So many of us suffer with false guilt; we take moral responsibility for actions, events, and situations that were not our fault. False guilt has no value; it is always detrimental. Where does false guilt come from? False accusations can come from other people (it was your fault that our parents got a divorce), from our own self-talk (if I hadn’t insisted on going out to dinner, we wouldn’t have had the accident). Satan is the primary source of false guilt. He is called the nefarious “accuser of the brothers” (Revelation 12:10). The Holy Spirit will convict us of sin (John 16:8), but Satan will not. True guilt is a good emotion. When we have wronged someone, we should feel guilty. If we seldom have guilty feelings, it may because our conscience is hardened, which is a dangerous condition. God doesn’t want guilt to remain in our hearts, and that’s why He instructs us to confess our wrongs to both God and those we have offended.
So many of us suffer with false guilt; we take moral responsibility for actions, events, and situations that were not our fault. False guilt has no value; it is always detrimental. Where does false guilt come from? False accusations can come from other people (it was your fault that our parents got a divorce), from our own self-talk (if I hadn’t insisted on going out to dinner, we wouldn’t have had the accident). Satan is the primary source of false guilt. He is called the nefarious “accuser of the brothers” (Revelation 12:10). The Holy Spirit will convict us of sin (John 16:8), but Satan will not.
However, Satan and others may accuse us of:
- Sins we have committed but properly confessed.
- Sins and hurts for which we are not responsible.
- Issues and actions that are not morally wrong and therefore do not need to be confessed.
Let’s look at each of these areas.
False guilt over sins we have committed but for which we have properly confessed. When we sincerely confess our sins to God, He always forgives. When we confess our sins to other people, they may or may not forgive us. But regardless of how people respond, our sense of guilt should be removed. We ma continue to sense regret over our actions, but we should not feel guilty. But often, Satan, the accuser, will continually remind us of past sins and suggest that the issue is unsettled. If we entertain his accusations, we’ll become entangled in a no-win mind game of confessing sins that we have previously confessed, only to find that relief is elusive. False guilt cannot be neutralized by confession.
False guilt over sins and hurts for which we are not responsible
Sometimes, we’re involved in a hurtful and/or sinful situation, but we’re not personally responsible for the sinful or hurtful acts. For instance, a child may feel false guilt over problems and conflicts his family is having. “Mom and dad are fighting again, it must be because of my grades at school.” “Our car got repossessed; it’s probably because my doctor bills cost so much.” “My younger sister got busted for doing drugs. That wouldn’t have happened if I were a better sister.”
False guilt over issues that are not wrong
We may confuse issues that are unfortunate or even hurtful with issues that are actually wrong. We should not feel guilt over the former, although feelings of sorrow and sadness may be appropriate. “I had ten kids audition for the main characters in the play. There were only three parts, so I know seven of the kids were sorely disappointed. I feel so bad about it.” “Our company is down-sizing, so I had to release several good employees. I feel awful about it.” “I had to discipline my four-year-old because she disobeyed me. She cried a lot. Did I do something wrong?”
So how do we avoid false guilt? Here are a few practical suggestions.
“Filter” your thoughts. Learn to filter questionable thought through several layers of scriptural truth. Unhealthy thoughts will have a hard time surviving. For instance, send troubling, guilt-ridden thoughts through the “filter” of Philippians 4:8: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—think about these things.”
Share your thoughts with a close friend or spouse. It is important to emotionally de-brief with another person. During that time, it would be advantageous to talk about the significant thoughts that you had during the day, particularly those thoughts which were troubling or confusing or ones that might have caused you to feel bad about yourself. It’s amazing how clearly someone else can see through the fog of accusations and deception and minister truth to us.
So what is the biblical antidote for false guilt? Knowing and receiving truth. In John 8:32, Jesus declared that “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In other words, as we replace lies with the truth, false guilt will be dislodged. “I’m not responsible for my Mom and Dad’s arguments.” “The sexual abuse I experienced was not my fault.” “There’s nothing wrong with disciplining my children appropriately.”
Receiving truth is also essential. Have you ever had the experience of knowing Bible verses intellectually and yet struggle with what they promise? For instance, it’s possible to mentally know that truth and “experientially” be unable to grasp its meaning. For example, you may know that the psalmist writes that “…you are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:4) and yet feel inadequate, unlovely and inept. You may know that you are forgiven (1 John 1:9), but still struggle with forgiving yourself.
So how can truth take the eighteen-inch plunge from our heads to our hearts? How can truth impact us emotionally?
We must allow others to confirm truth to us.
Sometimes lies can be planted so deeply in our hearts, that we need more than one person to minister truth to us. We need the confirming testimony of two or three witnesses. “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Deuteronomy 19:15)
Issues can be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. There is power in the joint declaration of Christians. It’s often important for more than one person to confirm an issue. We have the ability and authority to bind and loose on earth, that which is bound and loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18) When we gather together and “confirm” a matter, we are simply declaring to be true what God has established in the heavens (Psalm 119:89). For instance, we can confirm to people that their sins have been forgiven because God’s Word declares it to be true; we can affirm a person’s worth because God has already established it. When we engage in this joint accomplishment, He will be with us. (Matthew 18:20) When we faithfully minister the Word of Christ, we are assured that Jesus will stand by us and ratify what we say and do.
As friends and family who are encouraging friends or family struggling with false guilt, we can comfort them, pray with them and affirm the truth.
“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:16, 18-20)
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