As noted in last week’s post, Good Guilt, Bad Guilt, and No Guilt, some people think they’re doing wrong even when they are not. Consequently, they feel guilty most of the time. I call this “false” guilt. If you are one of those people, or if you have a friend who feels trapped in cage of guilt, this post is for you.
Freedom from false guilt comes when we understand the difference between sin and temptation.
A friend of mine, addicted to nicotine for decades, had gone almost a month without smoking, yet she felt guilty because she still wanted to smoke. I tried to help her understand that withdrawal symptoms are normal and that experiencing the desire to smoke did not mean she had done something wrong. There’s a difference between temptation and sin.
Temptation occurs when we are attracted to something that’s detrimental to us or to someone , as well as dishonoring to God. Experiencing that desire does not mean that we’ve done something wrong; it’s not something to feel guilty about. It’s when we give in to that destructive and dishonoring desire that we become guilty.
Instead of feeling guilty and condemning herself, when she resists the urge to pick up a cigarette, I hope my friend will learn to be happy for the progress she’s made and focus on the grace that God is giving her. I know that she calls on him for help to overcome her addiction.
Here’s another example that illustrates the difference between sin and temptation. One day, when I felt resentful, envious, and hurt, I was tempted to make a phone call or send an email that included a sarcastic remark. Feeling resentful, envious, and hurt did not make me guilty. But, if I’d followed through with the sarcastic phone call or email, I would have been guilty.
Jesus is able to help us overcome any temptation.
However, I did not follow through with either of those choices. Instead, I told the Lord about the temptation I was struggling with and asked for his help. Almost immediately, I knew what to do. I thanked God for the person who’d hurt me and asked God to bless her. Then, the temptation to do something mean disappeared. I felt happy and contented.
Because Jesus was tempted in all the ways we are, he understands are vulnerability and weaknesses. Because he never did anything wrong, he offers us the strength to resist every temptation.
The author of Hebrew writes: “We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16 NASB).
Freedom from false guilt comes when we understand the difference between guilt and guilt feelings.
Guilt and guilt feelings are not the same. We might feel guilty without being guilty; we might be guilty without feeling guilty, or we might both feel and be guilty.
Feeling guilty is unpleasant, and we may tend to pay more attention to how we feel than to what we believe. But feelings happen because of what we believe. The self-judging part of us called conscience (if it’s turned on) makes us feel guilty when we break one of its laws.
The problem is: Sometimes the laws written on our consciences are not statements of truth; they don’t reflect the heart and purposes of God. If our consciences have been programmed either by us or by others who lack knowledge of God’s truth and grace, we may feel guilty but not be guilty.
Asking the Holy Spirit to show us the answers to the following questions can help us discern whether or not we are truly guilty.
- What law am I breaking? (write it down)
- Who made this law? (God, myself, or someone else)
- Does this law reflect the truth and principles of Scripture?
For further reflection
Recall a time when Jesus helped you overcome temptation; write out a prayer of gratitude.