Charles Stanley - Understanding Those Guilty Feelings
When you violate your conscience, how do you feel? You say, "Well, I feel guilty". Well, do you ever have those guilty feelings when you haven't violated your conscience? Well, oftentimes people do. They just feel guilty and you ask them, "Well, why do you feel guilty"? They can't really and truly tell you why. Guilt is something all of us have to deal with in our life unless we understand the real, true nature of guilt, how to handle it, what the source of it is, and what God says about it, it can absolutely devastate a person's life. Because the consequences of feeling guilty not only affect us, but affect the people who are around us.
And so, what I want to talk about this morning in this message is understanding those guilty feelings. And I want you to turn to James chapter 2. And I just want us to read one verse in James because it's not my purpose to expound this particular passage of Scripture, but just to mention this particular verse in this second chapter of James. And he says in this tenth verse of James chapter two, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all". Somebody says, "Well that in itself should be enough to make me feel guilty the rest of my life because certainly I have violated God's law and I certainly am guilty".
Well, really what he's saying here is simply this. It doesn't take but one. In other words, the law of God is the law of God. One sin makes us a sinner. And so often times a person may read this verse and say, "Well you know I've sinned against God, I've broken the whole law, I'm guilty of it all, so why could I ever think about not feeling guilty"? Because when you begin to understand what guilt is all about, you'll understand that's not really what we're talking about here in this verse.
So, if you talk to someone often times and you say to them, "Well, how do you feel"? They say, "Well, I just feel guilty". Well, what do you feel guilty about? "Well, you know what, I'm not really sure. I just, I just feel guilty". Well, when did it start? "Well, it's been there a long time". Well, well like what? "Well, I don't know, I just, I just always seem to feel guilty". That is false guilt. That is psychological guilt. That is not godly guilt. You mean to tell me that if I feel guilty, that I may not be guilty? Right.
Now think about this for a moment. Because there are some people who feel guilty for different reasons and I want us to talk about the reasons here. Because the truth is, once you're saved by the grace of God, declared absolutely not guilty, then you're not guilty. And so, what we have to deal with is that daily stuff we have to put up with. And so, we have feelings of guilt. We confess, we repent of it, we move on. Well, what's the purpose of the confession, repentance? Listen, to restore as quickly as possible my fellowship with the Lord. I want to walk with Him. I want to love Him, I want to have intimacy with Him. And so therefore the way to do that is to repent of it, to deal with it, to turn away from it right then.
Now, when you think about all that and you think about your life and you think about, first of all, well, why do I have these feelings? In other words, do I have these feelings because of sin? What are my reasons? So let's think about it for just a moment. Let's think about why people feel guilty. Sometime it's because we have violated the laws of God and we feel guilty about it. And so, that is a legitimate feeling in our daily walk. In our position we are not guilty before, that is, when we have been pardoned for our sin, our eternal security is settled once and for all. But those feelings that I get on a daily basis, that's God's way, listen, that's the conviction of the Holy Spirit. And the purpose is repentance and change.
Now, so, why do we feel it? Sometime it's because of sin. Sometime it's because, watch this, sometime it's because of things in our past we can't let go of. Now think about this. I think about kids who grow up and their parents have sometimes damaged them emotionally, things that they have not gotten over. And so here's what they do. Now they don't realize they're doing this. They're holding onto the past and their father or their mother said things or treated them in certain ways that they still feel unworthy, still feel unloved, still feel like that they're nobody, still feel like that God doesn't really care. And so what happens is they hold on to those, to things that happened to them in the past.
And so they feel guilty because of what was said to them or how they were treated. And often times a person who has been sexually molested will talk about their guilt, their feelings of guilt because of what they did. Well, what did they do? "Well I", exactly what did you do? "Well I, well", they can't name anything. It's something that someone did to them but they feel guilty because they think, "Well, I should have. I should have run, I should have told my parents, I should have done this, I should have done that". When often times they were so young they would not have normally known what to do. That is a false sense of guilt. You're not guilty because something someone did to you, friend. Just mark that down. You are not guilty because of something someone did to you.
