To be human is to feel guilt. At least, to be a sinful human is to feel guilt. And most often we feel guilt precisely because we are actually guilty—guilty of offenses against man and God. R.C. Sproul addresses guilt, and the right and wrong ways to approach it, in this little quote from Pleasing God.
A sad commentary on contemporary life is the frequency with which counselors seek to relieve people’s guilt problems by focusing on the removal of guilt feelings. To relieve guilt, people are told that they are victims of their environment and of the oppressive moral standards of outmoded religion. This applies not only to non-Christians, but to Christians as well. Many Christians, living with a burdensome guilt over past or present sins, tell their woes to therapists who say, in effect, “Considering the life you’ve had to lead, no wonder you’ve behaved in this way. As long as you understand that, there is no real problem.” But it isn’t true, is it? Explaining the problem does not eliminate the problem. Guilt only disappears when we are made right with God. That rightness is available at any time, for we serve a forgiving God. But He does not force His children to ask His forgiveness. They do so willingly, or they torment themselves with guilt that the therapists cannot explain away.
I was approached by a distressed college girl who was engaged to be married. She explained that she had been sexually involved with her fiancé and was feeling guilty about it. She related to me that she had gone to her school counselor who told her, “The reason you feel guilty is because you have been a victim of a Victorian ethic or a Puritan taboo. You need to understand that your behavior is perfectly normal. It is a healthy part of mature self-expression and of preparation for marriage.”
The girl then said to me, “But Professor Sproul, I still feel guilty!” I said, “Perhaps the reason you feel guilty is because you are guilty. The prohibition for fornication was not invented by Queen Victoria, nor was it the creation of the Puritans. It is God who forbids fornication. When we break the laws of God we incur real guilt. The only remedy I know for real guilt is real forgiveness.”
I explained to the young woman that the price tag for real forgiveness is real repentance. Real repentance is what the individual must do himself. No one else can repent for me. I cannot repent for anyone else. I encouraged the woman to get alone with God, to go before Him on her knees. Without me. Without the counselors. Then I promised her—indeed, I guaranteed her—that in God’s sight her guilt would be removed and that she would once again be a virgin in God’s sight. Then she would be free of the fear and paralysis that come in the wake of guilt.
As Christians we must examine our lives. We must ask ourselves two basic questions: At what point am I paralyzed in my spiritual growth? Why am I paralyzed? Chances are that if we can answer these two questions accurately, we can identify those areas of fear and guilt that are in need of resolution. The grace of God—especially the grace of forgiveness—is the most potent force available to us to be freed from paralysis.
God does not want us paralyzed. He wants us to feel so secure in Him that we need have no real fear of the world and its obstacles. He wishes us to be conscious of our sins, but He takes no joy in our being immobilized by guilt. God is, like any good human parent, eager to lead us out of a life of fear and guilt so that we are free to do what is right and pleasing. What freedom is offered to us! Freedom from guilt, freedom from fear, freedom to serve and please God with everything we are. No therapist in the world can offer us such a life.