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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Dr. Charles Stanley » Charles Stanley - When We Feel Guilty

Charles Stanley - When We Feel Guilty

Charles Stanley - When We Feel Guilty
TOPICS: The Source of My Strength, Guilt, Condemnation

When you do something wrong and you know it's wrong, how do you feel? Well, you feel guilty. But let me ask you this, have you ever had the same feelings when you didn't do anything wrong? Oftentimes we do. Guilt is something all of us have to deal with in our life at different times and some people know how to deal with it and some people don't. If you don't know how to deal with guilt it can be very, very devastating to your life. And many people go through their lives hindered because they don't know how to deal with guilt. In one meeting there were about five hundred people. They took this survey and they asked the question, "What do you experience when you feel guilty"?

And the answers came back like this: punishment from God, God is going to punish me for something I've done in the past, God is going to judge me, I'm going to have an automobile accident, my baby's going to be born deformed, things are just going to go bad in life. The other group of answers were like this, depression, a sense of worthlessness, low self-esteem, shame. The other group of answers came like this, rejection and isolation. Now all of those feelings are devastating feelings. And to think that people go through life feeling these to some degree or the other so much of their time.

So, I want you to turn, if you will, to one verse of Scripture. In Ephesians chapter 1 and the seventh verse, you'll recall that he has told us what our relationship to Christ is, how we've been chosen. He says in verse 7 that in Him, that is in Christ: We have redemption, salvation through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. And I want us just to think about those that verse and a half there. "The riches of His grace, which He's lavished upon us" through the forgiveness of our sin. The riches of His grace, not our performance, not our behavior, not our promises but the riches of His grace.

Now one of the best ways and probably one of the first steps in overcoming any difficulty is to understand what causes it. And so, I want us to think about, a few moments this morning, in thinking of this whole idea of struggling with guilt, I want us to think about the source of this guilt. That is, where did it come from. You say, "Well, anybody knows where it came from. It came from sin". Well, if all guilt found its source in sin it would be real simple to deal with it. But that's not true. All feelings of guilt do not come from an act of sin. Feelings of guilt come from different aspects of our life and different things. And so, I want to begin by simply saying, according to this passage here, he says we, listen, we have redemption through His blood, we have forgiveness for the trespasses of our sins and it is all, he says, the result of God's grace.

Now, if it is the result of His grace one of the things we have to deal with in this whole issue of guilt is the fact that sometimes one of the reasons we feel guilty has nothing to do with sin. It has to do with our wrong view of God. And it is amazing how we can have a wrong and erroneous view of God and think that something is wrong and keep judging ourselves all of our life. So, I want to begin with my own life at this point. I was saved when I was about twelve years of age and when I was saved God was real distant from me. I do remember that. He was up in heaven. I was down here. And those early years of my life I felt some sense of distance anyway because not having a father and not having some man that I could come to and go to and unburden my heart and feel like that somebody really loved me and cared for me, God was, somehow, very distant. I just, I would pray to Him. I believed in Him. I trusted Him.

But somehow, He was way out yonder somewhere, and I was down here. And most of my time was spent on trying to get Him, being sure He listened, being sure that somehow, I was getting through. And so, a year or so went by and... I won't ever forget this. One day I was at home by myself. We lived in a basement apartment. I was taking a bath. And it was a very small bathroom. And when I finished taking a bath, I stood up to get out of the tub and to go dry off. And so, hanging just beyond the tub, maybe about like this, from the ceiling was one of those old black cords and one of those brass colored looking holders that you screw the light bulb in. You had to reach up and hold it and turn the little black knob to cut the light off.

Well, I'm standing in water a little over my ankles. I reach up to grab that light socket, which would have been an absolute disaster, to turn it off and the telephone rang. Well, normally you would just turn it off and go answer the phone. But rather. I can still remember this. Rather I just got out of the tub and went and answered the phone. Rang about four times when I picked it up nobody was there. It didn't click. Nothing happened. Well, I didn't think anything about it until I walked back to the bathroom. And just there was the door framing this light bulb hanging down and part of the tub. And it's like I looked right at an electric chair. All of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I knew that God just wasn't in heaven, that God was down here. And, all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, God became very, very real to me because I knew, at that moment, He was involved in my life. Because nobody was on that phone. God is the One who rang the phone.

Now, He may have rung it through someone else. Doesn't make any difference. He got it rung to save my life. Well, I would like to able to tell you that that settled the whole issue between God and me and how close and intimate He is but that's not true. Because years went by and I still felt the same kind of distance from Him, though at that moment I realized that God was not a distant God, that He was a God who was involved in our life. And so, rather than being remote, I knew that somehow, He was involved. But in spite of that I just didn't feel that closeness, that real intimacy to Him because, you see, you get your image of God from your father. And so, my image was that He left me very early in life.

