Getting Past the Guilt

Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
1 John 3: 19-24
John states two amazing truths in verse 19. He says that we can know for certain that we are saved and that we can have confidence when we stand in the presence of God. The first truth, the certainty of salvation, is the purpose of the entire letter (5:13). Lots of people ask the question “How can I know for certain that I am saved?” John has made it clear that if we have faith in Christ that results in righteous living then we have eternal life. We are saved. If we have confessed our sins He has cleansed us from all unrighteousness. There is another question, however, that many saved people would like the answer two. That question relates to John’s second truth. The question is “How do I deal with a condemning heart?” Look at the phrase “and shall assure our hearts before Him” in verse 19. That word means “persuade”. As a believer I know that there are times when my heart is restless. There are instances or periods in our lives when our hearts are frightened at the thought of God gazing into them. What John wants us to know is that not only does God want us to know that we are saved; He wants us to feel like we are saved as well.
There will be times in our life when our heart condemns us. That’s what John says in verse 20. Our hearts condemn us because we have something called a conscience. The conscience is a mechanism God has given us to produce guilt. In Romans 2:14-15 Paul says that we all have the moral law of God written on our hearts and that our conscience condemns us when we break that law. The conscience works off knowledge, especially knowledge that one perceives to be true. For that reason the conscience can lead a person astray. If a religious zealot is taught that he must kill to please God, and he accepts that information as true, his conscience can actually work against him. 1 Timothy 4:2 says that our conscience can be seared. That is we can ignore it so long that it becomes dull. So while the conscience is a good thing, it can also be corrupted by sin if it is not anchored in the truth of God’s word or rendered useless by ignoring it. Believers have a sensitive conscience for two reasons. First, they believe the truth of God’s Word. Second, they are continually confessing sin and seeking to live a righteous life.
The godliest of men have been frightened at the presence of God. Moses was afraid when he saw the burning bush in Exodus 3:6. Isaiah was afraid when he saw the Lord. Ezekiel was scared as well when he saw God (Ez. 1:26-28). If we are being honest there are times in our lives when we don’t feel like the favor of God is resting upon us. Sometimes we are afraid of God. Usually it’s because, for some reason, our heart is condemning us. The believer’s conscience can sometimes cause him to dread God. The conscience produces guilt and the guilty don’t want to be around God. Certainly we are called to fear God, but as believers we should not dread God. Let’s think about some of the reasons that believers feel guilty.
Sometimes it’s the enemy. He is the accuser of the brethren. If Satan can convince us that God does not love us he has accomplished a lot. We will not serve a God that does not love us because we will not love a God that does not love us. Satan is a master story teller. I don’t know what story he told the 1/3 angels that followed him out of heaven but it must have been a good one. He told Eve a good one as well. He’s got plenty to tell you and me. If we are not careful Satan will convince us that we do not belong to God. He will convince us that we are wasting our time with righteous living and devotion toward God. I’ve noticed a couple of areas that Satan uses to persuade us that we are not saved:
1) Past sins. Some of us have committed some horrible sins. Satan remembers them. He brings them to our conscience and our conscience takes them to our heart.
2) Present struggles. He’ll say “Why are you still struggling with that if you are saved?”
3) Periodic failures. We all fail. Satan is there when we do to condemn us. He laughs at us and we are prone to believe that he is right.
Sometimes it’s others. Maybe it is the righteous lives of other people. Not that they mean to make you feel guilty, but their testimony is so convicting we feel guilty. It can also come from overly critical believers. Fault finders can be a danger to us all. They can drag us down into guilt and despair. In 1 Cor. 4:3 Paul said “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you…” He had the right perspective. There is gain in taking criticism from others. However, it’s usually pretty easy to determine if the one finding fault truly cares or is simply self righteous. The truth of the matter is that we are all sinners and we are more sinful than a watching world can even see. George Whitfield was a great preacher in the 1700’s. It is said that he once received a vicious letter criticizing him. He responded with these words in a written letter “I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me. With love in Christ, George Whitefield." When we are criticized by others it is important to remember that we were far more sinful when God saved us than we are now, and He loved us then.