And sometimes a person can't let go of the past. Or it may be some sin before they trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior, maybe they were into all kinds of sin and they say, "Yes, I've trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe what you said about the cross. He's atoned for my sin, I do believe that. But you know, somehow I just can't, I can't seem to get over the past". That is Satan's harassment. That is Satanic harassment. Try, listen, trying to keep you connected to the past when God has forgiven you and cleansed you.
When you and I confess our sin and it is genuine, it has a sense of repentance in it, that is we're turning away from it and it's genuine, you know what happens? There's a disconnect in God's eyes. We disconnect from the past. God doesn't want us connected with something that He's delivered us from and, and separated us from. He has disconnected us from the past. But if I'm not willing to give it up, if I'm not willing to lay it down, listen, watch this. If I feel better, if I feel better feeling guilty, if I feel better hanging onto something, if I feel like I'm justified, that it's this self-punishment, this self-infliction that I have.
If somehow deep down inside of me I just feel a little bit better about the fact that I don't want to get too joyous and too happy, and, and too peaceful and too content and because after all, that was in my life and I know God forgave me but, but after, you see what's happening. What's happening is emotionally and mentally they're trying to conjure up something to deserve forgiveness so that they'll, in other words, whip me, do, punish me, do something so I'll, so I'll feel forgiven, so I'll be able to acknowledge and say, "Well yes, God, thank You for forgiving me and then I've done much better now and I'm living a righteous life". No. It is all by grace and not by works.
And so therefore, when a person looks at their past have ask themselves the question, is my guilt, are these feelings of guilt, that's what they are, not guilt, feelings of guilt. Are these feelings of guilt, are they here because of something I'm holding onto back yonder? Or is it something I did today or yesterday? In other words, if God has forgiven you, if you've brought it to Him and confessed with Him genuinely, then you know what? That's the end of it, you move on. He has disconnected you. But if you, if you choose to hold onto it, Satan will harass you with something in the past all of your life. And this is why people live under this cloud.
So sometimes it's things that have happened in the past and, and often times a person will have those feelings because they feel unworthy. Maybe they don't feel like they're a talented person. They don't feel like they have any spiritual gifts. They don't feel like they can serve the Lord. They don't feel like they have accomplished anything in life. And so what happens? They feel like, somehow there's just this guilty feeling. "Well you know, if-I'd-a". They live in the "if-I'd-a" stage. "Well, if-I'd-a done this and if-I'd-a done that, and if-I'd-a done the other".
Listen, you know what? If-I'd-a is one of Satan's tools. All of us could say If-I'd-a, if-I'd-a done this and if-I'd not have done that. And if-I'd-a done this and if-I'd-a not have done that. We could all live there. That's why there's got to be a disconnect with the past. Forgiven? God says He holds it against us no more. Once you're saved by the grace of God, all your guilt and all the penalty was atoned for the death of Christ. I need to deal with those guilty feelings because I want my fellowship restored. The eyes of, listen, the eyes of God, if He, listen. If He died for one of my sins, He died for all of them.
What happens is I feel guilty because I feel unworthy and I feel ashamed because I have sinned against this marvelous God who forgave me, past, present and future. So, I come to Him, convicted of the Holy Spirit, dealing with it, settling that issue once and for all. So sometimes it's an unworthy feeling that people have with themselves and so therefore they feel very guilty about what's going on. Sometimes it's because a person is a perfectionist. A perfectionist has a very difficult life. A perfectionist is the kind of person who waits until they can do it just right. A perfectionist, you see, it's just their makeup. It has to be done just right. Why? Because their sense of self-esteem is hanging on that. Their sense of self-worth is balanced by that.
"If I don't do it just right, what are they gonna think? If I don't do it perfectly, just right, then they're gonna think less of me. They gonna think I don't have any abilities, any talents. They're gonna think, in other words, I just won't be accepted, and then I'll feel real bad so I gotta do it just right". And what they do, they cause more problems, more heartache and more ill-will because they never get around to doing anything. That's a terrible trap, but that's the reason a lot of people feel guilty because they have a perfectionistic attitude. Well, as we said before, so much of it is psychological, it's false guilt. It's just feelings that we have. "Well I should have".
