We touched on the issue of guilt yesterday, so I’d like to take a day to look at it more in depth. Before I delve into an answer to that, let me first give credit to Dr. R.C. Sproul. Much of the next few paragraphs come from his book Pleasing God.
The first step is that you have to understand this issue rightly. We have to distinguish between objective guilt and subjective guilt. Subjective guilt is a guilty feeling, when you feel a sense of shame and regret for what you’ve done. Objective guilt, on the other hand, is, well, objective. It’s outside of your personal feelings. It’s based on God’s law and commands and instructions and expressed desires. If I steal from someone, I’ve transgressed God’s unchanging law. I’m objectively guilty. I might also feel guilty (subjectively) over how I’ve disappointed my Father and hurt someone else.
What most people don’t know is that you might have either objective guilt or subjective guilt without the other. You might not feel guilty and still be guilty before God’s bar of justice. And you might feel guilty and not be guilty before God at all.
This reminds me of a story that Dr. Sproul relates in his book. He relates how he was counseling a young lady who'd become a Christian and had been involved in several sexual relations outside marriage. She told him “I don’t know what to do, Dr. Sproul. I’ve asked forgiveness over and over and over and over, and I still feel guilty. What should I do?” His reply: “You should ask for forgiveness.” “What?! Have you been listening at all?! I’ve already done that a dozen times!” “No, you don’t need to ask forgiveness for the sexual sin. You need to ask forgiveness for doubting God at his word. He tells us that once we confess, he’s forgiven that sin and he'll never bring it up again. As far he’s concerned, it didn’t happen. By asking him for forgiveness for a sin more than once, you’re showing that you doubt his word.”
Quite frankly, whether you feel guilty or not is ultimately not really all that important. Paying a lot of attention to your feelings of guilt might lead to either false assurance or to listening to Satan’s lies instead of the Holy Spirit. What really matters is the objective guilt. Have you received Christ as your Savior and Boss? Then your eternal destiny is secure. Have you asked him to point out to you any sins with which you’ve offended him? If yes, did nothing specific come to mind? If he didn't, then don’t worry about it. And if he does point out something specific, then the next steps are simple.
Proverbs 28:13 is one of my favorite verses: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” There are two aspects here: Confession and renouncement.
Confession literally means you agree with God that you’ve sinned. His word lays out in black and white to do or not to do X, and you disobeyed.
But don’t forget the second aspect, which some teachers and a lot of Christians ignore: renouncing the sin. That means you commit yourself--with his grace and help--not to do it again. That also means that you take positive steps not to do it again. If you have a problem with drunkenness, then don’t go into bars. If you’re addicted to pornography, get accountability software.
Not that these are magic words or anything, but what I pray is usually similar to this: “Father, I’m so sorry I did X. I know it was wrong. There’s no excuse for what I did. Please forgive me, and please help not to do that again.”
Once we’re past the bad news, then we can come to the good news. We just read a promise, which is backed up with other verses in Scripture, that if we confess and renounce (another word for repenting), we’ll find mercy. He’ll forgive and restore and smile upon us again. We don’t depend on his lovey-dovey feelings towards us; we depend on his solemn word. If we confess and he doesn’t forgive, then that’s a blemish on his honor. And my friend, Heaven and Earth will split apart at the seams before he lets that happen.
Father God, you’re so slow to anger, so quick to forgive, so quick to restore, so quick to shower me with grace. Thank you so much.
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