Guilt — Only One Appropriate Way To Respond To It

Posted: October 15, 2014 in Faces of Death
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There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous.  He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.  For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin.  People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.  This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time.  God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)

“Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.  May your Kingdom come soon.  May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar.  Go and be reconciled to that person.  Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

“‘God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.  Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand.  And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.  For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.’ So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!’ Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?‘ Peter replied, ‘Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children and even to the Gentiles —  all who have been called by the Lord our God.’ Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation!'” (Acts 2:32-40)

Guilt, noun; the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty

Guilty, adj; 1) Responsible for or chargeable with a reprehensible act; deserving of blame 2) Suffering from or prompted by a sense of guilt

Repent, verb; 1) to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life 2) to change one’s mind

One of the most sobering realities of the story of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, is that he punished himself for his sins instead of repenting of his sins.

Judas had plotted with the leading priests and teachers of religious law as they tried to find a way to kill Jesus and, ultimately, took 30 pieces of silver in exchange for Jesus’ life, famously betraying Jesus with a kiss, which was the way Judas agreed to single Jesus out from the group of disciples.

He stood there and watched Jesus get arrested and led away to what Judas knew was certain death.

When the weight of Judas’ action settled into his conscience and he realized how reprehensible his act was, he was wrought with guilt. We can imagine that the inevitable “Oh, what have I done?” bombarded his mind and conscience.

We know he rushed back to the religious leaders and tried to return the 30 pieces of silver to them in an attempt to wash himself of the blood that was on his hands.  “When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse.  So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he declared, ‘for I have betrayed an innocent man.’ ‘What do we care?’ they retorted.  ‘That’s your problem.’ (Matthew 27:3-4)

Overwhelmed with remorse and tormented by his guilty conscience, Judas made another horrible and permanent decision to pay the ultimate price for his sin by killing himself, “Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5)  Satan won that battle through guilt and Judas pays the eternal price.

In sharp contrast to the way Judas responded to guilt, we also learn about the Pharisee Saul, later known as the Apostle Paul.  Saul, too, had innocent blood on his hands.  He was feared far and wide for his relentless persecution of Christians and was present for the murder of Stephen at the hands of an angry mob.  He’d approved completely of Stephen’s stoning and actually hunted down many other Christians before being confronted by Jesus Christ himself on the road to Damascus.

Saul had a choice to make once he saw his sin.  Upon experiencing overwhelming remorse and guilt, he repented.  When confronted with his sin, he changed his mind, turned from his sin, and dedicated himself to amending his ways.  In other words, he took action to reconcile himself to God and the followers of Jesus.

Because of our sin nature, we are more than capable of horrendous sins against God, against others and especially against ourselves.  Our sins can be blatant, intentional, or unintentional.  The most tricky of all, we can follow paths that seem right to us, but that are wrong and sinful and lead to spiritual death after wreaking havoc in our lives.

For the Christian, our conscience, the Holy Spirit inside of us, checks us and shows us when we are wrong and have sinned.

Guilt should be a healthy prompt for us to take action for reconciliation, to repent.  If we don’t repent, we cannot be forgiven. Repentance is part of salvation.  Repentance is the evidence that we are not the lord of our own lives, but that we submit to the will of the Lord Almighty and agree with our conscience that we have violated His ways and need to immediately make it right.

Guilt should never be a burden we carry around with us like a heavy, smothering coat.  If we carry guilt from day to day, we are making a choice of inaction instead of repentance.  The inaction may be because we would rather live with the guilt than stop committing the sin that’s causing the guilt. It may be that we’re afraid of the consequences of confessing our sin and attempting reconciliation with the person we’ve sinned against.  Pride may hold us back from repentance as we talk ourselves into believing some justification for our sins over submitting to the urgings of our conscience. Our repentance may mean that the world of someone else will be turned upside down and we fear that consequence as well.

Whatever the reason for inaction, and however convincing it may be, it is simply disobedience to the will of God.

The Holy Scriptures admonish us work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  (Philippians 12:2)  Our repentance is most certainly part of working out our salvation and it is truly the only appropriate way to respond to guilt.

If we feel guilty for anything, we have a choice to make — Repentance, which frees us from the bondage of guilty torment, or inaction/continued sin, which leads to death. 

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