The English language, like all languages, is a living, ever-evolving thing.  Words that meant one thing 100 years ago now sometimes mean something very different.  For instance, originally, the word artificial meant “full of artistic or technical skill.”  But today, it has a very negative meaning and usage.  And back in the day, the word awful meant something “wonderful, amazing and full of awe.”  Now…not so much.

I have lived long enough to see an interesting evolution of the word guilt (in the world and in the Church).  There has been a concerted effort in secular psychology for years to essentially eliminate guilt from the human experience.  Secular humanists associate guilt (and the sorrow associated with it) with archaic and manipulative religions and philosophies.  And because of this, there has been a tremendous effort to “cast off restraint” and enter into true, guiltless, utopian existence (WOOHOO!), where everyone is free to do as he/she pleases, without the shackles and burdens of “old time religion.”

I have seen this in the Church as well.  I periodically hear Christian teachers and counselors say that we don’t need to be weighed down by such things as feelings of guilt or sorrow for our sins, because God is a loving God and all He wants is for us to be happy.  And that the path to repentance can be a guilt-free, sorrowless process where we merely realize we have done things that are “beneath our potential” and therefore we need to make better choices.

The problem with this is two-fold:

First of all, we are not machines, we are human beings, and we are hardwired with emotions.  God has emotions and He made us to be emotional beings as well.  Emotions are meant to make us more like God in this sense, and experienced rightly, they bring an amazing pleasure and irreplaceable depth to life.  And emotions are also, at times, a very useful indicator that attach themselves to bad, sinful choices, so that we will be motivated to change.  For instance, when I hurt my wife, I don’t repent or ask her for forgiveness merely because I know that these things will lead to a more healthy marriage (although they will).  I do it because I love my wife, and it grieves me to see how my actions and selfishness have hurt her.  And so these feelings of guilt and sorrow are essential to real love continuing in my marriage.

The second (and most important) problem is that this concept (that feelings of guilt are to be avoided) clearly contradicts the teaching of Scripture:  “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)  The key is that we need to have “Godly sorrow”, not “worldly sorrow”.  Godly sorrow is connected to three things (IMHO):

  1. The conviction of the Holy Spirit.
  2. An awareness that we are the only one truly responsible (and hence, guilty – doah!) for the sinful thing we did (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  3. The truth that the damage done and pain inflicted by our sinful behavior is not an abstract experience, but is something we have done against real people (including God – Ephesians 4:30 – “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”).

And when we really receive the conviction of the Holy Spirit, admit our responsibility, and tell our best Friend that we are truly sorry, and that, by His amazing grace, we will turn away from our sin and follow Him, then guilt and Godly sorrow will have had their perfect way with us and we will be free to once again worship God in the “beauty of holiness”, without feelings of condemnation.


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