You see, these are three bad words: should, ought, and must. I should-a done this, I ought-to do that, and I must do the other. Well now, why should I, ought I, and must I? Why should I, ought I, must I? Is it because of what somebody thinks I should, ought, and must do? Or is it because of what God says? And you see, God is not gonna say to us, "You should have, you must, and you ought". That's not the way God talks. He just says, "Here's what I want you to do". And so ask yourself the question, what is this feeling of guilt I have?
Now let's talk about the consequences of these guilty feelings. There are lots of them. First one is this. Specially, either, either, listen. Either it's because of something you've done and you feel guilty and you say, "Well, I'm justified in feeling that I've wronged somebody or wronged God in this situation". First thing's gonna happen is this. Divides your mind. Guilty feelings divide our mind. You cannot accomplish as much, as well, as fast, as thoroughly, be as good as, as when you do not have a guilty feeling, a guilty conscience as we would say. So, first of all, divides your mind. Second thing it does, it drains your energy. Because what's going on when you're feeling guilty, there's an energy drain. There it's like something inside of you, the fuel's leaking out.
In other words, the oil's leaking out. The energy is going. So there's gonna be an energy drain and there's gonna be a dividing of the mind, dividing the mind will drain your energy. And so that's just, that's just a couple of things that happen to us. Another thing is this. We doubt God. When you have guilty feelings, you're gonna doubt God. Here's what you're gonna doubt. First of all, somebody says, "Well, I don't know how could God love me when I did what I did"? So we doubt His love. Secondly, you'll doubt that He'll answer your prayer. "Well, how could God answer my prayer when I made such a terrible mistake? When I failed Him".
So we think that "Well, God doesn't answer our prayer. How could I expect God to provide for me and to protect me when I have sinned against Him? After all, I'm guilty of this, and so, feeling what I feel, how could I expect God to do these things for me"? Well, what happens is, something happens to our faith in Him. And that's what guilty feelings do. Certainly, there is the feeling of fear and insecurity. What about the future? You know and people say, "Well you know, I keep looking over my shoulder. God's just too good, He's just too good to me. I know this can't last". And what are they doing? They're setting themselves up to make some silly and ridiculous, stupid, idiotic decision, and they're gonna fall flat on their face and say, "See God, I knew it". And then God gets the blame.
One thing for certain, you can't drive down the expressway sixty miles an hour looking back. You're gonna have a crash. In the Christian life, you, listen, you can't always be walking, looking, "Oh God, I wonder what's gonna happen next week". Here's God trying to bless you. Listen, it's not the will of God for His children to have lack of peace and contentment. It isn't God's will for us to be in need, not have our needs met. It's the will and purpose and plan of God that we be godly children with our needs met, under His divine protection, doing the things He wants us to do. I don't always understand all the things that He allows in our life and the pain, the suffering, the hurt, and the loss. But you know what? He's still God and He's still loving us and nothing that He allows or happens is going to take away His unconditional love for us.
And so if you are always looking back thinking, "Things are getting too good". So here's what I say, the phrase isn't "God is too good," but "God is so good". Let's say that together. God is so good. Let's say it one more time. God is so good. Now watch this one. God is too good. That doesn't even sound right, does it? How can God, who is absolute goodness, be too good? What you're saying is, "God, there's something wrong with Your character. There's something wrong with Your attributes. You're just too good". You know what? That's a reflection on God. The truth is He's so good. How good is He? He's so good I can't even describe Him. He talks about the abundance of His grace and, and overflowing with the grace of God. That He's a God who has stored up goodness in heaven for us. That is the goodness of God.
And sometimes a person has a very difficult time. They feel so insecure. What's causing them to feel insecure? "Well, I've sinned against God or I've done this I've messed it up here and so now I don't know what's gonna happen". So they feel extremely insecure about what's going on in their life. Well, I think another reason, another consequence is this. And that is, sometimes it's compulsive behavior. Person feels guilty, you know what they do sometimes? They eat. They eat. Or, if they have some particular activity that they like, they just go at it. Or, they could just work themselves to death, whatever. In other words, what are they trying to do? Alleviate the guilty feelings. So just get busy so you won't think about it.