Sometimes it’s us. We could be carrying around guilt that is the result of our own sin. If we are not careful we will let that guilt draw us away from God rather than to Him. M. Cocoris, author of Evangelism a Biblical Approach shares a story that illustrates this truth. He was allowing some teen agers to ask any question they would like to ask. One young girl raised her hand and asked "The Bible says God loves everybody. Then it says that God sends people to hell. How can a loving God do that?" He tried to explain what the Bible says but the girl just got angry. Their conversation quickly turned into an argument in front of the whole group. After the session, he went over to apologize to the girl. He said "I owe you an apology. I really should not have allowed our discussion to become so argumentative." He then asked if he could share something with her. She agreed and he shared the gospel. When he got to Romans 3: 23 he shared with her that we are all guilty before God. The young lady started to cry. She began to confess that she had been having an affair with a married man. She turned from her sin and accepted Christ. The reason the young lady didn’t want to believe in hell was because she was going there. Sometimes our guilt is legitimate. God has given us a conscience to tell us we are guilty before Him. To ignore it is to deny reason and reject Him. If our guilt is our own fault we should go to the Lord for forgiveness. That’s the only way we will have peace with God.
God is greater than our hearts. John tells us that in verse 20. Now the condemning power of the heart is great. It can cause us some serious pain. The Psalmist experienced this in Psalm 40:12 when he said “For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs on my head; therefore my heart faileth”. Have you ever felt like that? You didn’t even want to look up to God? Shame makes us hang our heads. When we discipline our children we have to tell them “Look at me, pick your head up”. Have you ever felt like you had more sin than hairs on your head? Have you ever felt like the heart inside your chest was as heavy as a boulder? You’re not alone.
When your heart condemns you remember that God knows all things. He knows about your sins. In fact he knows more about your sins than you do. He knows sins that you haven’t even seen in your life yet. He knows sins that you are going to commit in the future. He knows all things. But guess what else He knows. If you love Him, if you fear Him, He knows that too. And that’s important because listen to what Psalm 103:13-14 says “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.”
When your heart condemns you trust in God. In verse 21 John says that if your heart condemns you quit looking at your heart and start looking at God. Unhealthy guilt magnifies our sin and clouds out God’s grace. Let me help you out with something. Christ is a greater Savior than you are a sinner. Our confidence is not in our heart, it is in God. We do not trust our heart to save us, our feelings to save us, our prayers to save us or our works to save us. We are trusting Christ to save us. When Peter was plagued with guilt after the resurrection of Jesus all he could say to Christ was “I love you”. He said it three times. The last time he said “Lord, you know all things, you know I love you”. Sure we have deficiencies. Sure we fall. The Lord knows that. But if we love Christ, He knows that too. That’s what we have to cling to when our heart condemns us. We have to trust in God’s grace.
When we get past the guilt we are able to go on with God. These were some hard verses to trudge through. I had a lot of trouble discerning exactly how verses 19-21 fit in with verses 22-24. When I finally saw it, it was an exciting moment for me. I hope it will be just as exciting for you. Verses 22-24 are full of wonderful promises that encourage us. They show us a believer that has a vibrant prayer life. They show us someone that is pleasing to the Lord. They show us a person with an ongoing faith and love for the church. They show us a person that is abiding in Christ and Christ is abiding in them. All of these things describe the ideal example of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Here’s how verses 19-21 fit into that. Many believers live in a field of despair when it comes to spiritual things. The enemy, their own sin or critical believers have caused them to put their eyes on their selves. Guilt plagues them. If we will resist the enemy, ignore the critics, confess our sins and trust in the grace of God we will be able to break through to a whole new place that God wants us to be. It’s like opening up a door to an entire new arena of spiritual blessings. The purpose of guilt is to bring us to God, not keep us from Him. Guilt over sin brought us to Christ. When our sins are forgiven we should move on. Let’s look at the blessings of getting past the guilt and moving on with the Lord.
The blessing of a vibrant prayer life. Nothing hinders our prayers like guilt does. If we live in guilt and shame we are probably not going to have a good prayer life. In verse 22 John tells us two things that are true about us when our prayers are being answered.
1) We are keeping God’s commandments.
2) We are doing those things that are pleasing to the Lord.
Let’s think a minute about that second truth. It is important that we understand that our actions can please the Lord. Too many of us think that God is either mad at us or just kind of neutral. That’s not true God can be pleased with us. Now if we are faithless (Heb. 11:6) or in the flesh (Romans 8:8) or living in hypocrisy (Mal. 1:8) the Bible says we can’t please God. But the Bible also teaches that if we come to God in faith, integrity and sincerity that God is pleased with us. In fact one of my favorite verses is Proverbs 16:7 “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him”.
If all we ever think about is how much we grieve God, we will not pray in the proper manner. Getting past the guilt means that we recognize that God is pleased with the way we are living. He sees the love for Christ in our hearts. He sees us striving to live for Him. He sees us resisting temptation and serving others. Our understanding that God is pleased with us makes us run boldly to the throne of grace without fear or doubt. That means we broaden our prayer life. We’re not just confessing sin. We are praising Him for His mercy. We are not just asking Him to help others. We are praying for our own needs, desires. We’re not just looking for Him to do a miracle in the lives of others; we want Him to do a miracle in our lives as well.