And second image I had of a father was that he was cruel and harsh and hard and difficult to deal with and not very complimentary about anything in life. And so, my whole view of God was distorted. It isn't something I asked for. I didn't ask to grow up in that kind of a situation. I didn't ask for my father to die at the age of nine months. I didn't ask for any of that. That was just something that was given to me, that was granted to me. That's just something I had to deal with in growing up. So, when I went to church it was condemnation and judgment and the wrath of God. And so, I grew up with all of these things having been given to me. So, this God that I first understood in life was, first of all, He was remote. He was distant. Secondly, He was taking notes, keeping records. And His favorite phrase was, "Thou shalt not".

And so, if you can imagine thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen or so trying to be holy. I'm here to tell you it didn't work. And I tried and I wanted to be obedient to God, do what God said do but I was striving all the time to live up to this standard that first of didn't quite understand. Nobody ever said, "You're to do the following things". It was all the things I was not supposed to do. And so, I'm simply saying all that to say, somebody gave me the wrong view of God. I didn't ask for it. I didn't find it in the Bible. They just gave it to me.

Now listen. When somebody gives you a wrong view about something, what it does, it colors your thinking. And so, my whole grid system about God was that He was harsh, that He was hard to please, you could spend the rest of your life trying to please Him. If you pleased Him good enough you'd go to heaven and now you top all of that off with believing that you could die and be lost and go to hell and, friend, I'm here to tell you, God was a cruel taskmaster. I think about all the people who went to that church and those churches for years and years and years and still do. And you know what they're living in with? They're living with a sense of guilt. If you ask them, "What did you do today that was absolutely wrong"? Most of them probably couldn't tell you anything they did today that was wrong.

"Well, why do you feel guilty"? "Well, I just do," why? I can tell you why, because they were given a wrong view of God. And that's why I am so grateful to God, in my own heart, that not only has He straightened out my view but He keeps on teaching me and lifting me in my own understanding and relationship to Him. And as He has over these years, He has liberated me and freed me from that intangible, untouchable, some kind of ethereal guilt out there that has no foundation whatsoever. A second thing that I would say is a cause of guilt that, oftentimes, people struggle with and it's devastating in their life is that the message of grace is missing in their life. They've never been taught the grace of God!

Now the grace of God is God, we say His undeserved favor toward us. It's His graciousness and kindness toward us without regard to our worth or our merit or, in fact, in spite of what you and I deserve. That's the grace of God. So, if you'll think about it this way, that the grace of God and guilt do not go hand in hand. And so, oftentimes the problem in people's lives is they don't understand grace. Now they sing it. You imagine singing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am I'm found, blind but now I see".

And all the wonderful verses, and there are a lot more verses to that song than is in your hymn book. And so, it's wonderful song. And so we sing it. We say it's amazing grace. The amazing thing about it is that God forgives you and me in spite of what we are and the fact that we don't deserve it. But in our thinking, oftentimes we still think we have to deserve it. And sometimes I'll be counseling with someone or sharing with them and they'll say, "But you know I know I don't deserve it". Listen, deserving has nothing to do with the Christian life. Grace has nothing to do with what we deserve. It has nothing to do with what we merit or what we are worth. It has to do with who God is. And that's what this verse is all about. He says the forgiveness of our sins did not come through merit. It came through the riches of His grace.

Now listen. There are a lot of men who are preaching salvation today. And if you ask them, "Are you preaching the grace of God"? "I am". Yet here's what they'll say, "If you want to be saved here's what you've got to do. You've got to repent of your sins". Which says, "You must do something before you can have God's favor". And so, oftentimes, men preach and I hear this all the time, listening, they preach repentance as a means of salvation. He says, Paul said it this way, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved".

Repentance is what I do as a result of what God has done for me at the cross. When I receive the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior what do I want to do? I want to deal with those issues in my life that need to be dealt with and I want to walk away from this and walk away from that and walk away from the other because of what is in my heart not to get something in my heart. And so, oftentimes, the message of grace is missing. And so therefore a person says, "Well, if there's any sin in my life, I am guilty before God. God is displeased". Why does He call us children? Because He knows we're going to falter and fall and we're weak and we're going to make mistakes. Salvation is what God gives to me as a believer. And repentance in the life of the believer is something we do because we don't want anything in our life that shouldn't be there because of who is living in our heart, and that is the person of Jesus Christ. So, the message of grace is missing in the lives of many people.