Let me just say this. Getting busy or overeating or overworking or whatever it might be, does not deal with the issue on the inside. It is an attitude of the heart. It is, it is a, it is an imagination of the mind. It's a thinking of the mind. The only way to deal with that is to get on the inside by the grace of God and deal with it which we'll talk about in a moment. But sometimes that's exactly the way people respond. And so, now what happens is that's one, that's one of the consequences. One of the consequences of guilt is certainly depression. And that is, you know, things are just so bad. And anger, depression, guilty feelings, all these things go hand-in-hand.
If you are guilty or feel, listen, even if the guilt's not biblical guilt, if you feel guilty and you absolutely will not deal with it, you refuse to deal with it, more than likely you are a good prospect for great depression. Because guilty feelings, listen, unresolved guilt that is a prolonged period of time is going to result in some form of depression or anger and ultimately, it could mean even taking your own life. And so you cannot afford to let guilty feelings plague your life, because of what it'll do. It will affect the human body. You remember we said the body, the Bible says we are body, soul, and spirit. And God intends to work through His Spirit to control, listen, through our soul to control this body of ours.
So, if in my relationship with Him in my spirit I feel guilty before God, condemned before God, under the wrath of God, then what's happening? My soul is going to be remorseful and my body is going to respond to the thinking of my mind, the condition of my soul. Mind, will, conscience, consciousness all makes up their personality. And so the physical body. Probably if we knew how much real disease and how many different diseases and how much real pain and suffering and hurt people go through as a result of unresolved conflicts in their life. Absolutely will not resolve their guilt. And accept God's forgiveness. And deal with the things that pop up on a daily basis and walk holy before Him.
I believe if somehow we were willing to deal with those things, probably we'd all be in better health. And then I think one of the ultimate consequences of guilt that people live with and they cannot face and cannot deal with, and no matter what, and they lose all hope, they take their life. They take their life for the simple reason they don't see any other way out. The pain keeps on increasing, the intensity of the pain increases and so they say, "What's the use of trying to live? I can't handle it. I'm checking out".
Now, with all that in mind. How do we deal with it? What do you, how do you deal with guilt? Well it's very simple, but not always very easy. So listen carefully. First thing you have to do is this. You have to acknowledge yes, I do feel guilty. Don't say, "Well, now it's not exactly guilt I feel". Well, what is it? "Well, I", yeah, well let's face it. The truth is, yes I feel guilty. Step number one, admitting I do feel guilty. Step number two is not as easy. And that is, identifying what is the source of my guilt? Is this something that I'm holding onto in the past? Is this something, some feeling somebody, now watch this. Here's what we think. Is this feeling, some feeling somebody made me feel?
Watch this carefully. Nobody can make you feel guilty. I have to either choose to feel guilty on the basis of what they say or do. Or, I can choose not to feel guilty. If I'm not guilty, I don't. I can choose not to feel guilty. If I have disobeyed the law of God, the Holy Spirit's not gonna let me out of that until because I'm gonna be convicted of that. I'm gonna have to deal with that. And so I will say maybe I feel guilty about this. I must be willing to trace it to its source. What is the source?
Somebody says, "Well, here's what I did yesterday". Well then, let's deal with yesterday. "Well, you know, I"... So two weeks go by. "Well, I dealt with that but I still feel guilty". Well, what are you guilty about? "Well, you see", if you can't put your finger on the source, you're gonna keep on feeling guilty. Listen, there is a source. It may be false or it may be true. Listen carefully. If it is a sin that you've committed, whether it's just between you and yourself or between you and someone else or only you and God, if it's between something you did before God, whatever it might be, because all sin is before Him, then you have to trace it back to this is what I did. Or, this is what I am doing. And this is what I keep on doing.
