The Massive Pastoral Significance of Guilt (Guilt Grace and Forgiveness 3)

  1. The motto of our “faithroots” website is “What we believe affects how we live.” So it is no surprise then to see that guilt plays it out in the pastoral life of the church. It’s also no surprise when we remember that the Devil is described as “The accuser” one of his main tactics is to use guilt to try and disabled Christians from godly living. As Charity Bancroft put it.

“When Satan tempts me to despair

And tells me of the guilt within.”

In fact our songwriters often have a strong grasp of the impact of guilt in the believer’s life. So Stuart Townend writes

“When I’m stained with guilt and sin

He is there to lift me

Heal me and forgive me.”

There are three ways it plays out. First of all, as mentioned above, churches can too easily operate as “Guilt Driven churches” affecting the whole life of the church community.

Secondly, many people can become handicapped in Christian life by their guilt. At its most extreme this may even be expressed in or exacerbated by emotional and mental health issues. I have even seen this work itself out in severe, chronic physical symptoms. However, we can focus on those extremes and miss the way that guilt affects each of us. This is not just about going around carrying a permanent burden of guilt. But if we do not know how to deal rightly with guilt then it can lead to discouragement in Christian service, broken friendships and the attempt to cover up and hide sinful habits.

Tripp and Lane see this as a significant problem in Christian life. Picking up on 2 Peter 3:1-9, they comment:

“Why are many Christians ‘ineffective and unproductive’? Peter provides the diagnosis in verse 9: they are near sighted and blind, having forgotten that they have been cleansed from their past sons. They are blind to the power and hope of the gospel for today.”[1]

This blindness means that

“Many believers also fail to see the other side of their gospel identity their identity in Christ. Christ not only gives me forgiveness and a new future but a whole new identity as well! I am now a child of God with all of the rights and privileges that this title bestows.”[2]

The problem is compounded because:

“Often in our blindness, we take on our problems as identities. While divorce, depression, and single parenthood are significant human experiences, they are not identities. Our work is not our identity, though it is an important part of how God intends us to live. For too many of us, our sense of identity is rooted in our performance than it is in God’s grace. “[3]

And in our blindness we fail to see that God has provided everything we need for a godly life. [4]

Thirdly, whilst some people on the extremes carry a huge burden of guilt, it is equally dangerous to pursue life oblivious to our guilt. We see that in church life too don’t we? Sometimes it’s the person who just lets the challenge go over them like water off a duck’s back. Sometimes it’s the person who refuses to accept conviction and tries to turn the blame back on the person who challenged them. “How dare you say that to me? You have no right. This says more about your state of mind to think that about me than it does about me.”

So Lane and Tripp note that the first symptom of Spiritual blindness is that

“Christians underestimate the presence and power of indwelling sin. They don’t see how easily entrapped they are in this world full of snares (see Gal.6.1)”[5]

So if we are going to care for each other and bear one another’s burdens we will need to understand what guilt is, how it works and what the solution is. If we are going to encourage and challenge each other on in our growth then we will need to understand the guilt problem properly. If we want to be healthy Christians and part of a healthy church, we need to talk about guilt.

[1] Timothy S Lane & Paul David Tripp, How People Change (Greensborough. New Growth Press, 2006), 3.

[2] Lane & Tripp, How People Change, 5.

[3] Lane & Tripp, How People Change, 5.

[4] Lane & Tripp, How People Change, 5.

[5] Lane & Tripp, How People Change, 4.