How Jesus Can Help You With Guilt

The force of pain that causes you to think you are worthless on account of past or present actions is guilt that arises from self—the old man.

The force of pain that causes you to think or rethink your actions (past or present) is guilt that arises from the conviction of the Holy Spirit. For a Christian, the former paralyzes them to where their ministry is ineffective and unfruitful, because the guilt that comes from the old nature and not the new is not of Christ. And practically speaking this prohibits our effectiveness to be faithful witnesses with the joy of the Lord controlling our actions and speech. Instead, we feel hopeless and unable to show the love of Christ as we ought.

Every Christian has an ugly past, because every Christian was at one time not a Christian, and anything not of Christ is ugly. The condemning thoughts we feel on account of our sin are a problem for all who are concerned about living a life consecrated to Jesus. We all have past and present sins that bring up shameful reminders of how we have not met God’s perfect standard. Our inability to live as we should will always be an issue on this side of eternity. Escaping this problem is inescapable, since no one is made perfect in this life (Phil. 3:12).

How then do we overcome the guilt that condemns?

Paul understood a condemning past. He tasted the bitterness that springs up when sins are acted out and recollections won’t go away. Like every other Christian, he has felt the shame when he lived contrary to his faith and shame when the thoughts of a past life came to prick his heart. But for the most part you could say Paul found the secret to living free from guilt. (I will being using “guilt” in the negative sense.)

Before we look at what has helped Paul, let me remind you of something that is vitally important. Any time we go to the Scriptures to draw out an application to practice in our daily lives it will take constant awareness that what we are seeking to implement must be sought after diligently. No application is a formula to success; they are the means by which we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit will use to conform us to the image of Christ. They are not full proof. One could assiduously try to practice what is talked about in all of Scripture to no avail if God sovereignly decides to withhold from them the relief they are looking for in order to bring about change elsewhere or at a different time. It is known Christian experience for God to allow His children to wrestle with certain sins for a period of time to grow them in greater and different ways. But, there is hope, and that hope is found in Jesus (Col. 1:27).
 Jesus is the only hope we have to help us with guilt.
No one understands this as much as he. The apostle Paul looked to Christ as the source to draw from to alleviate the pain of guilt. Guilt stings, and when that sting is realized it can leave a feeling of worthlessness that affects the whole of Christian life and blessing. Jesus Christ is the relief.

How does Jesus help us with guilt?

After Paul recalled his attack on God Himself by being someone who spoke falsely against Him, who murdered His people, and who violently pursued to stop the growth of His Church (1 Tim. 13), he speaks of goodness given to him by Christ that overflowed in order to shatter his self-image that was marred by guilt and sin. (Self-image is always negative unless it’s a view that comes from being renewed after the Spirit in the image of its creator. In other words, anyone with a view of themselves who is out of Christ has a wrong and distorted self-image, only in Christ is a proper view of one’s self realized.) This goodness was abundant: “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (Tim. 1:14 ESV). We overcome guilt by looking at what the grace of Christ provide for us. And we can learn two things to do from our text (1 Tim. 1:14).

1. We must live by the faith we have in Christ.
“Oh,” you might say, “of course you must live by faith. Without faith no one can please God, and besides, how will this help me?” And I might ask you, “How do you live by faith in Christ and what does that mean?” Answers could range from, “you just believe, you just ‘step out,’ you pray, you read the Bible, you just love, you walk in the Spirit.” I am not sure I have heard of these answers in the Bible.

Paul says grace overflowed for him with the (1) faith and (2) love that are in Christ Jesus. Faith and love completely transformed the way Paul thought about himself, and this gave him hope amid the lies of the enemy and of self. This “faith” is not a faith that can be produced or obtained by yourself. The grace that overflowed for Paul, which brought faith, was given to Paul apart from any desire or work on Paul’s part.

