Charles Stanley - Victory Over Guilt
When you violate your conscience by doing something wrong, how do you feel? Feel guilty, right. Do you ever have those same feelings when you haven't done anything wrong? A lot of people have. In fact, a lot of people live under this cloud of guilt. If you ask them why, sometimes they can tell you something that happened in the past or something that's going on. But oftentimes, they can't tell you why. They just say, "I just feel guilty". Well, guilty about what? "Oh, I don't know, I just feel that-a-way". How long have you been feeling that-a-way? "Oh, I've been feeling that-a-way a long time". You don't know why you're feeling guilty? "No, I just guess everybody does". No, everybody doesn't.
So, what happens is they live under this cloud of guilt. They can't tell you why. They just know it's there, and it's made their life miserable and hindered them in more ways than they realize. And so, when I think about that, and I think about so many people who do not realize why they've lost their joy, why they don't have a lot of assurance in life, no real confidence, not going anywhere, not trying to accomplish anything. It's just, they're just sort of hanging in there. It's like being in a slight fog.
Well, that's what I want to talk about in this message. And I want to talk about "Victory Over Guilt". This is the second message in our series on "Healing Damaged Emotions". And I want you to turn to the eighth chapter of John, if you will, for here's a perfect example of true, genuine guilt and the response of Jesus to this guilt. Beginning in John chapter eight, verse one, "But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives early in the morning and He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him, and He sat down and began to teach them". So right in the middle of this now, "The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, and they said, 'Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.
Now the Law of Moses commanded us to stone such women, what do You say then?'" The whole idea was they were trying to trap Him. This was not interest in her. "They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger He wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the first one to cast the stone at her.' Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?' She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go from now on and sin no more.'"
Now, here's a perfect example of true, genuine guilt. She was caught in the act and they emphasize that. Not just caught, not just guilty of adultery, caught in the very act. And so, their goal was to trick Jesus, not to care for the woman. Because if they could get Him to violate the Mosaic Law, then they could accuse Him of all other kind of things. So, he simply answered in his wisdom, "Well, if we're going to stone her, let's start with the one of you who has not been guilty of sin, and probably the same sin". And so, they all walked away. And of course, here's the most perfect example of how Jesus responds to sin, to guilt, to being ostracized, shut out, cast out, feeling worthless, unworthy of anything. And so, what is His response? Not, "Well, I will condemn you or you should do this". He looked at her and said, "Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more".
So, somebody says, "Well, wait a minute. It looks like Jesus just let her off the hook". No, He didn't. Because in the second chapter of John, the last verse says that Jesus, "Knew what was in all men". He knew her heart. He knew that as she lay there before them, condemned, feeling worthless and dirty and filthy and unacceptable. Looking into His eyes, something happened to her. She knew that He was the Son of God. She felt His forgiveness. God cleansed her right there in the front of everybody as they all walked away. Jesus isn't in the business of making us guilty. He's in the business of cleaning up our life so we'll not feel guilty. So, I want us to look at this whole issue of guilt because there's a whole aspect of guilt that many people don't realize. They're suffering from it and they've never been able to identify what's going on in their life. And so, as I ask you when you experience guilt, what do you feel?
You say, "Well, I feel guilty". Well, sometimes you feel guilty, sometimes you feel fear. And oftentimes a person would say, "Well, I feel fear of God's punishment. I feel like He's just waiting to get me, that He knows my weaknesses and my frailties. I feel unworthy. I feel unacceptable". And so, people can go down this long list of adjectives of the way they really feel when they get honest. And it all goes back to something they feel guilty about. Now, sometimes they can tell you what it is. Many times they can't even tell you what they feel guilty about. So, what I want to do first is I want to talk about the difference between good guilt and bad guilt.
