Satan wants to rob you of God’s peace and joy. He comes with false guilt, which feels exactly the same as true guilt from God.
So how can I know if I’m feeling true guilt from God or false guilt? How do I know if I’m living with guilt that doesn’t belong to me?
You must use God’s truth to evaluate your feelings of guilt. You must examine your heart and ask, “Have I truly repented of my sins?” You may want to write down the specific memory that is flooding you with guilt. Then put it to the truth test.
- Have I already confessed this sin?
- When did I confess it?
- Was I truly sincere?
Have I been completely honest with God?
If the answer to all these is “yes,” then you can stand on the promises of 1 John 1:9 and John 8:36. If you confess your sins, He promises to forgive and cleanse you — not 2 months from now — immediately.
If you have any doubt about the sincerity of your previous confession — confess it again and then instantly claim God’s peace and forgiveness.
When I was a teenager, I committed a sin one day. Before I went to sleep that night I prayed and confessed my sin. In the weeks and months that followed, the memory of that sin would come back, and with it, waves of guilt and condemnation.
Four or five times in the weeks that followed, I confessed that sin again. But every time the memory returned, the guilt came too.
Finally one day it dawned on me, “I have confessed this sin as sincerely as I know how. I have turned my back on this sin — I’m living in obedience to Jesus. I’ve got to accept the reality of God’s forgiveness and recognize this guilt is not from God. Then it must be from the enemy.”
Don’t Ignore the Guilt
When I came to this point of accepting God’s truth, I didn’t ignore the guilt and condemnation — I faced it. “Yes, Satan, I did sin in the past, but God has forgiven me. And I choose to live in His forgiveness and peace. So thanks for reminding me of God’s mercy in my life.”
The power of that old memory was broken. Every time it returned I didn’t try to ignore it, I repeated God’s truth in relation to it-reminding myself and the devil of God’s response to my past sin. The power of guilt was broken. Today the memory of that sin no longer robs me of God’s peace.
So why not just ignore the guilt? Because it may be from God. I need to say as David did in Psalms 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2 NIV)
If I can identify a sin that I have not confessed, then I need to use that very moment to specifically confess that sin and make a commitment to turn from that activity and follow Jesus. I need to repeat God’s promise of 1 John 1:9 and stand on His promise to forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.
If the memory of that sin returns, and with it waves of guilt and condemnation, I need to reject those feelings-they are not from God.
A freshman in Bible college had guilt dumped on him by a friend. This difficult relationship continued for weeks. He said, “I have to keep rehearsing the facts because if I listen to my feelings, I just get confused.”
You may ask, “Why can’t I shake these feelings of guilt?” Past failures still haunt you with guilt. You’ve confessed your sins, perhaps many times, still the guilt persists. Keep repeating God’s truth-the enemy will not quit just because you win one battle — he will come again and again. He will whisper in your ear, “If your sin was truly forgiven, you wouldn’t feel any guilt today.”
You must stand on the words of Jesus, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 NIV) False guilt loses its power when we understand God’s truth and apply it.
Not Just for Sins
Satan can pound us with guilt for things that are not even sin. I once went into a bank to cash a check and deposit part of it in my bank account. After the teller had completed the transaction, I realized I wanted a little more deposited, so I asked him to change it. He did. Driving away from the bank I felt condemnation and guilt.
The enemy doesn’t need a good or logical reason to pound us with guilt. He will use anything! Several times in the next few days the memory of that bank transaction flooded me with guilt. Finally I said to myself, “Wait a minute Dave, you did not lie, or steal, or cheat the bank. All you asked was a change in your deposit.” It took less than twenty seconds to make the change! “This guilt is not from God — recognize its source! Respond with God’s truth.”
The power of that guilt was instantly broken. Not by rebuking the guilt or Satan, but by focusing on God’s truth as it related to this specific situation.
James offers practical advice on responding to the devil’s attacks. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:7-8 NIV) The most powerful way to resist the devil is to come close to God-close to His truth, His promises, His forgiveness, His peace.
We can’t change our past, but we can use our past to meditate on God’s truth. The promise of Romans 8:1 to be free from condemnation is for each child of God, not just the super saints! We have a young lady at Teen Challenge whose mom died when she was 16 years old. Since that tragedy, she has carried guilt — she felt responsible for her mom’s death. Many children feel responsible for the divorce of their parents. This guilt is not from God.
Don’t let the power of other people’s condemnation rob you of God’s peace. Fix your eyes on Jesus — He is not a condemning God.
When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus (John 8) her accusers verbally pounded her with guilt. Jesus-slow to respond-said “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7 NIV) When Jesus stood to face her, he asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Jesus responded, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11 NIV) When another woman quietly reached out through a noisy crowd and touched His garment, she experienced miraculous healing. (Luke 8:42-48) “Who touched me?” Jesus asked and then repeated His question.
The woman came forward trembling, admitting that she was one. He tells her “Go in peace!” Jesus doesn’t send us away with guilt or condemnation, He sends us out in peace.
As your memory movies play uninvited scenes of horrible sins, you can respond with God’s truth and refuse to give room to condemnation. No matter how often the reruns play, you can still go in peace.
Put God’s sound track to these old reruns. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”
Romans 8:1 offers a simple promise for each child of God — “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We can live free of guilt.
The only legitimate place guilt has in our life is from the moment we sin until we confess that sin. Guilt can be a very temporary part of our lives.
What can be a permanent part of our lives is God’s peace-His love, His mercy, His kindness, His loving, encouraging presence. We are not perfect, but we are forgiven.
Copyright © 2000, 2006 By David Batty. Used by permission.