The faith that is given to us through grace (Eph. 2:8) is the power that makes us become completely new persons in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Keeping this new identity at the core of all our thinking and living is the way to guard ourselves from the guilt that cripples us to live a life in the freedom which rightly is ours as God’s adopted children. When Paul says “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” he holds to the truth that being in Christ is the root of all healthy thinking of a correct self-image. Guilt’s purpose is to destroy our new image in Christ and make us remember our old image that is embedded with guilt and inadequacy before God.

The man who lives by faith lives with the promise of God that He makes all things new and all power to walk in that newness. When someone forget this, which results in a failure to live by the faith that is in Christ, they become “ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ…having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:8-9).

The practical implication to living by faith as way to overcome guilt comes when sin and past sin rise up to condemn and you rise up willing to make a diligent effort to live in the completely renewed nature that was given to you because Christ died so that you may live. Jesus not only died for the penalty of sin but also died to remove the guilt caused by sin, and all this comes by the faith that transforms us into new people. Receiving grace with palms empty and facing upward, acknowledging that the righteousness of a Christian is accomplished wholly by Christ, is a gift of the Spirit that must be exercised when given the opportunity. And it means you must do this: When you are tempted to feel guilty of what Christ has already paid for, whether it comes from present or past sin, you must be willing to accept and trust that Christ’s atonement has made complete satisfaction for your salvation and life.

Living in grace through faith is a growing Christian reality. Although we have all that is necessary to live a godly life here on earth (Eph. 1:3), for some this reality comes over a long process because of failure to either understand grace or to accept it for what it is.
2. We must value Christ over our guilt.
When we feel guilty, we value guilt over Christ. This must be reversed. We must value Christ so much that our guilt is drowned out by our love for Jesus. Loving Jesus is often mistaken.

We forget what it means to love Jesus because we so often tie the secular idea of love to the Christian idea of love. This happens when we assume love is simply a desire or an emotion and not an action of loyalty by which we love the object because of their inherent worth.

Paul said “faith and love” overflowed for him. As the faith that Paul has is the faith he has in Jesus, so the love that Paul has is the love he has for Jesus. This love is over against his hatred he had for Christ when he was a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Tim. 1:13). Now Paul, through grace, has a love for Christ that floods out the pain of guilt. Paul values Christ over past, present, and future failures.

ἀγάπη (agape) love in Scripture is a kind of loyalty that is devoted to something because of the great worth of that thing. Agape love evaluates its object of love and values it to the greatest degree. When we have this type of love for Christ, we understand everything outside of Him to be infinitely small both in worth and regard. We no longer see our own selves a something to be praised. Rather, we now only praise the life we have in Christ, offering up a clear conscience to God who saves our souls, not our worldly self-image. The image we have now is disconnected from the world and set in the heavenly places. And we no longer regard ourselves as anything by itself, but we now understand that Christ is all and in all, giving us life and peace through His death and resurrection.

Valuing Christ takes a conscience effort on our part that is gradually learned in the school of the Holy Spirit. We must be willing to change ourselves every day. Idols are a subtle plague that quickly grabs a hold of our value-meter and deceives us into thinking that bad is good and the good is bad, while the neutral is neutral. Nothing is neutral. The idol of self-love is the complete opposite of love to Christ. Guilt is a powerful poison that pours into our life, making us think we are the center of the world. Guilt says, “Look at me! Look at me! I have done so much wrong that I am no longer fit to receive grace. I am a pitiful person who Christ can no longer help. My plight is too dangerous for even the Son of God, for I am greater than him. I will not love him, but only my guilt.” Oh but when guilt comes it does not seem like this! It seems like life is halted in quick sand and we are slowing drowning. But blessed is the man whose mind is stayed on Thee (Is. 26:3)!

The grace that overflows for all believers comes with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Living by that faith and love are the ways in which we overcome the guilt produced by sin. A proper self-image is only realized by union with Christ. When someone is “in Christ” they have a completely new identity that is shaped by the Word of God and Holy Spirit. Only when we understand the grace of God as free and unmerited will we truly walk in the faith and love that are given to lead a blessed life in Christ Jesus.


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