Recently I shared a story explaining that “good guilt” is God’s kindness leading us to repentance. We should welcome the “good guilt” in our lives as exactly what it is… mercy. God, in his mercy, shows us when we are not right and then graciously, through Jesus, makes us right again. Good guilt leads to repentance, which means simply to turn and go in the opposite direction. Repentance leads to forgiveness, which leads to freedom.
Bad guilt is another story altogether. While good guilt can be described as a gentle nudge in the right direction, bad guilt feels more like a sledgehammer. Persistent and relentless, blow after blow, bad guilt drives us into the ground. And after all the blows we find ourselves exactly where started… still guilty. Another word for bad guilt is condemnation. When we are being condemned, we have no hope. We have messed up, and now we’re paying for it. Our sentence has been declared, and there is no way out. So while good guilt leads us to repentance, bad guilt leads us nowhere. Bad guilt, or the voice of condemnation, leaves us stuck in our mess.
Have you heard the voice of bad guilt? The haunting voice that whispers when you are most vulnerable, “You’ll never amount to much. After all, look at yourself. Still sinning, still failing. You’ll never change.”
How should we respond to bad guilt? The only way out of any kind of guilt is through the gospel. We recognize our sin, turn from it, and allow Christ to lead us to freedom. Not just once, but over and over again. Every day. Once this is our habit, we can absolutely reject the lying voice of bad guilt.
So the next time I experience a guilty conscience, I’m going to ask myself, “is this good guilt or bad guilt?” Is this a good guilt prompting me to repent, or is this the endless enemy refrain of condemnation? The first I will gladly embrace and accept. The second I will refute with the truth: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
“When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.”
Before the Throne of God Above
Words by Charitie Lees Bancroft, 1863