I stood at the kitchen counter, waiting for the Nespresso machine. Sunshine flooded through the window and the scent of coffee permeated the air. It would have been a beautiful moment, had it not been for one thing: guilt overshadowed my heart.
That morning I’d snapped at the kids, rushed through the pre school routine, and I’d not followed through on my intention of going with Luis to drop the children at school.
Even though I’d woken up before six, after Bible time, writing a blog post, and doing chores, I hadn’t been ready to leave the house on time.
I hadn’t even kissed my children goodbye in my haste to get ready for the day. I’d tried to make up for it by calling goodbye out of the window, sending air kisses and saying, “lobe you”. But my attempts to compensate did nothing to appease the guilt of snapping at the kids and not being present when I intended to be. Guilt had its grip on me.
What is Guilt?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines guilt as “a feeling of deserving blame for offenses”; “the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously” and “the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty”.
So, we use this word to define both a fact, what actually happened—as is the case of criminals who are convicted and found guilty—and the state of being guilty, which leads to feelings of blame. When we feel guilty, not only do we feel we’ve done wrong, we feel we are wrong—because of our state of guilt—and thus we feel condemned; the solution being that we must atone for our offences.
What does the Bible say about guilt?
Some would say it’s good for people to feel guilty when they do something wrong. I agree. But only in part.
This is what the Bible says about guilt:
“If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible.” (Leviticus 5:17);
“The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.” (Numbers 5:5-7);
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.” (Hebrews 10:1-2);
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)
Is guilt God’s will for us?
In the first two verses referenced above, the Scriptures refer to those who are under law. Both in the passage in Leviticus and the one in Numbers, the Lord is speaking to Moses to whom He gave the law.
In the following two verses, the context is very different.
In Hebrews, the author gives teaching to believers about the implications of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are complete game-changers for humanity.
Those who believe in Jesus’ lordship, righteousness, shedding of blood, death for their sins, and resurrection are set free from the law. As the writer of Hebrews states: “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
So going back to the dictionary definition of guilt as being both the fact of having committed an offence, and a feeling of blame (i.e. a feeling of condemnation because we are under a state of guilt), there is a clear difference between those who are under law, and those who are under grace.
For those who are under law, breaking the law should indeed lead them to a feeling of condemnation—because it’s true. They are condemned.
Yet, for those of us who are under grace, those of us who have believed in Christ for the cleansing of our sins, this is not so. We are not condemned.
And so, while we sin as Christians, and it’s good that we feel convicted regarding those sins and we repent of them, we no longer need to feel condemned. We no longer need to live under guilt or shame because we are not children of wrath. We are children of God. Sanctified by the blood of the Lamb.
This post is a snippet from the chapter: From Guilt to Repentance from my book, Impact: Gospel Hope For Every Woman.
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