4 Steps to Leave the Baggage of Guilt Behind
Throughout their lives, many of God’s kids carry around a big, heavy, burlap bag called guilt. We pick up this heavy burden of guilt from many different places, don’t we? For example, we pick up the bag of guilt from:
- Missing opportunities
- Failing to “measure up”
- Doing something we know we shouldn’t have
- Becoming jaded by life, circumstances, or people
- Interpreting our family upbringing negatively
- Viewing God as an angry ogre who is waiting to “get us”
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Good Guilt vs Bad Guilt
Not all guilt is bad. As a matter of fact, there is some guilt that is good. In fact, my mom would argue that if guilt causes obedience, it should be considered a virtue!
Good guilt is actually godly sorrow which leads us back to the way of salvation. Someone once said that guilt is like a red warning light on the dashboard of a car. Those red lights on the dashboard are good things; they indicate that something needs to be fixed to prevent long-term expensive damage. The same is true with some of the guilt we feel. If we allow the guilt to speak to our hearts in a positive way and cause us to correct things in our lives that we know are not pleasing to God, then that’s a good thing. Dealing with an issue quickly prevents long-term, expensive damage in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones.
“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
As Christians, we are always called to turn away from sin and toward God to become more of what He wants us to be. If certain kinds of guilt cause this result, then it’s a good thing, like the red light on the dashboard of the car.
Bad guilt consumes us and separates us from God. Notice in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that there is another type of guilt called worldly sorrow. This verse says the result of worldly sorrow is spiritual death, which means being cut off from God. Worldly sorrow is what I call evil sorrow. It causes all sorts of terrible things in our lives. For instance, it causes us to:
- Live in fear
- Lose our joy
- Hold onto the pain of our past
- Be blocked from receiving future blessings
- Be blinded to the forgiveness and love of God
Do you remember high school basketball games? Whenever someone from the opposing team would be called for a foul, people in the stands would start pointing and yelling, “you, you, you, you…” Depending how big the gym was, hundreds of people could be pointing and yelling it together. The goal was not to try to lead this person into repentance, the goal was to try to make them feel exposed, isolated, defeated, and get them out of their game.
This is what the enemy tries to do to us. When you do something less than perfect, or life hands you a difficulty, the enemy stands there and shouts “you, you, you!” He is trying to separate us from Almighty God by strapping to our backs the baggage of guilt!
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Get off the Guilt Trip
The baggage of weariness pulls us down. The baggage of self-reliance leads us into error. Disappointment discourages us. Anxiety plagues us. And the big heavy burlap bag of bad/false guilt consumes hope.
God knows we try numerous ways to rid ourselves of guilt and shame. Some carry the guilt and shame, minimize it, or blame others for it. None of those things work and there haven’t been any quick easy fixes developed yet to rid us of guilt.
The Apostle Peter was on a guilt trip until Jesus helped him leave the baggage of guilt and shame behind. Peter’s guilt trip began after promising Jesus at the Last Supper that no matter who deserted Him, he never would. But hours later while warming himself next to a charcoal fire and watching Jesus be examined by Jewish leaders, Peter denied even knowing Christ. And Peter didn’t deny knowing Christ just once, but three times. Peter denied his Lord and Savior, and his best friend.
The worst part was that as Peter was denying Christ, Jesus locked eyes with Him (Luke 22:61). Can you imagine looking into the disappointed eyes of Jesus and knowing it was you who disappointed Him? Afterwards, Peter took a trip – with his baggage of guilt and shame in tow. It was a guilt trip from which many of us could never recover. He quit the ministry and went back to fishing (John 21).
So how did Peter recover? He took the following steps to free himself of the baggage of regret, guilt, and shame.
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1. Run to Jesus
Peter went back to fishing, but while his boat was steady, his spirit was sinking – drowning in a sea of regret, guilt, and shame. When suddenly, he and the others heard a voice from the shore.
‘“Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water” (John 21:6-7).
Peter couldn’t get to Jesus fast enough. When you feel guilty about anything, whether it’s true guilt or false guilt, good guilt or bad guilt, don’t buy the lie that you can’t go to God, that He won’t accept you, and that He’s waiting to punish you. Like He did with Peter, God invites you to come running to His mercy seat even when you are guilty. No matter when, and no matter what, you can always run to God.
“So now we draw near freely and boldly to where grace is enthroned, to receive mercy’s kiss and discover the grace we urgently need to strengthen us in our time of weakness” (Hebrews 4:16).
Peter realized he couldn’t get rid of the guilt by burying it, carrying the shame, or blaming it on someone else, so he ran to the only place where guilt is erased. He ran to the feet of Jesus.
2. Make It Right
As soon as Peter made it to shore, he saw “a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (John 21:9). The only other place Scripture mentions a charcoal fire is when Peter denied Jesus. This is not a coincidence. Jesus was forcing Peter to face his shame because He won’t allow anyone to just hide, minimize, rationalize, or compromise it. You’ve got to deal with it head on and make it right.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
If you are carrying guilt because of something you can correct, you need to correct it and ask for forgiveness. The baggage of guilt loses its weight when we do what we can to make it right.
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3. Accept the Forgiveness of Christ
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you’” (John 21:15-17).
Why did Jesus ask Peter three times if he loved Him? Peter denied Christ three times. By asking Peter to declare his love for Christ three times, Jesus was wiping his sin completely away. Jesus was destroying the evidence against Peter and offering him total forgiveness.
4. Forgive Yourself
The movie, Casualties of War, is a depiction of events that occurred in Vietnam in 1966. Five American soldiers were on a reconnaissance mission when they came upon a hut while on patrol. Four of the five soldiers kidnapped a young Vietnamese woman, forced her to walk barefoot and without food and water for an entire day and then sexually assaulted her. To cover up their crime they later murdered her.
Despite repeated attempts by the four to coerce the fifth soldier, Marshall Storeby, into participating in the atrocities, he continually refused. But he blamed himself for his inability to protect the woman or to set her free before she was murdered. Even though he later blew the whistle on the four others and they ended up in prison, he has been haunted by his role in the incident.
In an interview, Storeby said he’ll have to live with what happened for the rest of his life. Then he said something I thought was especially revealing. “I think God forgives,” he said, “but God is more forgiving to us than we are to ourselves.”
Like Storeby, we often have difficulty forgiving ourselves. However, if you repent of your sin, God believes the sacrifice of Christ is enough to fully satisfy any and every wrong you could be guilty of.
“But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied…” (Isaiah 53:10-11).
When we won’t forgive ourselves, we are saying to God that His Son’s sacrifice wasn’t enough.
Leave the Baggage of Guilt Behind
Jesus became a guilt offering for you and me. Do you know why? Because there is one thing we are all guilty of, and that is sinning against a holy God. If we die in that guilty condition, we will spend eternity apart from God. But Jesus died as a guilt offering to pay the price for all of our sins. We don’t have to spend eternity apart from God, but are invited to be with Him forever in heaven.
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Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.