Songs of the Heart: Guilt
Read: Psalm 51, Romans 3:23-24
Like the driver who has been pulled over for speeding and understandably feels the shame of being caught, so we feel the guilt and shame when we know God has caught us in our sin. We know better. After all, we’ve done it a thousand other times.
With the traffic ticket we go on our way and pay the fine. Perhaps we’ll watch our speed more closely for a while.
This is not the way to look at our sin.
We are not to view our sin as simply a breaking of the law that costs us something with a fine to be paid. King David understood this in Psalm 51: You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Our sin cost God something: his life for our forgiveness. Guilt has a place. But it is not the answer. My feeling of guilt reminds me that I’ve offended God’s righteousness, and a cost is exacted. But I can’t pay that “fine”. Christ has done it. Righteous guilt leads me to seek forgiveness, with a reminder that Christ forgives me through his shed blood. Guilt, then, turns me to my Savior where my guilt and sin are removed, and I am declared “not guilty”.
God, I thank you that because of Christ you do not see my sin guilt, but instead see Jesus’ righteousness. Amen.
Good Guilt -- Bad Guilt
For your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. Psalm 25:11-12
When is guilt good and when is it bad?
Bad guilt comes from Satan, the world and my own sinful nature. It accuses me of being inadequate to receive God’s love or the love of other people. It hounds me with the lie that I am worthless, that I will never measure up to some artificial standard of conduct and life.
Good guilt comes from God and His perfect Law. It drives me to humbly come before the Lord and acknowledge my sin, receive His forgiveness and repent. Good guilt places me on my knees before God -- ready to receive His mercy -- teachable as He instructs me in the way I should choose. It shines a light on my sin so I can confess it to God and know that my Lord has paid for it in full.
As you meditate on Psalm 25, bring your guilt to God in prayer. Humbly acknowledge your sin with the words of the psalmist. Ask Him to pardon your guilt through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus – your Savior. Now live each day in the righteousness of Christ with great thanksgiving!
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. Psalm 25: 8-10
Emotional, physical, spiritual, the psalms recognize no boundaries, only connections in a holistic view of who we are. In Psalm 8 guilt leads to a plea for mercy. The unavoidable truth of sin has a physical impact. As we absorb our guilt we hear other accusing voices join in the chorus resulting in isolation. Satan accuses at every turn to force us to stand alone.
This Psalm can be painful to read, but its honesty can help you to untangle the knot in your stomach and find the core of guilt in the burden you carry. As the Psalm carries you deeper into the painful net of guilt it comes to the final recognition that only God can give a healing response to our need. “for you O Lord do I wait.”
We can read the closing of this Psalm with all confidence when we hear the echo of Jesus’ cry from cross. Carrying our guilt, he suffered the farness of God, the forsakenness of sin. He made haste to help us. We know the Lord of our Salvation. That’s the healing power of God’s love.
Lord, I feel swamped. One thing leads to another and I can’t begin to see where the trouble I feel starts. Guilt mingles with anger and ends in helplessness. I call on the name of Jesus my Savior, Help me!
Digging Your Way Out
What do you owe the God who gives you all, even the air you breath? There should be no question of service and loyalty in our every choice and action. But all our good intentions just verify our failure to love God.
We can even convert God’s forgiveness into a transaction that increases our debt. We make grace into a burden and we guiltily keep trying to dig our way out. We live with a low-level chronic pain of guilt and in the wee hours of the night all looks hopeless. We have no joy, no confidence.
Psalm 130 just gives up, but instead of hopelessness, in God there is hope. God’s unfailing love is always bigger than any pile of guilt you’re concocting for yourself. The term “unfailing” sets no boundary to God’s love. Redemption is “full”, not miserly or conditional. Accept the forgiveness that transforms guilt into the freedom of joy.
Lord, pry my fingers from my guilt. Let me turn it all over to you so I can live in the joy of forgiveness. Thank you for the joyous gift of redemption.
Strength and Peace
When I’m denying my guilt and finally stripped of my pretense, I have a visceral, gut reaction. Weakness and no peace. When I carry the burden of guilt silently, even secretly, I despair. I am weakened by the burden and have no hope of peace.
So what does a Psalm of praise have to do with guilt? Well, I would recommend praising God as the remedy for those times of overwhelming guilt. When you feel like your guilt has broken you and everything in your wake, be thankful for the God who can fix it. He removes guilt. You don’t have to.
The ESV translation begins this Psalm with the call to “ascribe”. Don’t dwell on your failings, start listing God’s marvels. The NLT translation uses the term “honor”. Don’t wallow in your own mire, but bow your head and bend your knee before our awesome God. The Message just bursts out with “bravo!” Don’t hang your head in defeat, jump off the bench and shout “Hooray God!” as you see Him score complete forgiveness. This is the God who gives strength and peace.
Which track are you going to take in prayer today: ascribe, honor, or bravo? Make it a long, detailed track of prayer. Following it will lead you to God’s strength and peace.
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