God’s Prescription for Overcoming Guilt

Title: God's Prescription for Overcoming Guilt

Bible Book: Psalms 32

Author: J. Mike Minnix

Subject: Guilt; Forgiveness; Peace of Mind


God's Prescription for Overcoming Guilt

J. Mike Minnix

Psalm 32

This is our first sermon in a series looking at God's Preacriptions for Life. Our first issue To consider is the problem of guilt. Though many in our generation have lost a sense of conscience and thus the ability to blush, there are still many of God’s people who struggle with feelings of guilt. Guilt does not have to involve horrible sins, though that is a possible reason, but it can also include feelings of being unworthy of God’s love simply because of a multitude of minor infractions.

What is guilt? It is a feeling of having violated a rule, law or social standard. It can involve issues in culture, the family, legal issues and especially sins related to violating God’s standards. Also, guilt can come from a feeling of self-reproach, and that can simply be a feeling of inadequacy due to not living up to our own standards.

A humorous tale was shared by Dr. Leon Tucker, who related that a farmer once promised the Lord he would sell one of his calves and give the money to missions. But he disregarded his pledge and never followed through. Everytime he went to church an "inner voice" reminded him, "That calf must be sold!" Still he did nothing about it. One Sunday he decided to go to an outdoor meeting in the rural community where he lived. As he approached the gathering, the people were singing an old familiar hymn, "The Half Has Never Been Told." Since the man's conscience was still bothering him, he misunderstood the words and thought he heard the people singing, "The Calf Has Never  Been Sold." Running toward the group, he shouted, "Stop! Please stop singing! I know the calf has not yet been sold, but it will be tomorrow!" The famer’s conscience had caught up with him in the form of guilt.

Guilt is a major problem in human life and not really a laughing matter. It can plague the conscience for years bringing misery to life. