Robert Jeffress - Choosing Repentance Over Guilt
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". That means it's not a matter of if we're going to mess up, but when we're going to mess up. So whenever we experience moments of moral failure, we have a choice to make. Are we going to deny our failure, or are we going to repent of our failure? It's a choice that will affect you for all eternity. My message is titled "Choosing repentance over guilt", on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
You know, in our series "Choose your attitudes, change your life", we're saying that an attitude is our response to the circumstances of life. We can't choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to those circumstances. And one circumstance we all experience is moral failure some time in our life. You know, sometimes, we try to cover over our failure, our failure to meet God's standard. Sometimes we rationalize it. But one of the biggest decisions we have to make in life is are we going to deny our failure, or are we going to choose to repent of our failure?
That's what we're going to talk about today. We're going to talk about choosing repentance over guilt. That choice not only affects our life right now, but it affects our eternal destiny. For a Christian, repentance, and write this down, is a change of mind that leads to a change of direction in our life, a change of mind that leads to a change of direction in our life. Well, what is the result of not making that choice? What is the result of not repenting of our sin? In a word, guilt.
Before we look at how to develop an attitude of repentance in our lives, let's talk about the opposite of repentance, and that is guilt. Guilt is one of the most debilitating of all human emotions, and one of the best illustrations of the damage guilt does in our life is in the familiar story of king David, found in 2 Samuel, chapters 11 to 12. You remember the story. David was by far the most successful king in Israel's history. He had reached the zenith of his power. The nation had never been more successful in conquering its enemies. He had accumulated great wealth. Yet, at the high point of his career, he traded all of that for a few moments of passion with somebody else's wife, a wife named Bathsheba. Now immediately, David had a choice. He could have acknowledged his sin, asked for God's forgiveness, made restitution, but instead, he chose to cover over his sin in a coverup scheme that rivaled Watergate. He decided that he was going to hide his failure from the kingdom.
He didn't repent, he didn't acknowledge his sin. Instead, he kept silent about his sin. What happened, what did God do to him? Absolutely nothing. For a while, anyway. Yet, even though there was no visible sign of God's judgment or discipline, there was inner turmoil David was experiencing during that six months up to a year that he refused to acknowledge his sin. He writes about that period in Psalm 32:3-4 he said, "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groanings all day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me, and my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer". Will you notice, first of all, the physical effects of guilt? Guilt actually effects our bodies physically. He talks about, "My body wasting away, my vitality being drained".
In his book, "Head First: The Biology of Hope", Norman Cousins explains, "Doctors recognize that awareness of wrongdoing often produces prolonged feelings of remorse and self-condemnation that can actually have damaging effects on the bodily systems, and open our bodies to disease". That's just some of the physical effects that accompany guilt we don't repent of. But there are emotional effects of guilt as well. It affects us emotionally. One of the most common side effects of guilt is depression. That's what David talks about when he says, "My groaning all day long". Most psychiatrists agree that there are certainly times that our guilt and the resulting depression aren't justified. Some psychiatrists talk about false guilt, and I think there's some legitimacy to that. But most of our guilt is real guilt.
Christian psychiatrists Paul Meier and the late Frank Minirth write, "In our experience as psychiatrists, when people have told us they feel guilty, it has usually been because they are guilty". Isn't that interesting? They feel guilty because they are guilty. "Straightening out the wrong they are doing is sometimes all that is needed to straighten out their feelings of depression". Now again, not all depression is the result of guilt. There are chemical explanations for depression, there are other issues related to depression. But some depression, as David experienced, is the result of unresolved guilt.
By the way, it's very important to note that depression over your sin is not the same as repentance from your sin. Repentance is not just feeling sorry about your sin, it's feeling sorry enough to change. A lot of people aren't willing to go to that next step. That's exactly what the apostle Paul was talking about in that passage we read a few moments ago, 2 Corinthians 7:10. He said, "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret". When you're involved in sin, God sends sorrow into your life in order to lead you to repentance, and when you make that change, that repentance in your life, it leads to a life of no regrets. That's how you know if the conviction you feel is coming from God. God's conviction always leads you to make a change that leads to a regret-free life.
But there is another kind of sorrow of the world that produces death. Do you know people like that? They wallow in their circumstances. They feel terrible about their circumstances, but they never make the changes. Yes, some of the emotional effects of guilt result in depression. Another common side effect of guilt is anxiety. We talked about that in our message, "Choosing faith over worry". For six months to a year, David experienced fear that one day he would open the "Jerusalem Times", and right there on the front page would be the expose of his guilt. He was scared to death that was going to happen.
Listen to what Nathan went on to say, 2 Samuel chapter 12, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'it is I who anointed you, David, as king over Israel, and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul'. Thus says the Lord, 'behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household. Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun'". There are, finally, spiritual effects to guilt, not just physical, not just emotional, depression, anxiety, but there are spiritual effects of guilt. He says in Psalm 32:4, "For day and night, God, your hand was heavy upon me". It affected his own relationship with God.
How does that happen in our life? Guilt produces, first of all, a distance from God, that is, sin breaks our fellowship with God. Remember in James 1:14-15, James explains how sin actually happens. I call it the temptation equation. Remember he says in James 1:15, "Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death". When you have lust and an opportunity come together, you have sin, and when sin is fully accomplished, it does its work, it produces death, death. That word death means separation. Thanatos means separation.
What does James have in mind when he says that sin produces death? Is he talking about physical death? Well, in a general sense, yes, I mean if death were always the punishment for sin, none of us would be here today, would we? I mean, think about it, if God zapped us the moment we sinned, you wouldn't be here listening to me and I wouldn't be up here preaching to you. We'd all be gone to heaven. So he can't be primarily be thinking about physical death. I think what he's talking about is a death-like existence for Christians who sin and don't receive God's forgiveness.
When we as Christians, now listen to this, when we as Christians sin, our position with God doesn't change. We don't become unjustified or unborn again. Our salvation is forever. God doesn't change his attitude about us when we sin, but we change our attitude about God when we sin. When we are living in unconfessed sin, we don't feel like hanging around God. We don't feel like going to church, we don't want to read his word, we don't want to be convicted any further, and that's one of the spiritual ramifications of guilt instead of repentance. Not only does sin produce a distance from God, it ensures the discipline from God.
The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 12:6-8, "For those whom the Lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with his sons, for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline of which all of us have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons". If you're able to sin and you experience no discipline from God, it means you're an illegitimate child of God. You don't really belong to him. One sign that you're a Christian is God doesn't let you get away with anything. He loves you too much for that. He is going to bring discipline, sometimes painful discipline into our life in order that we might be corrected.
How do I turn my life around? In these final minutes, I want to talk to you about five ways to develop that attitude of repentance in your life. First of all, identify areas of your life where you have failed to meet God's standard. The very first step of repentance is an honest evaluation of your life. In Psalm 139:23-24, David prayed, "Search me, oh God, and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead in the everlasting way". God, search me, see if there's anything displeasing to you. We all need to do an honest spiritual inventory, and allow God to speak to us.
Secondly, acknowledge your failure to God. It starts with God, and our acknowledgement of our sin has to start with God as well. You know, I think one reason we're so hesitant to acknowledge our sin to God, we keep going down the wrong road further and further away from God? We're afraid to acknowledge our sin because we're afraid of what God might think of us if we acknowledge our sin to us.
Can I give you some just liberating news today? When you confess your sin to God, you're not giving God any new information he doesn't already have. He already knows about your failure. What he wants to know is do you know about it, do you realize it? You know what it means to acknowledge your failure to God? It simply means to quit arguing with God about your sin. Quit rationalizing it, quit minimizing it. Instead say, "God, you know what, you're right, and I'm wrong. You're right, and I'm wrong". Acknowledge your failure to God.
Thirdly, and then accept God's forgiveness. Here's the good news. When you acknowledge your sin and you ask for God's forgiveness, God forgives not just some of the times, not most of the time, he forgives every time, your sin. That's what 1 John 1:9 is all about. We use this in speaking to non-Christians, but actually, 1 John was written to Christians, and John said, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". That sin has been forgiven, forgotten forever. That's what it means to be a Christian. We're forgiven, it's all over.
Now let me add an aside here that's very important to understand. Some of you may be saying, "Well pastor, I've done that, and yet I'm still suffering the consequences of my sin". Listen, when God forgives us, he removes the eternal consequences of our sin, not necessarily the temporary consequences. You say, "Well, that means God doesn't love me if I'm experiencing consequences". No, the reason he allows you to experience consequences is because he does love you. You know, even David said that. He said, "Before I was afflicted with all of these consequences, before I was afflicted, I went astray from God, but now I obey your word". Accept God's forgiveness. It does remove the eternal consequences of our sin.
Fourth, to develop repentance, make restitution where necessary. Yes, we start with asking forgiveness from God, but sometimes, we need to go to other people as well, and ask for their forgiveness. Now, don't be surprised, I have found that God is much more forgiving than other people are. Nevertheless, we need to make the effort to do that, going to seek that person's forgiveness. They may or may not forgive you, but you're to make that attempt. Make restitution where necessary.
And then finally, and most importantly, turn away from known sin in your life. After all, that's what repentance is. It is a turning around. In Psalm 51:10, that great Psalm of confession, David said, "God, create in me a clean heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me". In the Hebrew mind, the heart wasn't just the center of emotion, it was the center of our thought and our will. He said, "God, I'm in a new relationship with you, I want a new heart, a clean heart, so that I might walk in the right direction toward you".
I know I'm speaking to many of you listening or watching this broadcast, and you have been traveling down a road for months, perhaps years, that has left you farther and farther and farther away from God. You never really imagined that you would end up the place that you are one day, and you're wondering, how do I go back to God? How do I start going in the right direction that leads to eternal life? By acknowledging that you are going in the wrong direction, and then turning around. God is calling you today to turn around, and that's the essence of what it means to choose repentance over guilt.