God wants to shower good gifts on His children and He wants to use prayer as the method in doing that. He wants children that are pleasing in His sight so he can shower them with His blessings. Jeremiah had wanted a Wii for a long time. We told him he needed to save his money. He was doing a good job at it. He was over halfway there. This past year he was a pretty good kid. His grades were good, over all, his attitude was good. He made some adjustments for the better and Jennifer and I are pretty proud of him. So what did we do? This Christmas we bought him a Wii. He was completely surprised and grateful. Now he has all that money to do something else with. Jeremiah got a Wii because he did things that were pleasing to his father and mother. If he had been a bad kid all year his heartless father would have made him buy it himself!
There are things in life we want and God knows that. If we are not doing the things that please the Father we are going to be too ashamed to ask Him for them. We will still seek the things we want, but if we are outside of God’s will we will end up paying for them ourselves. We may not be able to afford that. God wants to bless us with a vibrant prayer life. But if guilt keeps us from the throne, it’s not going to happen. Get rid of your guilt and you’ll have a vibrant prayer life.
The blessing of an ongoing faith. Look at verse 23. John tells us it is a command to believe in the Son of God. We are not just to believe for salvation and then stop. We are to continue believing in Him. Guilt can lead to doubt and doubt can lead to unbelief. Guilt needs to be removed from our lives because it can to unbelief. Think about it. What has Christ promised to do? He has promised to take away your sin. If your sin, or the guilt of your sin constantly weighs you down you are going to start doubting that Christ has taken that guilt away. The antidote to guilt really is faith. We have to believe that when Jesus said He would remove our sin He meant it.
I am reminded on a regular basis of past and present sin. You know what I do? I go to the cross. I remind myself that Christ paid my price and that God has removed my sin as far as the East is from the West. I have to trust Christ on a daily basis. Some people give up because they still feel guilty. Replace your feeling of guilt with faith in God.
There is a second part to this point. Notice in verse 23 John mentions that we are to continue in our love for one another as well. Guilt can cause us to despise the people of God. It really can. We wonder why other people appear to be so blessed. Why don’t they feel like we do? Are they better than us, do they have a better connection to God? That mindset can lead to a person leaving the church. A lot of people think you can leave the church and keep the faith. That usually doesn’t happen. Once a person makes the decision to separate from the people of God that person falls into more and more sin. The guilt then only accumulates or the conscience is seared so that the guilt is no longer felt.
Continuing in church is one of the most important things a person dealing with guilt can do. The people are a reminder that God forgives and restores. Now I know that there are hypocrites, but there are also faithful believers in most every church. Those faithful believers are a tool God uses to build the struggling believer up. When you get through the guilt you will have a vibrant prayer life and an ongoing faith.
The blessing of abiding in Christ. John explains that in verse 24. He says that we dwell in Him and He dwells in us. The evidence that we dwell in Him is we keep His commandments. That’s how we know we are in Him. We strive and desire to obey God.
Being in Christ means that we continue in Him. But let’s go a little farther as well. The Bible says in Colossians 3:3For ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God”. That is one of those mysterious truths of the Bible. Spiritually speaking believers actually exist in the realm of Christ. We are in Him. That is, we are submerged in His righteousness. When God sees us He sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Now if anything can help us with our guilt that can. Getting past the guilt opens our eyes to the reality that our righteousness comes from outside ourselves. We are in Christ. God wants us to enjoy His righteousness not beat ourselves up over our past failures. The thief on the cross was righteous the moment he trusted Christ. He was unable to do any works of righteousness. Yet he was righteous because he was clothed in the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. It’s the same for every believer.
John also says that God abides in us. He abides in us by His Spirit. The Spirit, John says, is actually the proof that God abides in us. Think about all the things the Spirit of God does for a believer. The Spirit of God is the one that draws us to Christ. He is the One that opens our eyes to the truth (Acts 16:4). The Spirit of God is the One that enables you to understand the Bible (1 Cor. 2:14). The Spirit of God convicts you of sin (John 16:8). The Spirit of God leads you in this life (Romans 8:14).
Have you been drawn to Christ? It is because the Spirit abides in you. Have you had your eyes opened to the truth about who Jesus is? It is because the Spirit abides in you. Have you understood truth from the Bible? It is because the Spirit abides in you. Have you been convicted of sin? It is because the Spirit abides in you. Have you felt the leadership of God in your life? It is because the Spirit abides I you. That ought to give us confidence.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more