A few months ago I was given a $200 voucher for a spa treatment. I had never been to a spa. They lead me through lavish, incense-fragranced rooms with soothing music for the fatigued soul. They opened upon a sprawling water labyrinth called Hydrotherapy. As kids, we would have called it a water fun park. They inflicted things there similar to what my brothers and I would do to each other on hot summer days with cold water and a garden hose. We simply never imagined anyone crazy enough to pay us to do it. The facility was almost empty, and that made sense to me considering they charged $85 to sit in a pool with spray nozzles.
I do love saunas though so I was drawn to lay down in the dry heat, realizing I could do this for $5 at the local wave pool … It was peaceful in that sauna and I thought about this topic. I started laughing to myself. There I was, laying in a fancy spa thinking about guilt. So I asked, “Holy Spirit - Tell me more.”
I loved his answer. He said, “Guilt is primarily about identity.”
It’s true. When you’ve done something wrong, it impacts how you feel about yourself. There’s a standard we didn’t meet. In this sense, guilt is a gift. It longs for things to be made right. It can actually push us towards God. We don’t do people favours when we downplay bad behaviour. That actually doesn’t help. What people need to know, when they know they’ve done wrong, is that they can receive forgiveness. In those cases, we feel guilty because we are guilty. We can’t receive a person’s forgiveness until we acknowledge we’ve done something wrong. Otherwise, there’s nothing to forgive. Guilt leaves us in that place of separation from what we know is right. It leaves us feeling separated from God.
I can use that word in a couple of different ways. Guilt, for example, means one thing to a judge, and a completely different thing to me when my mom found a pack of cigarettes in my pocket. The one has legal consequences; meaning you did something wrong, and you're legally guilty. But the other ~ well yes, it had consequences. But what was worse was seeing my mom’s face. She was hurt. She was disappointed with me. I let her down. I felt shame.
Guilt affected how I felt about myself. But did it change how God felt about me? Did my value diminish in any way because of my guilt?
So I said to Holy Spirit, “That’s a good point. Would you tell me more about guilt?”
He said, “When you focus on guilt, you forget who you are. You don’t see yourself seated in heavenly places where no one can accuse you. You see yourself in worldly places where Satan constantly tells you, you didn't measure up.”
Paul talks about the fact that life in the realm we cannot see; the place of angels and demons; that place has influence on this world, the world we can see. He tells us that our identity is actually grounded that spiritual dimension, more than in this one. REflect upon that.
Ephesians 2:6 And he raised us up with Christ and gave us a seat with him in the heavens. 8 … you have been saved by grace through believing. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. 9 It was not the result of your own efforts, so you cannot brag about it. 10 God has made us what we are. (New Century Version)
My identity, who I really am, is not about what I do, who I know, where I live. My identity is completely wrapped up in who God says I am. The interesting thing is that angels and demons know who you are, even if you don’t realize it.
Living with guilt causes you to continually focus on what you have done. Jesus, on the other hand, invites you to focus on what he has done. There is an authority that you carry when you accept the gift of forgiveness Jesus has offered to you. But until I acknowledge the things I am doing that need to stop, I won't accept the forgiveness for them.
There are some things we know we shouldn’t do and we downright enjoy doing them. There are behaviours that have become completely acceptable in our culture today and as a result, we feel it’s our right to do it. But engaging in that kind of lifestyle shapes us and changes our priorities. We eventually realize that we now see God as simply one of half a dozen competing for priority in our lives. Some days he’ll be more important to us than other days. Some days, he wont be included at all. And that changes what we believe about ourselves.
What you believe about yourself is going to determine how you process guilt and shame. If we cannot embrace the forgiveness of God, it will be very difficult to extend forgiveness to others. You can't extend to someone something you don't realize is available to you.
Ephesians 2:5 Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, he gave us new life with Christ. You have been saved by God’s grace.
It’s hard to truly understand the love of God. We can try. We can honestly try, but the nature of God is so much greater than our understanding. We get glimpses of his love but our guilt seems to say, “It’s too good to be true.”
There is something about God’s character that binds him to us. He has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep us close to him. Our guilt says we don’t deserve it. When I sin; whether it’s in my thoughts: like jealousy, lust, or hatred or any of the other bad attitudes I can come up with. Or when I sin in something I’ve said: like exaggerating a story so I look better, or demeaning another person, or just using language that is inappropriate for the situation. Or when I actually do something that is wrong. When I do any of those things, how do I feel about myself?
Do you understand how shame and the feeling of guilt stem primarily from your identity; not understanding who you really are?
Repeating sin, making excuses for it, begins to shape how you see yourself. Some people see themselves as “too far gone to be forgiven”. Or “God can forgive all my sins except this one. This one has a hold on me and I can’t let it go. God can’t forgive me as long as I keep living like this.” the emphasis shifts from what Jesus has done.
As guilt and shame take hold of my life, how do I start to define myself?
I asked, “Holy Spirit, tell me more about guilt.” He said, “Guilt defines the bar you set for yourself that you believe you can consistently attain.”
I said, “Whoa, that’s profound.” When I live in guilt instead of forgiveness, it will continually say, “This is as good as you get. You are no better than this. You could have had that, but…If only you had done this… but…” “You always do that. You’re never gonna change.” Guilt will tell you all about your weakness. It makes us feel small. It declares me a failure in some degree. It never celebrates my dignity and worth. It always tells me that I fell short; I screwed up; “If I had just been stronger…” Guilt points out my deficiencies. And when I listen to guilt, I cannot love who I am; the person that God made in his image and likeness.
