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Christians feel guilty, seemingly almost routinely. Guilt is practically accepted as a part of the Christian life. Should we feel guilty and why? If not, how do we stop?
Let’s spend several weeks talking about guilt. It is worth it as it is an important affliction that affects our lives and our view of God.
How common is it?
Teleios surveys have shown that approximately 70% of evangelical Christians feel some level of guilt. Indeed, in almost all the Bible studies my dear wife, Jeanette, and I have been privileged to teach, the students almost all suffered from guilt. Our studies have indicated that, fortunately, it appears to be mild and so usually it can be controlled.
Why do Christians feel guilty?
Well we do not know exactly. Teleios has examined this question among evangelicals on three levels (full report http://stage.teleiosresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Guilt-and-wellbeing-data.pdf):
· A person is not a believer (5%) – This was a very small percent, but recognizes that there are people within the church community that really do not understand salvation by grace and the Spirit is probably convicting them (John 16:8-11). In this case, the guilt is appropriate and perhaps will lead to their salvation.
· Fear of effect of sin (28%) – In this instance the Christian knew they were saved by grace, but they had some sin, past or present, that would cause God to retract their salvation. We have written in this blog many times about the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice to cover all sins. For a Christian, saved by grace alone, all sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:4-5,13; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:23-26; Romans 6:2-9; Hebrews 6:1-8).
· Fear of God’s displeasure (41%) – The greatest percent were those who knew they were saved and secure yet somehow felt some sin, or lack of good work, would cause God to reject them, producing the guilt. This idea is also unbiblical in that we have direct access to God through the ripped veil based on Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 10:19-22).
For the third most common type of guilt (God’s displeasure), what are the triggers
that cause it? I do not know precisely, but here are some suggestions:
· Lack of knowledge of God’s word – This is key! If we don’t know God’s word then we are left defenseless in determining if we hear or read something that suggests we are sinning. So not knowing, the nagging doubt if we are wrong, leads to guilt.
· Not meeting others’ expectations – Family, friends and even pastors may have expectations for us, that even may be dressed up in Christian jargon, that can produce guilt if we do not meet them. This issue relates directly to the first point in that if you do not know the Bible then you cannot determine if their expectations are correct. Several years ago, I was having coffee with a very fine, evangelical pastor and we were discussing guilt. He thought guilt was useful as a motivating factor! He was surprised when I said it was not biblical, but ultimately agreed.
· Self-expectations – Again, this is related to the first point that we may place burdens on ourselves which we fail to meet, but may not be biblical.
· Wrong response to sin – Even if we know that we are in sin, we may not respond to that sin in a biblical way. Our response may be based on social Christian tradition or expectations, such as priestly or work-based absolution, re-dedication or re-baptism, or pleading for forgiveness from God. These efforts may resolve immediate guilt but are not biblical and would not solve most likely a long-term guilt problem.
Thanks for joining my blog today. Next week we’ll deal with the guilt issue regarding a Biblical response. Join us then.
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