I remember when I first went to seminary. I went to this church, I won't ever forget this. Every Sunday the pastor preached morning and night, how to be saved, how to be saved, how to be saved, how to saved. After about two months of that I said to Annie, I said, "You know, I think I'm about as saved as I can be. And I don't think I can handle much more of this". And so we left and went to some other church. Now people ask me sometimes, "Why don't you preach more on salvation"? Well, if you'll listen real carefully it is always a part of the message. It is always a part of the message. But suppose I got up every Sunday and said, "You need to give your life to Christ. You need to be saved, you need to be saved, you need to be saved, you need to be saved"?

Do you know why sometimes that happens in churches? Because pastors, and I hate to say this. I'm just being honest. Pastors want to get a lot of people saved because it looks good on the record to baptize so many people. And so, they just preach salvation and preach salvation and preach salvation and what happens? People sit in the pew and starve to death and do not grow and are not discipled because they are not instructed how to live the salvation God has given them.

And so what happens? They live with a sense of guilt. And somehow the message of grace is a missing message in far too many churches. And so people grow up feeling guilty because they did this and they did that. And so, instead of understanding that God's forgiveness and kindness and graciousness to us is in spite of what we are and in spite of what we do... does that mean that God just winks His eye at sin? No, He does not. But our guilt was placed on Jesus at Calvary once and for all, two thousand years ago and you and I have been declared not guilty.

Now, a third reason I think people struggle with guilt is because they don't know what to do with sin. They don't know what to do with it. Well, what do you do with it? You simply confess it to Him. "Father, I know that I have sinned against You..." Now listen. Not confess, plead, beg, plead, beg, pity party, beat up on yourself, feel guilty, the worse you feel the better you'll feel, I've got to beat up on myself. You know what the problem is? It's real hard for you and me to humble ourselves before God and admit:

Lord Jesus, you took all of my guilt. My pity party won't do any good. I can confess, any time after the second time is a waste of time. Anytime I talk about repentance after one time is a waste of time. You took it all at Calvary, you take, you paid the sin debt absolutely in full and my confession and my repentance is to get my heart back in right relationship with You and to get this estranged feeling I have from You straightened out and bring us back into oneness again.

That's what confession, repentance is all about in the life of the believer. And so how does a person get saved? They get saved by placing their trust in the work of Christ at Calvary and receiving Him personally as their Savior. And, repentance is something that we do having received Christ as our Savior. Now, as a believer, sure we get convicted of sin and we want to walk away, we want to repent, turn away from those things that don't please Him because of what He's already done in our heart. And so, when I think about how people are harassed by the devil, they don't know what to do with sin. He says, "If we confess our sin, He's faithful and just to forgive us".

To release us from the feelings of guilt and release us from these feelings of estrangement we have from Him. Listen, once you are saved by the grace of God nothing can separate you from God. But if you believe it can, you're going to live like it can, you're going to feel like you're separated from Him and you're just going to be covered with guilt! They don't know what to do with sin. And so, they just can't, somehow, believe that, "You mean to tell me that if I just ask God to forgive me? If I tell God about my sin that I'm forgiven"? Absolutely. "I don't deserve it". Correct. "How could He do it"? Cross, that's the only way. And see, He doesn't intend for us to live clouded and shrouded over with guilt. There is no joy in that.

Well, a fourth reason is people can't let go of their past. They just can't. Even though they ask the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive them of their sin or however they pray that, what happens is they just can't let go of it. Even though they ask God to forgive them and they'll turn to the Bible and say, "Well, yes, I guess here's what I asked the Lord to do and here's what He says and I know He has because He said He would do it". And somehow, it's like molasses on their back. It's just still hanging on there.

Turn back, if you will, to Isaiah 43. Isaiah 43 and I want you to notice this verse. In the twenty fifth verse, He says, "I, even I, am the one", now watch this. This is God speaking. "I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions, your sins", what's the next phrase? "For My sake". Whose sake? His sake, not our sake. He says, "I, even I am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember", what? "Your sins". He says in another passage, He says they are separated from you as far as the East is from the West.

Now listen to me. If God says, "I'm not going to remember them," what am I doing bringing them back up? I'll tell you why. Satan uses our past to harass us. It is one of his choicest tools to harass you. Listen, not only will he harass you but here's what he'll do. If he can grab enough stuff out of your past back yonder that you're ashamed of or guilty of or whatever it might be, some failures in your life, if he can get enough of that going, here's what he'll say to you, especially if you're a gifted, talented person, "You can't be used of God. God's not going to use you. Look what you did in the past. Your past is still there, and God still remembers it". No, He doesn't. Then why am I remembering it? Because it's Satan's choice tool to harass and discourage and depress and bring disillusionment.

Listen, if you've lived year after year after year, and suppose it's something you did as a teenager or in your twenties or something and now you're seventy, eighty years of age and somewhere that thing is still back yonder. This big, black something back there. Listen, that's what the blood is all about that is wiping out all the black stuff in your life back yonder, those holes back there, those incidences, those sins, those things back there that caused you trauma then. And you are, oh, loaded down with guilt. Friend, when you came to Jesus Christ and you said, "Father, I know that I've sinned against You and I'm just, I'm asking You to forgive me on the basis of the cross. I thank You for it".

