For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.2 Corinthians 7:10
What if I told you you could live a guilt-free life? Would you do it? Wanting to live a guilt-free life is wanting Heaven on Earth when we are still sinning, still far less from perfect. One of the main reasons none of us wants to feel guilty is we inherently know that guilt not only feels bad, but it seemingly prevents us from moving on with our life.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones knew this when he said, “To dwell on the past simply causes failure in the present. While you are sitting down and bemoaning the past and regretting all the things you have not done, you are crippling yourself and preventing yourself from working in the present. Is that Christianity? Of course it is NOT.”
What is guilt ?
Guilt has a lot of names. You might call it embarrassment, shame, regret, sorrow, or even disgrace. Any of those things can feel like guilt. Second, the feeling of guilt can come from lots of different places. You can feel guilty for doing something wrong, for hurting someone, or just for letting someone down. You can feel guilty for missing out on something big you wish you could have been a part of, or you can feel guilty for sinning. Your past sins, bad choices, failures, embarrassments, and regrets can all make you feel guilty. There are so many things you can feel guilty for, it’s no wonder that so many of us deal with guilt.
But is all guilt created equal? And are we just stuck with it? What if I told you that some guilt is bad but other guilt is something you should be thankful for? Let’s take a closer look at the different kinds of guilt you might feel and what God has to say about it all.
Good guilt is when you do something wrong (i.e., sinful) and you feel responsible for it, and that feeling makes you want to come clean and stop doing what you’re doing. Good guilt leads you to God and to his forgiveness that’s already bought and paid for, plain and simple. And that’s what makes it good. It stops a bad thing and starts up a good thing. It stops the sin and it starts the worship.
But bad guilt is the complete opposite. Bad guilt happens in two situations: (1) when you do something you feel bad about even though it wasn’t wrong (i.e., you didn’t sin), and (2) when you do something wrong and it leads you not to God but away from him. Bad guilt can make you feel condemned when you are not, and it always leads you away from God. In other words, we’re talking about the guilt that leads you to sin, not away from it.
There are two ways to get on with the life God would have you live when you come to dealing with guilt:
1. Discern if the guilt is bad guilt (not a sin) then, like a drowning man face down in a puddle of water, stand up and move towards a life lived with the aim of pleasing God, not man.
2. Recognize good guilt, confess your sin and repent, then accept God’s gracious gift of freedom from the punishment for that sin. This is no puddle, but a raging river that will sweep you off and carry you under. The gift of forgiveness through Jesus is a lifeline from the other side you should be thankful for. Take it, don’t try and earn it or be deserving. Take it, and take it often. And thank your Father for giving you His Word and the Holy Spirit to show you how to live.
Questions to ponder
Do you often feel guilty or rarely? Is it bad guilt (about stuff that’s not sin) or good guilt that is leading you to repentance?
Augustine once said, “Repentant tears wash out the stain of guilt.” Why do you think that is, that repentant tears remove the stain of guilt in the fabric of our lives?
One sneaky form of bad guilt is when you still feel guilty after you’ve received forgiveness. Is there something like that nagging at you? Confess that bad guilt now and thank God for the forgiveness you’ve already received.