people struggling with guilt are advanced in age, both of them are wrestling with things that happened long ago, both of them are weighed down with the crushing burden of guilt and remorse.
My question in the Saturday conversation was, “Does she know Jesus?” My question to my other friend, when I see him again, will be, “Does he know Jesus?”
In a therapeutic society, and in a therapeutic church, our tendency is to seek emotional or psychological healing – we think that the alleviation of pain, in this case the pain of guilt, is what our first response should be; and so our first question is, “How can I give this person immediate relief from pain?” This may be a fair question in terms of medical triage (but even there further pain may be necessary to save the patient), but it is a dangerous question in matters of the soul, and it is an especially dangerous question when guilt is concerned.
While there can be false guilt in different forms, I am not addressing false guilt right now; I am addressing God-given merciful guilt; for just as physical pain alerts us to a medical condition, the pain of guilt alerts us to a sin condition – and alertness to a sin condition is meant to drive us to Jesus Christ in repentance and seeking forgiveness.
The default response to guilt in our society is to deny it and by denying it we deprive ourselves of God’s forgiveness. We use pleasure, we use alcohol and drugs (legal and illegal), we use materialism, we use false religion, we use self-help, we use sex – we use whatever we can to deaden guilt, to deny guilt, to justify ourselves. In much of the professing church Jesus has become one therapist among many – He’ll make it better without repentance, without confession, without remorse – of all the medications available, Christian feel-good-about-myself medication is the most insidious for it hides the Christ of the Cross and the Cross of Christ. In church we can be so close and yet so far away.
As passages such as Romans Chapters 1 – 5:11 make clear, God wants us to know guilt so that we’ll be driven to Jesus in repentance and confession – and keep in mind that repentance means turning around and following Jesus, it means (in the Biblical context) following Jesus Christ as Lord. True repentance manifests itself in a relationship with Jesus Christ and it is only in a relationship with Jesus that we can know forgiveness and a conscience at peace with God, with others, and with ourselves.
In this sense, guilt is good news! Our response to those struggling with guilt need not be, “I’m so sorry,” but rather can be, “That’s great news that you have a sense of guilt, let me introduce you to Jesus Christ! He knows about your guilt because He knows about your sin, He knows about all of our sin – let me tell you about why Jesus came and died and was buried and about His resurrection.”
The world has made guilt a bad thing, but guilt, operating the way God designed it, is a good thing because it is meant to lead us in confession and repentance to the God who so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son.
As followers of Jesus Christ our calling is to share Jesus with others, to make disciples by teaching others to obey all that Jesus Christ has commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20). God has broken into this world in His Son Jesus and He is our Lord and we are His disciples, His followers; He is our Master and we are His slaves; He is our elder brother and we are His family; He is the Head and we are His body. Knowing Jesus Christ is everything – therefore our threshold question must always be, “Have you come to know Jesus through repentance, confession, and are you following Him?”
The Crucifixion was not a therapy session, it was the Son of God bearing the sin of the world; because of the Christ of the Cross our sin can be forgiven and our consciences cleansed from guilt (Hebrews 10:19-22) and we can know intimacy with God and with each other.
“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” [Romans 5:1-2.]