Guilt, according to the American Heritage dictionary is
- Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong.
- Self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing.
It’s a sin because it’s adding to the work of our Lord on the cross. If He took all the punishment for all our sins — and He did — then why would we feel we need to punish ourselves?
1 Jn 1:9 says, “If we confess, [name, cite] our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Jeremiah 3:13 says, “Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God…”
Acknowledging that you have sinned carries no merit. You’re just agreeing with God that what you’ve done/said/thought is a sin, and at that point He forgives you the sin and cleanses you from all unrighteousness. The cleansed vessel of the soul is then suitable to be filled or controlled by God the Holy Spirit and fellowship is restored.
Guilt — beating yourself up for what you’ve done — has no place in that. It’s human works, human effort to atone, to make sure you’ll never do it again… I struggle a lot with the guilt function so I’ve had ample opportunity to consider it in all its ramifications and it really is quite arrogant. After all the word of God says our hearts (the way we think and perceive the world and ourselves) are deceitful and desperately wicked, that from the tops of our heads to the bottom of our feet, there’s no soundness in us, that we are stubborn and willful and none of us in ourselves is good. Not even one. (Ro 3:10)
We were all born in sin, we still have the sin nature after salvation. We are going to sin. We are going to make mistakes. We’re stupid sheep, we are easily entangled in sin and deception… guilt assumes that we can do better. Guilt assumes that somehow our sin is an aberration, a shock, something we should very well be able to avoid. If only we’d work hard enough or hurt bad enough, then we won’t do it again. It’s the flesh’s mode of self-improvement, and like all else the flesh produces, God finds it disgusting.
Guilt is something that has motivated me almost all my life, something carried over from my first 21 years as an unbeliever. I’ve talked about it on this blog before… that feeling that I must do X or something bad will happen. Usually the “something bad” is that “they” will think poorly of me. But who is they?
At first I had no idea, but gradually I realized it’s something in my own conscience. Not something based on the word of God, but on stuff I picked up as a child and internalized. It doesn’t matter if God says there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, if my conscience says I should do or be a certain way, then that’s all that matters. If I fail to toe the line, then my conscience will punish me.
Because, apparently, Jesus didn’t do enough. Because, apparently God really didn’t mean it when He said there is nothing good in us, and that the only way to actually live the Christian way of life is the same way as we received it… by grace, through faith.
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing (the Gospel) with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? ~ Galatians 3:1-3