Introduction: How often do you commit a sin, and then fail to find a way to move past the regret and shame you feel? Most people wrestle with guilt from time to time.
The dictionary defines guilt as 1.) "the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, esp. against moral or penal law" and 2.) "a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined."1 In other words, guilt has two components—the actual offense and the feelings that accompany it.2
A. Handling our Guilt. Once we start to feel remorseful about our wrongdoing, we often fail to respond to our guilt in a healthy manner.
- Read Psalm 38:4 and Proverbs 28:17. How does the Bible characterize guilt?
- How do you typically handle feelings of guilt?
B. The Purpose of Guilt. Guilt is actually a God-given emotion. It has at least three functions: to prompt us to ask for forgiveness from those we hurt; to motivate us to make restitution whenever we can; and to draw us back to the Lord. In terms of our relationship with the Lord, the solution to guilty feelings is simple.
- Read about David's experience with guilt in Psalm 32:1-6. What did he know about how to handle it?
- According to this same passage, how does God respond when we confess our sin and ask Him to remove our guilt?
C. Receiving Forgiveness. Many believers are unable to receive God's forgiveness due to the emotional programming they've received from their upbringing, their church, or their culture. For instance, their parents might have expected them to be perfect, so they have a difficult time accepting ourselves when they make moral mistakes. Or, other authority figures may have emphasized what horrible and shameful children they were when they did anything wrong and refused to comfort the children after disciplining them.
- In your experience, when you ask for forgiveness from sin—whether from God or another person—do you typically feel free of guilt? Why or why not?
How can you escape these negative patterns of dealing with guilt? The secret is to train your mind to believe God's truth—found in His Word—instead of your feelings.
- Acts 10:43 says everyone who believes in Christ receives forgiveness for his or her sins. How many of our sins are forgiven, according to Colossians 2:13?
If you feel guilty after confessing your sins, you know your feelings are not lining up with God's truth. Find Scriptures that talk about God's forgiveness and your righteousness in Christ, such as Colossians 1:21-22. Write them down in a list or on note cards. Then, read through the encouraging verses and dwell on what they mean. Your emotions will eventually follow your thoughts, and you will be free from feeling guilty.
Closing: Christ's death made a way for you to be completely free from the guilt of sin—not only the offense but also the feelings that accompany it. Admit your guilt to God and those you offended, make restitution when you can, and return to living in a manner that pleases the Lord.
Prayer: Father, thank You for Your amazing grace that covers our sin. We never have to wallow in feelings of guilt. Remind us to turn to You, focusing on the truth in your Word, instead of trusting our emotions. I pray this in Jesus' name, amen.
1. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
2. This study focuses on how to overcome genuine guilt. False guilt is a feeling of remorse over an imagined offense. If your "offense" doesn't violate a law of the land, the rules of your workplace or church, or the principles of Scripture, your guilt is false.