Overwhelmed by Guilt
All Christians are aware of the theological truth that all are sinners. Knowing this truth and feeling the impact of it are not the same thing. Many sinners roam planet earth with absolutely no sense of guilt toward God. Guilt is the sense that one has of failure to fulfill expected responsibilities. With little regard for God as Creator, many humans march through life with little feeling of falling short. And there are plenty of voices in society that attack any such feelings as simply low self-esteem.
Reading Psalm 130, it is clear that the Psalmist understood this feeling of guilt due to sin, as well as the blessed state of forgiveness. He begins, Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. His sense of sin before God was real, thus he cries to Him from that low place. He acknowledges the general truth that none would be able to stand before God if He were to mark iniquities (vs. 3). His hope is clearly stated in verse 4, But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
There are those times in the believer’s life that a deep sense of sin races over the soul and brings an overwhelming sense of guilt. It may come from memories of past sins that have been dealt with, yet return to haunt the soul. David was pressed with such thoughts at times as he prayed, Remember not the sins of my youth. How are we to respond to such feelings of guilt?
There are times when the general sense of how far short we come to the glory of God overwhelms us. There is no particular sin that can be singled out, but the keen awareness of not loving God as we ought and failing to live completely for His glory. Sometimes our souls are pressed with the guilt of our spiritual sluggishness. How should we respond to such waves of guilt?
It may be that our soul is overwhelmed by the guilt of some specific sin that we have kept hidden for some time. This is that secret sin that no one knows about but ourselves, or perhaps one other person. That act we have committed, or continually commit, that has not yet been discovered by anyone else. We feel bad about it, but so long as no one knows about it, we feel that it is no big deal. We perhaps have stopped the sin and figure we can just get on with life. But the guilt keeps rising within. Perhaps someone has preached a message that has singled us out. Or, perhaps the sin has been uncovered by another sent by God, like Nathan was sent to David. Whatever the source, our soul is overwhelmed by the guilt of that sin. We can’t ignore it any longer. The feeling of guilt has you trapped and there seems to be no relief. How do you respond to such overwhelming feelings of guilt?
The answer to all of the above scenarios is clearly given in Psalm 130. Begin by crying out to God! Out of the depths of guilt and despair, cry out to God. It is against Him that you have sinned. He is the only one who can truly forgive. And the blessed truth is, there is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared.
Here is where so many go very wrong. There is the sense of the need for forgiveness and so the heavy soul begins to construct ways to earn that forgiveness. But forgiveness does not come from God by way of your efforts! Some have concluded that if God would send great affliction, then after a while perhaps the guilt of sin would be lifted. The sense of paying for sin has too many Christians bogged down with an approach to forgiveness that will never work! You cannot cry long and hard enough to earn forgiveness. You cannot work long enough or hard enough to earn forgiveness. If forgiveness is sought by the way of the flesh, there will be no forgiveness!
Forgiveness from God comes only by way of mercy! Psalm 13:5-8, I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities. Not a word about the works of the sinner! The crying sinner waits and hopes! He waits and hopes on the basis of the mercy of God. There is forgiveness with God because of the work of the Son of God. This is the clear message of Ephesians 1:7, In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace...
When you understand that forgiveness comes from God to the penitent soul on the basis of mercy found in the Lord Jesus Christ, peace replaces the weighted down feeling of guilt. You can cease your efforts to repay God and simply receive His merciful gift of forgiveness.
This sense of God’s mercy motivates the forgiven sinner to fear God (that thou mayest be feared ). God becomes the object of worship and devotion! When you understand that He has released you from the guilt and condemnation of your iniquities, you can rejoice and serve Him with the gladness of a forgiven sinner!
So, meet those waves of guilt that would swallow your soul with grief with the promise of God’s merciful forgiveness! Others may not forgive you so quickly or freely. Others may actually hold your sin against you. But God is not like others. There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. And if you know the pardon of God you can forget those things that are behind and press on toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus!
Kyle White, Pastor