Hi, everyone! My good friend Christine Teel guest wrote this blog post for me. I hope you find her study as edifying as I did! –Aubrey
Guilt is a powerful emotion. When handled correctly, guilt can cause us to make impactful life changes. However, as with all emotions, guilt can also steer us away from God. 2 Cor. 7:9-10 says, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” This passage mentions two kinds of guilt: godly and worldly. Paul explains that godly sorrow, though painful, is productive because it causes us to repent. Worldly sorrow, however, is both painful and destructive. When I think of worldly sorrow, I immediately think of Judas.
Judas must have felt an unbearable amount of guilt. He betrayed the Christ, the Savior of the world, for a mere thirty pieces of silver. Imagine the guilt he felt when he became convicted of his mistake, as he ran to the chief priests and elders and begged them to make it right. They couldn’t. The heavy load of guilt he carried on his shoulders ultimately led to his demise; he saw no other choice but to end his life.
At one time, I could not understand Judas’ decision. If Jesus’ blood can wash away all sins (1 Jn. 1:7), Judas could have been forgiven! Why didn’t he take the free and precious gift of salvation? After feeling the overwhelming power of guilt myself, I can understand. Instead of running toward God, worldly sorrow can cause a fast downward spiral into the abyss of self-pity. The word of God is convicting (Heb. 4:12), but God did not intend for us to respond to conviction in such a way! God wants us to exhibit a godly sorrow that causes us to change our paths.
We can look to Peter for an example of godly sorrow. He denied Christ not once, but three distinct times (Jn. 18). I would gander that the guilt Peter felt after the rooster crowed was like Judas’s guilt: crushing. The difference between the two was their response to the guilt. The next instance Peter is mentioned is in Jn. 20, where he was spending time with the other disciples. He did not isolate himself like Judas. Instead, Peter surrounded himself with those who would help him carry his burden and properly deal with his guilt. Peter probably received godly counsel from the disciples, and Judas sought counsel among worldly individuals. Judas practiced self-pity. Peter practiced self-forgiveness.
Col. 3:13 says we need to be “forgiving one another.” The Greek word translated “one another” shows an inclusion of ourselves. The implication, then, is that an important aspect of handling guilt is forgiving ourselves. Jesus paid the cost for our mistakes on the cross; we don’t have to carry the weight of them around.
When faced with guilt, don’t isolate yourself; turn your faults into motivation. Be a Peter. Forgive yourself.