As long as I am stricken with the guilt of my sin, I will be captive to them, and will often find myself re-committing the very sins about which I feel most guilty. The Devil is well aware of this fact; he knows that if he can keep me tormented by sin’s guilt, he can dominate me with sin’s power.The Gospel Primer
I read the above portion of A Gospel Primer1 for the first time recently, and it was as if the clouds of my mind began to part; I began to have clarity. I had a brewing storm within my heart, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it was — until I read this quote. It was guilt, and it had become master over every moment and aspect of my life. What is guilt and how did I allow it to take such control over my life? How do I find freedom?
The Purpose of Guilt
Guilt is a natural response to the act of sin within an individual’s life. We see many examples of it in Scripture from Adam and Eve to King David to Peter.2
Because our hearts are deceitful, guilt is not easily black and white.3 We can experience two types of guilt: false guilt and true guilt. False guilt is the idea of “I’m sorry I got caught,” whereas true guilt is the idea of “I’m sorry I sinned.” Paul speaks to false guilt and true guilt in 2 Corinthians 7 –
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without
regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.2 Corinthians 7:10
False guilt, or grief, leads to death because it does not address the core heart issue that is taking place. It leads the individual to retreat until able to commit the sin again. True guilt, or grief, leads to life in salvation because it recognizes and confesses the sin harbored within one’s heart. It takes the step of repentance and freedom in Christ by looking to kill the sin at the source.
As you can see, guilt’s purpose is to push us closer to Christ. It is to send us to our knees, crying out to the perfect God who lovingly desires to see us restored. Yet, when we fail to take our eyes off of guilt and onto God, we perpetuate the sin that produced the guilt in the first place.
The Gaze of Guilt
Over time, I had failed to take my eyes off of the guilt of my sin. My daily thought life looked similar to this:
- “How could I have sinned again?”
- “No one wants to keep hearing about what I’m struggling with – I’ll just stop sharing.”
- “Is it even worth trying to change? I’ll fail again anyway.”
- “God doesn’t want to hear the same confession again; it’s probably not even genuine.”
These thoughts and more had become white noise in my mind and kept me in the depths of guilt. This led to the numbing of my heart which resulted in committing the same sins over and over again – sins of false comfort, of idolatry, of idleness, of pride. The battle against this sin needed to begin in my mind.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of
your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:2
We are called to renew our minds, to dwell on the Word of God, and to put off sin while putting on godliness.4 When we allow our thoughts to run rampant without any discernment, we find ourselves stuck in the same rut of repetitive sin. This is how I have been allowing myself to live in light of my sin – the guilt has dominated me rather than the freedom found in God.
Once we come to recognize the pattern of guilt, we should find ourselves at the question: “Now what?” What does it mean to renew our minds?
The freedom from guilt
The command to renew our minds is rooted in the biblical process of sanctification. This process could be explained in three steps: confess, repent, repeat. While it may seem like a simple process, it impossible to accomplish in our own ability. We need the power of Jesus Christ to lead us into this battle.
Confess – The culture in the Church today more often allows for the recognition of sin but rarely the confession of sin. To say to another believer or to write in a journal, “I lied to a friend today,” is different than spending time in prayer to God and saying, “God, I sinned against you today by disobeying the command of your Word.” One states a fact and allows a path to easily move on; the other calls out the act as sin and requires a response. The first step to renewing our minds and repenting of sinful thoughts and desires must be calling it as it is – sin.5
Repent – The idea of repenting of our thought life can seem conceptual, but thankfully we have the Word of God to lead us. Repentance can also be described as the act of putting off sin and putting on righteousness; Paul writes about this regularly in his letters.6 It is recognizing a sinful thought, confessing it to God, and choosing to think on truth instead. Taking my thoughts listed above, here are some examples of the truth I should have turned to:
- I am broken and hopeless without true dependence on Christ and his Word. Praise God that I am able to always turn to him for forgiveness and healing.7
- God has provided the body of Christ to minister, encourage, and help one another. I should not dismiss this blessing of the Lord out of my own pride.8
- When I am relying on my own abilities, I will not change. It is the power of Christ alone that is able to lead me to change, and I must seek him in his Word and through prayer.9
- God desires for his children to seek him in confession, and He is infinite in his pouring out of love, mercy, and forgiveness. He never grows tired of me.10
Repeat – Do we have to repeatedly confess and repent of the same sin we just confessed and repented of? Not exactly. This “repeat” step is to understand that because of our sinful nature, we will continue to face temptation and even fall into sin until we are reunited in heaven with God. Therefore, we must realize that this process is to be repetitive, habitual, and lifelong. How great it is that we have an infinitely merciful God who will not give up on his children! In order to battle sin well and overcome it, we must practice confession and repentance as often as necessary – not just on Sundays or when a major sin issue arises.
To conclude, I’m thankful that I serve a God who has overcome the guilt that would keep me chained to my sin, who has the power to sustain me as I practice the discipline of confession and repentance, and whose Spirit is continually sanctifying me from one degree of glory to another, even if I may not feel like it.
A few questions to leave you with – Are you struggling with guilt? Do you practice confession and repentance of sin daily?
If you are overcome by guilt or are struggling to repent, seek out another believer today who can walk with you towards God in his Word and prayer. Remember, perfection doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with the process of sanctification and trust in the Lord to fulfill his promise of forgiveness and maturity in Christ.
1A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love by Milton Vincent
2Genesis 3:1-8; Psalm 32:3-4; Luke 22:54-62
4Psalm 51:10; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10
5Psalm 32:5; Psalm 51; Proverbs 28:13; James 4:17, 5:16
6Romans 6; Galatians 5; Ephesians 3; Colossians 3
7Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:9
81 Corinthians 12:12-31; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:16
9Isaiah 46:10; James 4:17; 2 Peter 1:3
10Psalm 86:5, 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; Colossians 1:13-14