Somebody says, "Well now, wait a minute. If guilt is the result of sin, how can you have good guilt"? Very simply. Think about it for a moment. When you sin against God, when you disobey God, what do you feel? If you're a believer, you're going to feel guilt. Why would you feel guilt when you disobey God? Say, "Well, because," and you finally come to the conclusion, "because the Holy Spirit gives me a sense, an awareness that I have violated the law of God, and therefore I feel guilty". Well, what that says is that God has given us an awesome gift by allowing us to feel guilty when we sin against Him. Suppose there was no feeling of guilt. So, good guilt is the guilt that you and I receive when we disobey God, we violate His law, we transgress His law, we do those things that we know are absolutely a violation of the Word of God.
So, it's a gift from God, because what He's doing is that He's confronting us with something we need to be confronted with, something He wants us to deal with. And so, God gives us good feelings of guilt. Now, it doesn't feel good, but it's good for us, because it's His way of saying, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute, this is not right. You're violating My law. You're heading for trouble. This is not what you want to do. If you knew what was out there, you wouldn't do this". It is good because what He's doing, He's looking out for us. So, when we think about bad guilt, for example, there is a guilt that is the result, watch this now, result of wrong thinking. Not wrong action, but wrong thinking. For example, suppose I have these feelings that have no basis whatsoever, none whatsoever. I can feel very guilty about something that is not wrong. But if that's the way I grew up, that's the way I was taught, then I will feel that-a-way. But what I want us to talk about for a moment is this whole issue of believers. That is, the guilt that we face and why we face it and so forth.
So, let's think about where it comes from. What is the source of real, true, genuine guilt? I have this feeling that I've done something wrong, so what is the source of it? Well, it's a painful feeling that you and I receive as a result that we get as a result of doing something wrong. And so, that painful feeling is painful, but it is good for us. That's what we call true guilt. So, this is guilt that God intends for all of us to have. When we disobey Him, He intends for us to know it, to know it strongly and to penetrate to the very heart of our being. When you get to the place that you can sin against God, watch this, and it doesn't bother you, you are in a dangerous position in your relationship to God. This is why when I hear people say, and knowing they're living in sin, "Well, that doesn't bother me". I want to say to them, "That's a whole lot worse than having a terrible disease, because you're going to suffer some horrible consequences. Guilt that God gives by His Spirit is for our benefit and it is good guilt.
Now, what about false guilt? How can a person feel guilty and not be guilty? Well, there is such a thing as false guilt, and probably all of us have experienced it at some time or the other. So you say, "Well, guilt is good". That's God's guilt, comes by the Spirit, that's good. False guilt is not good. In other words, genuine guilt from the Word of God, that's good. False guilt is not from God, and therefore it's not good. So, let's think about what it is because this is where a lot of people are living and why they live in anxiety, why they're depressed, why they're frustrated about life, why they lose their sense of real joy in life. And a lot of people who have lots of reasons to be happy are not, lots of reasons to feel secure, but not. Lots of reasons to be able to enjoy life, but they don't. And part of the reason is false guilt.
So what is it? It's that feeling that a person has when they have not even committed a wrong. But it's a feeling of guilt, and they can't put their finger on it. And if you ask them, "What have you done to make you feel guilty"? They can't tell you. And they will say, as we said in the very beginning, "Well, I just feel guilty. Well, I must have done something wrong". Not necessarily. It is a trick of the devil to cause you to feel guilty when you've not done anything to feel guilty about. For example, let's take a young lady who grows up, and let's say while she's twelve years of age, her father abuses her sexually. And this goes on for four or five, six years. You ask that young lady, "How do you feel about that"? She would tell you she feels guilty. Not that, in other words, it's amazing what happens to their minds. She feels guilty though it's his fault. She didn't do anything wrong. She was forced to do it. And yet, she feels guilty. That happens so often, it's absolutely tragic how often that happens.
I think about, for example, a mother. She's has to work, for example, and she's pregnant, and right before the baby's due, she loses the baby. It's real easy for mom to think, and they ask the question, "What did I do, God"? Or, "God, why did You punish me with this? Why did You take the baby? What did I do wrong? I shouldn't have worked. I shouldn't have done this. I should have done the other". And so, mom feels very guilty about something. She's not guilty at all. So, there's false guilt. There's good guilt, and there are consequences to either one. So, I want to give you a list of consequences so you can jot them down. If I have false guilt, I can suffer the same thing emotionally that the person who has true guilt. So, when we talk about the consequences, keep that in mind.
