Every person experiences feelings of guilt over sinful actions and choices, and every person responds to those feelings in some way. The Bible explains that a Christian response to guilt over sinful actions ought to be rooted in faith and repentance. Faith is trust in the promise of grace in Jesus the Christ as an all-sufficient Savior. Repentance is the other side of the coin of faith and is the change of mind turning from sin and toward Christ. In other words, I have been completely wrong, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is completely right and my only hope. There is an initial act of faith and repentance at the moment of conversion, but, after that, the process of faith and repentance constitutes a daily discipline—the Christian’s lifestyle—and a path to joy thereafter according to Psalm 32.
The applications below arose from a study of Psalm 32 (You can read Psalm 32 here). Consider the ways we often attempt to avoid gospel repentance and the pattern of genuine gospel repentance.
5 Vain Responses to Guilt that Avoid Gospel Repentance
Blaming others, circumstances, and God for causing your actions. There is always an external reality that made your actions virtually inevitable.
Explaining your actions away by assuring yourself that you are better than many others.
Numbing yourself to your actions by medicating with something external to you: drugs, alcohol, achievement, power, success, etc.
Tear others down in an attempt to make you feel better about yourself and your actions.
Attempting to atone for your actions by self-harm or feeling really, really bad and counting yourself worthless.
4 Responses to Guilt that Form a Pattern of Gospel Repentance
Acknowledge your sinful actions specifically and daily.
It is not enough to go to God with broad generalizations about our sin. Our repentance should be specific, biblically named, and personally owned. Doing so eschews the perfunctory and ritualistic in favor of personal and experiential. Repentance is to be a daily lifestyle for the Christian that constantly brings an awareness of the centrality of the cross and resurrection of Christ to our daily lives.
Run to God for safety.
Everyone offers some sort of repentance. The Pharisee pledges to do better and clear his good name, but true gospel repentance provides the only genuine safety. A pattern of daily lifestyle gospel repentance removes shame, strengthens fellowship, and is the way the Christian experiences God on a daily basis.
Choose daily spiritual growth over empty praise.
Flattery is praise detached from reality and it is spiritual cotton candy. A steady diet of cotton candy leads to being malnourished and unhealthy. Settling for the flattery of others or self-flattery in the place of gospel repentance is toxic and deadly. If there is a God (and there is!), and if you are not him (and you’re not!), then your daily expectation ought to be a pattern of conviction and repentance that leads to growth. Seeing our sin will only produce self-pity if it surprises us because we think too highly of ourselves.
Be honest about your sin and about the gospel.
Stop grading your sin and the gospel on a curve, thinking that your sin is bad, but not that bad (in comparison to others), and that the gospel is necessary, but not your only hope. Honesty about the reality and horror of our sin may leave some in despair, but, if that happens, it is because they are not being honest about the gospel. The truth is that our sin is worse than we know, but the gospel is more sufficient than we have ever realized. Biblical honesty and gospel repentance means thinking all the way out from the bad news of gut-level awareness and confession of our sin to a celebratory awareness of the good news that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).