The Struggle With Guilt

1 John 1:5-9

What believers do about guilty feelings has a lot to do with what they understand about guilt. By definition, the word refers to a sense of wrongdoing—an emotional conflict arising from second thoughts about a particular action or thought. The biblical method for clearing away such feelings is repentance.

However, many believers are plagued by false guilt, which is not actually rooted in sin. It can develop in several ways:

A church caught up in legalism can foster this unhealthy feeling. A member may not do enough of what is “required” (such as praying, Bible reading, and witnessing). Or she may do things that others in the church categorize as wrong, even though there’s no scriptural basis for their opinion.

Painful memories of abuse in childhood often lead an adult to believe he is somehow to blame for the sins committed against him.

Hearing believers’ criticisms of others can lead to low self-esteem. Without clear discernment, a person may get the sense that he can’t measure up to God’s standards or the world’s.

Genuine, biblically based conviction is an anxiety in the spirit over a definite, willful sin. All the various causes of false shame have one thing in common: They are not the result of sinful behavior. Such feelings are Satan’s tool for harassing God’s people.

When we understand that true conviction is the Holy Spirit’s loving pressure on our spirit to correct a specific wrong, we can reject Satan’s attempts to distract us with lies. Whatever the cause of false guilt, it must be unearthed and removed from the believer’s life.

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