Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
Most people don’t understand that God has to act according to His office, as well as according to His nature. I hold the office of protector, provider and father to my children. I love them according to my nature as a father, but I frown when things are wrong because of my office, which is necessary for their good. Imagine if there were no consequences for disobeying the rules of the household. I have to punish accordingly. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love them. God never turns from His love, but He quickly turns from His wrath. God speaks about subduing our sins in Micah 7. When He uses the word subdue, He means conquer. He will conquer our sins for us, which means He will remove the GUILT of that sin as well. There is nothing more soothing than the removal of guilt. Think about guilt for a minute. Can you imagine living with guilt until the day of your death?
Guilt is living in a state of violation. It is the opposite of innocence. Psychologically, guilt is an unpleasant feeling associated with unfulfilled wishes. Guilt must not be confused with remorse. Remorse is deep and painful regret for wrongdoing. Remorse can be productive in that it produces compassion and pity for others in the same position, and often leads us to action—a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Guilt can lead to neurotic reactions. The purpose of guilt is to let us know when we’ve done something wrong. To live with guilt is to live with death, and if you’re in a constant state of guilt, you will suffer mentally, and even physically.
Guilt does work to our advantage in that it helps us grow and mature when our behavior has been offensive or hurtful to others. A warning sign with a purpose is good, especially if the warning sign helps us to improve our lives; instead of hurting others we can bless them. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the brilliant commandment that Christ taught us, but if you are living in a state of guilt because you have been an offense to yourself, you will not be able to love your neighbor, because of the anger you have toward yourself.
It is vital that you regain love for yourself. How do you do this? Make amends with yourself! Is that crazy or what? Yes, you have to forgive yourself first; make amends and changes sooner rather than later, because this will rid you of guilt.
You need to recognize the kind of guilt you have and its purpose. If its purpose is to drive you to make improvements, then it is appropriate guilt and is not self-destructive. If you’re feeling guilty for eating five chocolate bars in a row, that’s the brain’s way of trying to get a message to you about a behavior or habit you probably recognize as extreme. Such behavior may be self-destructive and ultimately harmful to your health and well-being.
Guilt is usually situational. That means we get into a situation, we do something inappropriate or hurtful, and then we feel bad for a time. I have found the greatest way to deal with guilt in this situation is to apologize—be it to the person you’ve affected, or to God. Ask forgiveness. Now, you can’t ask yourself to forgive yourself, so the only way is to ask God to forgive you, and we know that He has made a way for us to be free of the sin which ultimately arouses guilt.
Unhealthy or inappropriate guilt will make you feel bad for little or no legitimate reason.
When I was newly converted and extremely uneducated in church culture, specifically Pentecostal church culture, I was filled with zeal and passion to love people and win them to Christ. I had been an unruly, worldly person, and had experienced enough of sin and the world to avoid any appearance of evil. My guilt was removed by my confession and plea to God for His forgiveness, and I felt like I was lighter—something had been removed from me, a huge burden. I had carried my sin for so long, and the feeling of being “guilt-free” was amazing.
I decided one afternoon after work to visit a family that I had befriended from the church. I loved visiting various homes of the congregation, to pray with or possibly help them. This particular family had kids in their late teens, and I knocked at the door expecting to find the family at home. The only one home, however, was their 18-year-old daughter, yet without even thinking twice, I asked her if I could come in. She was very polite and invited me in. We had tea together and I prayed with her, and then left. In the world I had come from, there was nothing wrong with that, and so when I was confronted with accusations from the church elders the next evening at the mid-week prayer meeting—I was stunned. They initially scolded me for being alone in a house with a young girl, and I could barely understand what they were implying. Eventually, after much talk, I came to the stark realization that they were accusing me of taking advantage of this young lady, and even sleeping with her!
I was so overwhelmed with grief because of this that I called the young lady to inquire where this had come from. The father answered the call and immediately informed me that his daughter had told him this. Of course it was a lie and I defended myself accordingly. The next step was to face the elders of the church and defend my case. They accused me of being deceptive, and I could barely stand, I was so shocked. None of this was true, and yet after listening to their petty ramblings, I was beginning to feel guilty! This is what I would call “induced guilt.” I was feeling guilt for something I had never done. Oh, how crafty is our enemy!
I was only a few months into Christianity, and so filled with joy, excitement, anticipation, passion and praise, only to be knocked down by an accusation of this magnitude. I was supposed to become acquainted with this enemy, due to the call of the prophet on my life; it was no small thing that God allowed this so early on in my Christianity. I asked the Lord what to do, and what He told me was even more radical and shocking. He said, “I want you to stand up on Sunday morning and apologize for the offense. Don’t admit to something you didn’t do, but apologize for hurting them and for offending them.” I struggled with this, but eventually I felt that I should do it because I knew that the devil would never tell me to do that, so it had to be God.
Sunday morning came and I hadn’t slept all night long. I was nervous and yet composed at the same time. God had spoken and I was obeying. I had to be strong and upright. I walked forward to the altar area unannounced, stood upright and looked at the people. The organist stopped the song, the Pastor stood at his chair, the elders stood with their hands holding their chins and the people waited. I apologized for offending them, and said that if I’d hurt anyone by my actions, I was sorry, and I asked their forgiveness.
The young lady was in the meeting that morning and could not look at me. The father started marching forward towards me as if to attack me. I looked him directly in the eyes as he aggressively approached me, and then…a shout from the congregation. It was his daughter. She ran forward and fell on her knees at the altar. After a very emotional moment, she stood up in tears and confessed that I had done absolutely nothing to her, and that I had simply come to pray with the family. She also confessed that she had lied about the entire impropriety because she wanted to make an ex-boyfriend jealous. She turned and begged my forgiveness.
Is there something more about “turning the cheek” than meets the eye? I think so.
Let me encourage you, now that we’ve entered a New Decade full of so much promise and zeal; don’t drag remorse into your future by not dealing with guilt in your present. God promises that He will subdue our sins, and that He will conquer our guilt. Allow Him to do that today by an action that is so easy and yet so difficult at times—forgive yourself.
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