And first of all, one of the consequences of our guilt is fear of being rejected by God. That's one of the consequences. You're going to feel, secondly, that His judgment could be imminent. And people live with a fear of that. They get up and go to work in the morning, "I could have an accident today. I could have an accident coming home. Or my children could get hurt today". Satan will attack you in every possible way to get you to feel guilty about something and that you deserve it. Then of course, there's a strong feeling of anxiety. When it comes to guilt, anxiety, worry, depression, all these things go hand in hand because they work together. Oftentimes, a person will feel very driven in their life when they feel guilty, because they're trying to overcome this thing, whatever this is in their life. They want to overcome it, so they work extra hard. They have a divided mind.
When you feel guilty, you cannot have singleness of mind, whatever your occupation may be. There's a decrease in energy because your mind gets divided, and if you feel guilty, listen, the feelings of guilt are an energy drain in a person's life. And you think about people who think, "Well, I just don't feel like getting up and going to work". Why don't you feel like getting up and going to work? "Well, I don't know. I just feel bad". Well, don't just keep feeling bad. Put your finger on it. Find out what's going on. And oftentimes, many of them would have to say, "Well, I just seem to have this cloud in my life". And oftentimes that cloud is a cloud of guilt, but what they're doing - it divides your mind. It drains your energy. There's a sense of self punishment. In other words, they deserve it. That is, I feel like I deserve it. God's going to punish me. I feel like I deserve to be punished. No, no, no, no, no, not if it's false guilt. And He'll take care of that.
There's a sense of insecurity because if you feel guilty before God, you're going to feel insecure in your life. If you feel guilty, you won't feel His protection. You won't feel His love. In other words, you have all kind of things that begin to go on in a person's mind when they feel like they're guilty before Almighty God. It's certainly going to hinder your prayer life. Think about this: when have you gotten down to pray, asking God about something very important to you, and what happens? This guilty, Satan will bring back something in the past or yesterday or whatever it might be, and you feel guilty. Remember this: when you have guilt and faith, there's a conflict. And what guilt does, it just absolutely destroys a person's faith. You cannot live with guilt and have a good relationship with Him. Or really, you won't have a good relationship with anybody.
If a man feels guilty and he doesn't know what it's about, he's going to be hard on the family. And so, the same thing would be true of the wife. And if the children feel guilty about something. And they, maybe they can't put their finger on it. Maybe they think that they did something. And I've heard kids say this. "My mom and dad divorced, and I guess I was the cause". Wait a minute. What could you have done to "Well," and you know what? No one's ever answered that question, but they can tell you they feel like they could be the ones who are responsible. False guilt. Then of course, there's a loss of sense of worthiness. If a person feels guilty, they feel bad. In other words, it's I am bad. Not that my deed was bad, but oftentimes it's I am bad because of the weight of guilt. And it's also, watch this, accompanied with a feeling of shame. And the truth is, anybody who disobeys God ought to feel shame. And then the last thing I would say is simply this: there will be physical illness. You cannot live with guilt without ultimately, eventually it coming to take its toll.
So you say, "Well, if I feel guilty, what"? So, I just want to say this. The big goal here is how do we get released from guilt? Let's say, for example, you feel guilty because of something you've done. Or let's say you feel guilty and you realize it's not what you did, it's something somebody did to you and put it on you. How do we get release from guilt? So, I put them on the screen so you can write them down. Number one, it begins with our understanding of the Substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross, which means that when He went to the cross, He took our guilt. He took our penalty. He took our pain. He took our suffering upon Himself. He died as a substitute, the Lamb of God. As a substitute, He paid the price for our sins. Therefore, I have a right and the privilege and the authority of Almighty God to confess that sin, repent of that sin, and know in my heart that I don't have to pay. He's already paid.
