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June 10, 2009 / beidson

Giving Guilt the Green Light: Why It Might Be A Good Idea To “Beat Ourselves Up”

Guilt used to be a yellow light in our culture, at least in our churches.  When we had guilt, we paused to consider what it was thatgreenlightmade us feel condemned.  We examined our lives.  We took stock of our behavior.  Guilt used to drive us to virtue.  Shame used to push us towards transformation.  But it seems this is no longer the case for the most part.  Guilt has been blacklisted, well, because it just makes us feel so bad, and that can’t be good.  Instead, we have given guilt the red light, and have kept it from carrying out its work.

You will hear people say, “I did it.  It was wrong.  But I’m not going to beat myself up about it.”  What they mean is, “There’s no sense in feeling really badly about what I’ve done.  An acknowledgement is sufficient, but that’s about as far as I will go.  I refuse to dwell on the implications of my sin.”  Of course, this sounds well and good to itching ears and flesh-worshipping idolaters, and such we all are, or were.  But this is bad counsel because it glosses over the deeper issue, which is the Spirit’s work in our conscience.  We do not feel badly for no good reason.  God judges our hearts, and he lays the weight of our guilt upon us so that we might feel the burden of our sin and know the heaviness of the wrath which might come upon us if we do not repent.  Guilt is good because it is from God.

And for believers who have guilt, there is reason for self-examination.  Are you like Paul, beating your body into subjection, refusing to allow the flesh to rule over you?  Do you receive the command of Jesus to cut off any part of your body that causes you to sin, lest you live life with a whole body only to enter into hell on account of that body?  Do you wrestle with your conscience and bring every loose thought under control?  Do you fight against your lusts?  Do you kill your body and mortify your sin?  In Christ we are not condemned, but we still sin, and when we do, we can expect to know guilt and shame.  But this will only drive us to Christ, which is exactly the point.

For this reason, we must give guilt the green light and let it do its work in our hearts.  No we should not walk around feeling guilty all the time.  Rather, when we do feel guilty, we must test our hearts to know if we are in the wrong.  If we are, we must repent and be reconciled to God and to man.  If not, we must get wisdom, so that we might be able to discern more carefully the lies we have believed which have made us man-pleasers, and as a result, have led to scores of reasons for feeling guilty.  Guilt is only good and necessary when we have offended Christ.  If we have only offended men, but not Christ, our guilt is no good.  If we have sinned against others, and by so doing, sinned against Christ, we must welcome the guilt and let God do his redeeming work in our lives.

So then, it might be a good idea to beat ourselves up if we have done wrong.  Of course we would need to do it in a biblical sense by putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (Romans 8:13).  Otherwise, if we give guilt the red light, we end up entering hell with an unbruised body, only to be crushed by the wrath of a guiltless God.  So “beat yourself up” in the Spirit, and let it drive you away from sin to the cross of Jesus, whose blood does not condemn those who hope in its power to remove their guilt.

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