Guilt. Shame. You’ve felt the feelings before, and, more than likely, after experiencing guilt and shame, you wanted to avoid those feelings again. No one likes knowing that they are to blame for something that’s gone wrong.
Nevertheless, these two emotions are crucial pieces of forgiveness. Indeed, we should attempt to avoid what causes them––sin––but at the same time, when we do feel guilty because of what we have done, it’s important to acknowledge that this emotion occurs by God’s design. It’s our conscience working, and that conscience is a major mechanism that God uses to bring us back to Him after sin.
Just look at how Paul explains this in Corinthians:
“For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death”(2 Corinthians 7:8-10).
When we sin, we should feel bad about it. Without this kind of Godly sorrow and grief, there can be no repentance on our part. How can we ask for forgiveness if we don’t think we’ve done anything wrong? Consider how Paul describes this state:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared”(1 Timothy 4:1-2).
This doesn’t mean that one’s conscience becomes destroyed, as though it was burned up. Instead, the Greek word that Paul used for “seared” seems to carry with it the idea of branding. In other words, their conscience had been branded by sin––sin was its owner, and thus it was no longer of any kind of use.
So, when we think about forgiveness and sin, we have to ask ourselves where we stand.
Do you feel guilt when you sin? Or do you justify the sin so that it no longer feels bad? Who is the master of your conscience?
Perhaps it’s even more helpful to consider the standard. Here is how the writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus:
“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Hebrews 1:8).
Sometimes we justify activities because we tell ourselves “well, it may not be good but it isn’t really that bad.” But think about Christ’s standard — it wasn’t just that he hated wickedness. He loved righteousness.
So, how do we spend our time? How do we rationalize our behavior?
This post is about forgiveness. But in coming to forgiveness, it is essential that we recognize that not only do we deserve death because we have sinned but we sin, or fall short of God's standard, all of the time.
We need to recognize our position. And we should feel sorrow over it.
But, thanks be to God, we don’t have to stay in that place of sorrow. He has provided a way out, and that way is repentance and forgiveness.
— Jason Hensley