Even if you didn't thank Him. Maybe you were just asking Him, "Lord, I'm just asking You to forgive me for what I've done". How many times do you have to ask a loving, heavenly Father to forgive you for something He has already provided for at Calvary? One time. One time. And so, we live with this sense of... it's a false sense of guilt we can't let go of the past. And I think especially of young people who get themselves in trouble in different ways. Somehow you say, "Well, now, are you saying there are no consequences to sin"? I've never said that. There are consequences to sin. But now listen. Here's what I want you to see. Sin by its very nature has consequences. That isn't God.

Now we have to separate this. Listen now. The consequence of a sin... for example, if I walk out in front of a car and I get hit and break my leg that isn't God breaking my leg. That's a consequence of not looking where I as going. If you and I sin against God there are certain sins that bear certain consequences. That's just the way life is. And so, no matter what happens to a person if they are saved by the grace of God, listen, they are living under the canopy of the lovingkindness of Almighty God. And, listen, God who knows the consequences of sin, He's the One who's always cautioning us and telling us, don't sin against Him. You know why? Not because He says, "I'm going to judge you if you do". But because He knows the consequence of sin.

And so, you and I have to realize that no matter what's happened in people's lives back there, what has happened in your life God has forgiven you, and you must let go of that. God has let go. But He says, "I don't remember it. Separated as far as the East is from the West". That's why you and I can stand before holy God and He says that He has made you and me righteous. You know why? Because He has washed the past away. We're living, at this moment, in this day. And so we are clean and pure before God.

Another reason that we struggle with guilt is because somehow, we feel like we've missed God. Now there are a lot of people who have the feeling, "I believe that God called me back yonder some years ago to do something for Him". Well, what did He call you to do? "Well, I'm not sure". Now listen carefully. God never calls you to do something for Him in general. "I want you to serve Me". God's going to call you to do something specific. Now here's what happens. Let's say that we give an invitation, especially in missionary conferences and so forth. And you're standing there and the Spirit of God's really convicting you about your willingness to surrender to Him. And God wants you to walk this aisle and say, "I want you to fully surrender your total being to Me, that you'll go anywhere, do anything I ask you to do". "Oh God, I'm not sure about that, mmm".

So you don't come. So you live with this guilt. "God called me to missions. I didn't go". God didn't call you to missions on that occasion. He called you to walk the aisle to make a commitment of yourself to Him, a public commitment that you'll do whatever He called you to do. And He may have called you to go back to your business and be a godly witness! Now you didn't miss God's call. You may have disobeyed Him when He said to you, "I want you to walk that aisle. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to commit yourself to Me that whatever I call you to do". Well, then just tell Him, "God, You challenged me to commit myself and I didn't do it. I know that was an absolute sin against You not to do it. That was rebellion on my part. And I just want to ask You to forgive me and thank You for Your forgiveness. Now Lord, here I am. What do You want to do in my life"?

Let's say that He did call you to some specific task and you didn't do it. Life's over. You say, "I can't ever be what God wants me to be". Well, if God had called you to preach the gospel or to be a missionary or something like that when you were twenty and you are now forty-five years of age or somewhere there abouts you say, "Well, how can I ever go back and do what God called me to do"? You can't, you can't go back and do what He called you to do, but you know what you can do? You can confess the fact that you've sinned against Him by being rebellious and wanting your own way and asking Him to forgive you of your sin and thanking Him for it and saying:

Lord, I fully surrender my entire life to You. I know that You can pick up the pieces. You can pick up what's broken. You can take me at this point in my life and You can set me in the center of Your will for this point in my life and this time. And God, I'm committed to doing whatever You say, wherever You say.

Do you think God's going to say, "Too late, too bad"? Now your boss may say that but God wouldn't say that. You know what God's going to say? "I knew you were coming to Me sooner or later. I'm sorry you had to go through all this suffering and heartache and pain for disobeying Me but you're forgiven. Now let's put it back together. I'm going to set you on the right track. I'm going to show you what I can do with something that's broken and messed up".

God delights in fixing things, fixing people, putting them back together, giving them a new beginning to start all over. I don't care who you are, what you've done, where you've been you can't name anything that out sins the grace of God. You can't do it. You see, everybody's messed up somewhere. Anybody here not messed up? Anybody here has never sinned? Anybody here who hasn't done something they wished they had never done? You know what? There's no such thing as a person who wished they hadn't done something and who wouldn't like to go back and change something. Thank God we, listen, we don't have to go back. We just have to go up and watch Him change our life, amen? That is the grace of God.
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