The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines guilt as “the fact of having committed a breach of conduct violating law and involving a penalty.” This definition serves well the Biblical concept of sin, which is a transgression of the Law of God.
The uniting of sin and guilt means that individuals are responsible before God for their actions. Individuals are accountable for what they do and say. The Bible reveals that all have sinned, all have transgressed the Law of God. All mankind is guilty before God.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20).
Under the Law of Moses, something could be done to remove the guilt. A sinner, a guilty person, an individual who had transgressed the Law, could confess their sin and make restitution for the wrong they had committed (Num. 5:6-10). Various sacrifices could be presented to the priests for a guilt offering (Lev. 5:6-7:38). Once the penalty was paid, the guilt was removed.
When Nicodemus was converted to Christ, he immediately offered to make restitution “And Zacchæus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:8). The Lord was pleased with this act of repentance, confession, and restitution. “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9, 10).
It is good when a person acknowledges the fact of their transgression, makes restitution, and offers the appropriate sacrifice of repentance. In this way, personal relationships are made better.
Unfortunately, the guilt of a person before God is so great, the debt is so large, that something more is needed for God’s justice to be satisfied, and His wrath to be averted. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).
In matchless grace, the prophet Isaiah offered hope that something more would be provided to propitiate God in the Person and work of Someone, the Messiah. It was said that a Righteous One could suffer for the guilt of others. Jesus fulfilled the role of the One suffering for the sins of many. Christ died for the ungodly. “Surely, he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4, 5). It is a wonderful truth to discover that a sinner can be reconciled to God by the blood of the Lamb. Jesus is that Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
May God illuminate your heart and mind to the gospel so that you will embrace by faith the great work of redemption Christ accomplished at Calvary, and apply His blood to your own conscience.
While the fact of sin can be dealt with objectively by faith in Christ, the feelings associated with guilt are not so easy to deal with. If God is gracious, and the heart is not stone cold hard, there is an emotional aspect to the fact of sin. The pastoral question arises: “What does guilt do for you?”
Individuals who experience feelings of sorrow and shame associated with violating the known will of God, deal with guilt differently.
One extreme way some individuals resolve their feelings of guilt is to commit suicide. The Bible tells us that after Judas repented of betraying Jesus, “he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself” (Matt. 27:5). This is the ultimate form of self-judgment and discipline. It is also a punishment God has never asked anyone to perform.
On the other end of the spectrum is the practice of self-forgiveness. This is a practice that is encouraged by pastors and mental health counselors. However, it is an ungodly philosophy, and unbiblical practice, for only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7). It is not up to an individual to forgive themselves in order to assuage feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse. Adolf Hitler forgave himself by declaring he was a Superman and above Law, and then slaughtered millions of people. Serial killer Ted Bundy forgave himself, and butchered more than thirty women and children, including twelve-year-old Kimberly Leach in February, 1978. She was his last victim.
Another way people deal with guilt is by pretending it is an illusion and unnecessary for sin is an illusion and all that accompanies it. “When the illusion of sickness or sin tempts you,” Mrs. Eddy writes on page 495 of Science and Health, “cling steadfastly to God and His idea. And so it is, with the sanction of secular society and religion, many people learn to live with guilt. They do not have a clear conscience, despite the pretense. They live a life of secret shame and sorrow, they refuse to change and be different, but they do learn to cope.
Jesus does not want people to commit suicide because they have done wrong in life. Jesus does not want people to engage in self-forgiveness, for that robs God the Father of the glory and grace He wishes to extend in His plan of salvation, and makes the work of Christ at Calvary meaningless.
Jesus does not want people to pretend the guilt they feel is not real and pretend the sin that caused it is an illusion. What Jesus does want people to do is to repent, honestly acknowledge every single attitude and action producing a specific feeling of guilt, and then receive forgiveness by faith.
Across the centuries, the promise of God has been proclaimed time and again that He will forgive every form of transgression so that subsequent feelings of shame and guilt, self-anger and self-loathing, and a sense of helplessness can be replaced with happiness, and holiness of life. Review afresh the promises of God.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).
“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:12).
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
For anyone who would like to live without abiding shame and guilt, do the following.
First, take a piece of paper, date it, write down every wrongful act you are conscious of producing shame and guilt.
Second, open a Bible and read the promises the God and insert your name in the text. “If ___________ , who is called by my name, shall humble himself / herself and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven.”
Third, by faith, tell God the Father that you are His child, you do call yourself a Christian, you will be different by the power of the Holy Ghost, and you will receive His grace, mercy, and forgiveness, in this very moment.
Fourth, when tempted to feel shame and guilt over confessed sin, plead the blood. Talk to yourself and say, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has cleansed me from all sin.”
Fifth, stop living in the past. Stop dwelling on the past. Live in the present, with hope for the future.
Finally, be proactive and do what you know is the will of the Father. Jesus said, “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).
“Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more” (Isaiah 54:4).