God can release us from the
chains we tie ourselves up in
I don’t know about you, but I think guilt is one of the worst feelings you can have.
I usually feel sick (knowing that whatever I’ve done has, or will, hurt someone), and that I’ve let people down; not least myself.
I often have an overwhelming urge to tell everyone—even the postman—what I’ve done!
Perhaps I'm hoping for some kind words, maybe some kind of absolution. Maybe they’ll tell me they once did the same thing, and I won’t feel so bad! Personal guilt is one thing—but as painful as it is, it’s probably good for us; keeping us on track with one another and with society around us.
But there’s also the idea of ‘corporate’ guilt; one we all share as sinful humans. People who reject what they call ‘Judeo-Christian principles’ get very cross about it, because they think Christians are obsessed with guilt. They think it drags you down, dampens your joy in life, and limits your potential. It’s an idea you might hear in ‘New Age’ circles.
Well, it’s true: Christians are obsessed—but with the very opposite idea; they’re caught up with the idea of salvation, not guilt! That’s for two reasons: firstly, Christians understand that even though sin causes havoc all around us, they don’t need to live in a state of guilt, because they actually live in a state of grace—God’s grace, his acceptance of us just as we are, because he died to wipe all of our slates clean, forever.
This doesn’t mean Christians think they can do no wrong, or don’t need to try and avoid sinning; on the contrary, they aspire to the perfect standard which Jesus set. That can’t ever be achieved fully, but that’s no reason not to try!
So, to my second point: Christianity therefore means not getting bogged down with the past, but in having hope for the future.
However, I have come across Christians who, having done something wrong (and having prayed for, and received, forgiveness) simply can’t get past their own feelings of guilt. They become wrapped up in how they feel about it, rather than accepting how God feels about it. This is wrong! When God responds to your pleas and forgives you—which he always will, no matter how appalling your act or crime—your slate is as clean as if it had just come out of the packet.
The story goes that a man was constantly unfaithful to his wife. Year in, year out, he cheated on her, causing terrible pain and distress. He was always genuinely remorseful; always prayed for forgiveness. One day, as he prayed, he became really angry with himself. God sat and listened, his cheek resting on one hand. “I’ve done it AGAIN!” yelled the man. “Can you believe it? I promised you last time that I’d never do it again! I promised you I’d make a new start. And now look! What’s wrong with me? Why do I keep doing this?”
“Doing what?” asked God. “There was something here in your record—but I can’t read it. It’s been blotted out.”
Pray: God, you and I both know what I’ve done. Thanks for not writing me off; thanks for loving me anyway. Help me to understand what the cross means to me. Please forgive me for the wrong I’ve done and the hurt I’ve caused. I know you will forgive me—just help me to accept it and believe in it. Help me to move on, and to do better in the future. Amen.
Look up what Romans (NT) says about our liberation from guilt
Download Arise, My Soul, Arise (a cappella) by Glad (iTunes)
Read the parable of the lost son—which explains how God feels whenever a sinner turns to him
Read Wikipedia’s explanation of the parable
Download Prodigal Son by the Rolling Stones, from the album Beggars’ Banquet (1968) at iTunes, and read the lyric
See the painting Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt
Read the book The Gift of Guilt: 10 Steps to Freedom from Guilt, Forever by Shannon Miller
Read the book God's Power to Change Your Life by Rick Warren
Read the book What’s so Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey – also available as a download from iTunes
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