Faith / Life Lessons / Personal Struggles / Spiritual Bondage

False Guilt or Godly Sorrow?

I was listening to my Pastor one morning preach a sermon about forgiveness.  I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s not for me.  I’m not angry at anyone, just hurt.”  Just about then, my Pastor said that if your “hurt, upset, or frustrated — then your ANGRY.”  And then came the real ring-dinger, when he said:  “Whoever it is your thinking about RIGHT now, is the person your angry with.”  Wow!  Suddenly, I felt the power of the Holy Spirt bringing to mind the very person I was angry with (i.e.,hurt, upset, frustrated).  Yes, it’s true.  I didn’t want to believe it.  Mostly, I was afraid I might have to do something about it and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

Photo: Dawn Hudson
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After the service, I went down front to talk to one of the members of the prayer team.  After praying for me, I got in my car to drive home.  I knew the person The Lord had put on my mind had hurt me deeply, and although I truly believed that I was “over it“, it was apparent that I was not.   Jesus impressed on my heart that I needed to confront this individual and forgive them.  Boy, I really felt in my flesh a strong desire to oppose this call to action.  But somehow, I knew deep down, I needed to it.  I needed to let go.

So the next day, I prayed for courage to face this woman.  Then that morning, I found her, and asked if she wouldn’t mind going to lunch with me.   I have to say that the conversation that followed was one of the most difficult I have ever had.  Words came out of my mouth, and tears came out of my eyes — simultaneously.  I simple told the individual, that she had said and done many hurtful things to me, but I was letting her know, I was forgiving her.   The blessing was that God gave me the courage to do it and when it was over, I felt great.  There was a kind of weight that had been lifted from my shoulders.

I once heard a message about unforgiveness that I will never forget.  When we are bitter and angry, unforgiveness is like pouring a cup of poison for the person we hate;  but the clincher is:   that we are the ones who end up drinking it.

Photo: Karen Arnold
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Last night I was confronted with a question:   “What is the difference between good guilt given by God and destructive accusations of guilt spewed by Satan?” (GRACE, Max Lucado).

I realized, as I was looking up some verses, that good guilt is godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  It is the impetus, the desire to change that comes from God’s heart to ours.    We would be keen to observe the Apostle Paul’s words in his second letter to the Corinthians after admonishing them from falling away from some key Biblical truths:   “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter,” (2 Corinthians 7:11).

Good, Godly guilt or conviction, that comes from above will create in us a sorrow that leads to repentance.  It will help us grow up in our walk with the Lord.  It will make us stronger.

Yesterday, I ran across an excerpt from Charles Stanley’s, Life Principles Bible, that will help bring home the message here:

“If your sorrow over sin does not lead to repentance, it has no value.  Remember, Satan’s goal is discouragement.  He wants you to become frustrated, turning your anger inward and becoming depressed because these feelings undermine your relationship with the Lord.  Godly sorrow leads to a change in the way you live and see things.  It makes you stronger, because it helps you accept God’s truth and unconditional forgiveness.”

Photo: Sharon Apted
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I suppose then, that Satan’s method is to keep us in a state of fear and anxiety, where we are trying to alway avoid “the person“.  I know that’s how it has played out in my life.  It may be a key to recognizing unforgiveness in our heart;  when we know we are purposely trying to avoid “so and so“.   How else can we recognize if we are under attack from the accuser?  How then is Satan, or our own hearts, condemning us with false guilt?

Perhaps, when we feel the absence of love.  Dan Vander Lugt suggests in his blog that:   “Whenever we are overwhelmed by guilt feelings that aren’t traceable to a specific sin, or whenever feelings of condemnation persist even after we honestly confess them to the Lord, it is reasonable to assume that we are suffering from false guilt — guilt that is either coming from our own hearts or from our spiritual enemy.”

I have gone through phases in my walk when I have been tormented with a sense of debilitating guilt.  It was absolutely devastating.  There was, no one thing I could put my finger on, that I was doing wrong, specifically, I just felt oppressed and tormented.   I realize now, this was not from God.   “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love,”  (1 John 4:18).  “God is not arbitrary or cruel. He always convicts His children out of love (2 Samuel 12:13; Luke 15:10). Conviction is His tool to bring us to a deeper reliance upon Christ (2 Corinthians 7:10; Ephesians 2:1-10; 2 Timothy 1:9). His Spirit doesn’t overwhelm us with feelings of condemnation for sins that have been confessed and forsaken or for choices that are unavoidably troubling and ambiguous,”  (Dan Vander Lugt).

I recall driving home that cold rainy day from lunch after forgiving my friend.  I knew I had done what was right, even though it seemed hard at the time.  I felt a kind of freedom.  As I turned the corner to head home, I looked up and saw a full rainbow.  I knew in my spirit it was from the Lord.  He was smiling down on me.

Photo: Anna Langova
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For “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death,”  (2 Corinthians 7:10)