Guilt is based on pass or fail. It is not based on worth. It is not based on your God-given identity. It will never tell you about your greatness. It will never remind you that Christ has seated you in the throne room of heaven. It will never tell you that demons know this and are afraid you will discover it.
Guilt does not have the capacity to say anything nice about you. It is the central human issue. It wants to defines us. But God loves me in the middle of all my awfulness. Why can’t we operate more in grace? Why is it so hard to see ourselves as forgiven? Why is it so hard to believe every sin has been removed? Because our whole life we’ve been operating out of guilt. It doesn’t work. Need to grasp that God loves us NOW in our guilt and we come and he cleans the mess up. Pause and think of your life with all the mess cleaned up. What does that feel like?
Guilt is a little confusing at times because we misunderstand forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that if you speed and get a traffic ticket, you don’t have to pay. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that if you steal something from an individual you wont regret it until you make it right. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that if you break the law and are caught that you won't have to go to jail.
There are consequences for bad decisions, wrong behaviour, a careless word. But none of that affects God’s love for you, his perspective of you. It doesn’t change your identity and authority. He simply reminds you, that’s not who you are.
Ephesians 3: 10 His purpose was that through the church (is that you?) all the rulers and powers in the heavenly world will now know God’s wisdom, which has so many forms. You are one of those forms. (New Century Version)
Ephesians 3: 14 So I bow in prayer before the Father 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth gets its true name. Your identity 16 I ask the Father in his great glory to give you the power to be strong inwardly through his Spirit. 17 I pray that Christ will live in your hearts by faith and that your life will be strong in love and be built on love. (New Century Version)
If I don’t believe I am first loved by God, even if I’m wrapped up in anger, lust and sin, I will never break free of it. I have to believe he is my rescue. “Whoever believes in him…”
Ideas of belief and guilt are wrapped up in each other. If you believe guilt defines you, that’s what you are. You're guilty. Your transition is believing God’s love defines you. Sets you free. Gives you freedom. It allows you to receive forgiveness. So I asked Holy Spirit again, “Tell me more about guilt.” And he said, “Let me tell you about identity.” Then he said one word, “Ambassador,” and he took me to 2 Corinthians 5:17 "So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! … 19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, 'Be reconciled to God!'" (New Century Version)
Paul saying, it is very easy to look at how we live and the mistakes we make in life and begin to believe we are no better than that. Yet how we live does not change the fact that Christ has declared our worth. When he died, he took our sin; your sin when you were 5, your sin when you were 28, your sin when you turn 40, your sin at 83; the sin you will commit tomorrow. He took our sin and he dissolved it. He no longer lives with the burden of it. What you and I struggle with is the memory of our sin. Even though it is forgiven, we let it live in our memory. Even though it has been taken away, we allow it to live in our thinking. Satan can only use your sin against you if you refuse to accept that fact that you have been pardoned.
The spiritual world knows who we are; they know whether we believe in the forgiveness of Christ’s death. When our guilt and shame take over our hearts and minds, when we condemn ourselves, demons laugh and say, “here comes another one.”
They would be terrified of you if you knew who you really are. They dread the day you accept the forgiveness of God. When that happens, what can their accusations accomplish? “What about when you …. ~ That’s true, and I’m forgiven.” “Ya well, you said that horrible thing… ~ That’s true, and I’m forgiven.”
Too often we see life as guilt management instead of operating out of the truth of being entirely not guilty. Freedom only comes when God’s love defines me - not my behaviour.
When I do something offensive in my home, I have to believe that my wife believes that Christ’s love is going to captivate my heart and straighten me out. Otherwise, she’s going to struggle a lot with forgiving me.
We love because he loved us first. 1 John 4:19
When you begin to understand the love of God, you can begin to understand the extent of his forgiveness. He doesn’t love us because of what we’ve done. He loves us because of who he is. You begin to realize that he has raised you because he likes you. You are a new creation because he likes you. You have been seated now, in a position that terrifies demons. You are an ambassador for Christ. You carry that authority.
When we begin to live as ambassadors. We become more conscious of the words we say. Why? Because we represent more than ourselves. As ambassadors we are more conscious of the thoughts we think, the behaviour we endorse. The challenge is to believe I am clean and that now I can live clean.
Paul says, Ephesians 3:18 I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love It takes a miraculous intervention from God to even comprehend— how wide and how long and how high and how deep that love is. 19 Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God. 20 With God’s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine. (New Century Version)
It is a challenge to believe I am forgiven. The main reason we don’t press into God is that our guilt still defines us. When the love of God defines us, that’s when life changes.
O Lord, you examine me and know. 2 You know when I sit down and when I get up; even from far away you understand my motives…6 Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension; it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it…23 Examine me, and probe my thoughts! Test me, and know my concerns!
I woke up in the middle of the night. I asked Holy Spirit, “show me how you see guilt.” And he gave me a picture of a little baby wrapped in his hands.
Guilt is the accusation but Jesus is the response. When we know that, we can rest in our forgiveness. We need to put a stop to the accusations from guilt.