Last week, we began a study on how we “frame” our lives. In other words, what are the motivations and expectations that surround our thoughts, words, and actions?
We began our study by looking at the frame of “Self Righteousness” last week, and we saw that this is a “flimsy frame” to build our lives around, based on what the Scriptures teach.
This week, let’s take a look at another “best seller” in the category of “frames” for our lives:
THE FRAME OF GUILT
The dictionary defines “guilt” in the following ways:
1. The fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability: He admitted his guilt
2. A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined
3. Conduct involving the commission of such crimes, wrongs, etc.: to live a life of guilt
Have you ever done anything just because you felt guilty? Does it sometimes seem like you are on a perpetual “guilt trip” when it comes to your thoughts and actions? Is this a good way to live, spiritually?
The word “guilt” (in its many forms) appears 177 times in the English Standard Version of Scripture, so this will certainly not be an exhaustive study of this issue; but let’s take a brief look at some of the uses of the word.
The word is used to describe the feeling (and the condition) of Joseph’s brothers after they sold him into slavery and lied to their father (Gen. 42:21). It is used to describe the condition of those who are disobedient towards God (Ex. 20:7; 34:7; Lev. 4:3, 13; etc.). Guilt – although the word is not used – also seems to have been the motivation for David’s repentance concerning his adulterous and murderous relationship with Bathsheba (Ps. 32:3-4). In the New Testament, the concept of “godly grief” seems to be synonymous with the idea of “guilt” in 2 Corinthians 7:10, and it is something that can/should “produce repentance that leads to salvation without regret.”
There is no doubt that guilt can and should be a powerful (and appropriate) motivator in the life of a godly person, and that it can prompt us to repent of our sins and seek forgiveness; but is it a good “frame” for our lives?
Let me rephrase the question: “Should guilt be the determining factor for why and how I live my life, as a Christian?”
Here are a few reasons why guilt does not make a good frame for our lives, as disciples of Jesus Christ:
1. Guilt is an INACCURATE motivation – The Bible teaches that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 5:1). John tells us that, “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin…If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:7,9). A Christian who is constantly motivated by guilt is a Christian who does not properly understand – or appreciate – the concept of forgiveness and grace. When God removes our transgressions “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), He is also removing the guilt that was associated with those sins. To be motivated by something that doesn’t exist in the sight of God is a miserable (and ultimately, doomed) approach towards life.
2. Guilt is a FUTILE motivation – In many ways, a person motivated by guilt is never going to find what they’re looking for; they are never going to have peace. They are always going to be chasing something on their own terms that God has only offered on His terms. There will, consequently, never be the authentic “fruit of the Spirit” in the life of a perpetually “guilty” person, which is a very real spiritual problem. When we allow guilt to be our primary motivator, we are basically saying to God, “I can fix this. Just give me one more chance.” God has made it clear that we CAN’T “fix this,” though, so our efforts to do so are futile. We are told in Romans 3:20ff, “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Does this passage sound like God wants us to be motivated by guilt, or is He trying to give us a much greater – and more lasting – motivation? To seek salvation, forgiveness, and a right relationship with God through our desire to appease our guilt is to misunderstand God’s gracious gift and to live a life of spiritual futility.
3. Guilt is an INEFFECTIVE motivation –In her article entitled, “Why Guilt is a Horrible Motivator,” Nelu Mbingu says, “Guilt makes you feel bad about yourself. When you go on a guilt trip, you’re essentially focusing on your flaws and imperfections. But as scientists will tell you, you’re most productive when you feel confident, competent, and happy, not when you feel like you’re being a horrible human being. Happiness is what increases productivity. If you have to spend part of your mental energy trying to deal with negative feelings like guilt, you won’t be free to focus all your mental faculties on the task at hand. So guilt, instead of helping you be more productive, ends up just being an extra burden on your brain.” In this article, the author goes on to say that guilt is often counterproductive (“It makes you do more of what you feel guilty doing”), and that it is an extrinsic motivator (as opposed to an intrinsic one) that doesn’t last. These thoughts echo what Jesus said in Mark 12:30: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” When these important parts of our being are “sapped” by the leechlike nature of guilt, we are unable to obey this important command!
So, if we have purchased the “frame of guilt” as a motivator for our lives, maybe it’s time to get our money back. God’s plan for our lives certainly involves a healthy amount of guilt over our sins, but He has also been very clear that He has not chosen guilt as the primary means by which we should live out our faith.
If you struggle with this “framework” for life, may God lead you out of guilt and into a more healthy way of living!
Next week, we will take a look at “The Frame of Fear.”