While teaching a class on spiritual warfare at the jail the other day, I ended up getting into a discussion with the men about three very important words. These words are crucial to followers of Christ and they can often be misunderstood. The three key words are guilt, grace, and gospel. Over the next few days, I hope to discuss each word closely. Today, let us examine the word: GUILT.
The word "guilt" carries quite a negative connotation. There is no way to really soften the blow of the phrase "You're Guilty." Joy is not the prime emotion of a defendant when a jury delivers a guilty verdict. A guilty conscious does not provide peace but instead induces stress and unrest. Not being able to let go of the past or forgive oneself is paralyzing to the soul. Guilt is surely negative, right?
Well, maybe having our guilt declared or even voluntarily announcing it in confession can feel negative; however, the apostle Paul puts a bit of a spin on the whole idea. He writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10 about guilt stating, "godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." Paul is arguing there is actually a good guilt, or better yet, a godly grief.
The work of a God-based conviction leads to a holy shame over sin which, by the power of God's Spirit, produces within us the work of repentance. Repentance is the act of turning from sin as well as the broken mindset that gave rise to the sin itself. It's not simply a change of heart, but a change of action as well.
There was quite a long season of my life in which I saw the godly guilt in my life as bad. Deeps swells of shame would wash over me when I even sought to pray, for fear that God was horribly disappointed in me. However, I have come to realize God uses guilt to draw attention to my waywardness and steer me back onto the narrow way. If my response is soaked with godly sorrow, repentance, and future obedience, then the guilt I have experienced has been fruitful.
A coach once told my son, after he hung his head over being corrected, that he was not in trouble but in training. That phrase has ever stuck with me. You can just hear the hope in the word training. It is as if Jesus is speaking these very words to me:
"You are not in trouble, you are in training.
The godly guilt and conviction you feel can be
used to bring about the redemptive changes
I want to make in you-- if you will allow
the Holy Spirit to do His work."
I often have to discern when I am allowing the condemning guilt of the enemy shame me instead of allowing the good sorrow of God to lead me into paths of righteousness for His Name's sake. One brings condemnation while one brings peace. One reminds me I'm a sinner while the other reminds me I am being redeemed!