Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (NLT)
We have a problem with guilt. Some Christians are stricken with guilt, concluding that it is all very well to read texts like this but none of that mercy and forgiveness talk applies to me. I am too far gone; I am the exception to the rule. As if there is some fine print in all this that specifically excludes my own sin from pardon.
So we can be burdened with false guilt. We can feel guilty about things that are not our responsibility. We can feel guilty because we have done something so bad that it is beyond forgiveness. Such false guilt arises from the evil one’s lying accusations. It leads to crushing self-condemnation.
Then again, other Christians seem to downplay the reality of what we might call true moral guilt. The Psalmist recognised his true guilt, not phoney false guilt feelings. Unlike false guilt, true guilt has a remedy. False guilt drives us to despair and leads to condemnation. True guilt drives us to the grace of God and leads to freedom. The accuser wants to point the finger at us and condemn us to hopelessness. Jesus wants to convict us of our failures and bring us to his grace and mercy and new hope.
False guilt may have to be treated by some counselling. True guilt has been treated at the cross. So we do have a guilt problem, but make sure we know what guilt we are addressing.