So you've got to identify, until you identify it you'll still have those feelings. Then when you've acknowledged yes, I do have these guilty feelings. Yes, this is exactly what is causing me to feel guilty. Then what do you do with it? If it's something in your life, if you've violated the law of God, you, here's what I would do. I would say Lord, I just want to thank You that on the cross Jesus atoned for my sin, took my guilt, past, present, future, all my sin. I want to thank You for that forgiveness. Now I'm coming to You confessing and acknowledging this in my life, thanking You for Your forgiveness for me. And I choose to walk away from that. So if that is the issue of guilt, I'm gonna confess it, I'm gonna repent of it, then I'm gonna choose to walk away from that and walk in obedience to God.
You know what happens? You disconnect from that guilt. In other words, you disconnect. Why? Because you have affirmed, listen, you have affirmed your forgiveness before God. What God has forgiven you for, what you and God have dealt with, you don't have to have any guilty feelings about. You don't have to have any feelings about your salvation. He dealt with that a long time ago. You trusted Him as your personal Savior, forever that was settled. He took your guilt and your sin upon Himself.
Now when sin crops into our life, what do we do? We're confessing these feelings that we have because they don't fit who we are in Christ Jesus any more, and we confess it and we repent of it and we move on in our life. That's the only way to deal with it. You can't cover it up. You see, now watch this. A person can live with guilt and no one else know what they feel guilty about. But the consequences are going on all the time. Divided mind, drain of energy, and all the rest of the things we talked about.
So how do you deal with it? You face it. You identify it. Is this false? If this is false, "Lord, I just want to, I just want to, Father, just forgive me for even thinking that kind of stuff in my life. I just want to thank You for Your love and Your forgiveness and Your cleansing". But if there's something that you keep holding onto, ask God. Say:
Lord, I've trusted You for the forgiveness of my sins. I know that I'm forgiven. I want You to enable me to disconnect from the past, no matter what they said about me, no matter what they did to me, no matter how much I was abused, no matter how much I was falsely accused. Or no matter what happened in my life, no matter how sinful I was, disconnect.
How? Because the blood of Jesus Christ has washed you clean and now you have the righteousness of Christ in your life. You and I have the gift of His righteousness, so that now we daily walk in confession, repentance. What? To keep our life clean, to keep our conduct clean, to keep our behavior clean. We are not guilty sinners, we are righteous saints, made righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ.
You say, "Well, isn't that being pious and prideful"? No, that's being grateful and understanding the marvelous work of the grace of Almighty God. So I simply want to say to you, my friend, if you've never trusted Jesus as your Savior, know in your heart that you've never done it, you do feel guilty. And your guilt is right because the wages of sin is death. If you're willing to ask Him to forgive you of your sins, based on what He did at Calvary, and tell Him that you're turning your life over to Him, He will save you in that moment, forgive you, declare you no longer guilty.
Now listen, you say, "But now what about, oh, but, but what about"? Yes, every single solitary sin forgiven, pardoned forever, disconnected totally. You know what? Remember this. God does not bring up what He has forgiven us for and what He has delivered us from, what He has pardoned us for. He does not bring that back up. When you and I remember it, it's because often times Satan is harassing. Or, let me say with one exception.
If the Holy Spirit brings up something in the past, He will, listen, He will bring up what God did for you in that, how He worked in your life through that in order to strengthen your testimony. Because one of the very important factors in dealing with guilt is this. And that is understanding how God has worked it in your life to free you up from those guilty feelings and to weave that into your personal testimony of how God delivered you, set you free, and how now you're able to understand His unconditional love for you and to walk in it. That's the only time He's gonna bring it up. When He weaves it into your life for something very good.
Father, we love You and praise You and thank You this morning for Your wonderful love for us. Thank You for the death of Jesus. Thank You that He's alive and lives in our heart. Thank You that He sits at your right hand still interceding for all of us. Thank You for the marvelous deliverance from all guilt. Thank You for the wondrous way which the blood of Jesus has atoned for that. Thank You for Your justification. Thank You for declaring us righteous when often times we act so unrighteously. We love You and praise you and pray that this very day, upon hearing this very message You will set many, many people free of the legitimate guilt by receiving Christ as Savior. From false guilt by identifying it, confessing it, and acknowledging it as an act of Your grace, that You set them free from this phantom that has dogged their steps for years. For we ask it in Christ's name, amen.