Now, watch this. There are people whose idea of salvation is I confess it and I repent of it, but. But what? And they spend the rest of their life trying to make amends with things that they've done. They can't make amends for it. And for example, let's say you mistreated your father badly and you feel guilty. And the worst thing that could happen is for your father to die. So he dies, and you're left with the pain and the weight of guilt of how you treated him, or whatever you may have done. Guilt is a horrible thing, especially when you can't settle it with the person that you wronged. They're gone. And so, you say, "Well, can it be settled"? Yes, it can. But you have to deal with it. You have to face the guilty feelings honestly. Identify the cause of that guilt. For example, if you feel guilty about something that you know that you've done back here, then you need to deal with it. And how do you deal with it? You confess it before God.
Now, watch this. To confess something before Him means that I am in agreement about the way He sees this. And if I have violated His law in some fashion, I have to ask Him to forgive me of violating His will, His law, the Word of God. Whatever I did, whether it was to somebody or to myself or whatever it might be. Confessing means I agree with it, and to repent of it means I turn away from it. So, if you are facing something in your life that you know you need to deal with. You say, "Well, how can I deal with it"? First of all, you begin with realizing and believing that when Jesus Christ went to the cross, He paid your penalty. But listen, payment isn't applicable to you until you're willing to accept it. And that's why you must receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.
When you do that, what comes with that? The forgiveness of all your sin. You identify it. You ask Him to forgive you and you trust Him to forgive you, listen, not based on the fact that you will never sin again, but based on this fact and this fact alone. When He died on the cross for your sins and you accepted Him as your Savior, He took your guilt, all of your guilt, all, listen, all of your punishment upon Himself. Now you say, "Well, does that mean that if I disobey God and I just confess it there are no repercussions"? No, indeed. I wouldn't say that. But as far as you and God are concerned, He's, in other words, what He forgives you for, He doesn't hold against you. Think about this, He understands every single one of us. He knows all about us. There's not anything that you and I can tell Him. There's no information He needs. What He wants to hear from us is honesty confession, genuine repentance, and the surrender of our life. And with that comes forgiveness and cleansing and a new beginning no matter who you are and what the circumstance may be. But if you decide that you are going to just hold on to that guilt, you suffer the penalty.
Now listen, there's one other thing here. When you know that God has forgiven you, then that's a wonderful opportunity for you... look at that next one, and that is to weave your sin and your problem, listen, to weave that sin or mistake into a blessing so that other people, through you, can find the Lord Jesus as their Savior or can get freed of their guilt. Now, if we took a little survey here or wherever you are, and if I should ask you: is there any guilt in your life about anything? That's nobody's business but yours. How long do you want to feel guilty? Some of the most touching letters I've ever read come from prisoners who are in prison. And it's interesting when they say, "The best thing that's ever happened to me is to be put in prison. I found Christ. God's changed my life". Some of them will never get out. Some of them will at some point. But you know what happens? They have the feeling that they've atoned for whatever they did in society. If they robbed somebody or hurt somebody, paying the penalty. When it comes to relationship to God, remember this, that's what the cross is all аbout: paying your penalty. That's what it's all about.
So that you and I do not have to live in guilt. But I would simply say this to you: if you feel guilty about anything, whether it's false or true, for Jesus's sake, for your sake, for your happiness, your joy, your peace, for being able to fulfill God's purpose and will for your life, deal with it. Don't keep running away from it. Deal with it. And God'll set you free. That's what He's about. He'll set you free. He said He came to set the captives free of what? Anything and everything that hinders our relationship to Him.
Father, how grateful we are that You love us that much. And I pray that every person who hears this message would be honest enough to look on the inside and see what's real guilt and what's false guilt. To deal with the real guilt and also to deal with the false guilt by walking away and thanking You, Father, that You love us unconditionally. We bless You for it in Jesus's name, amen.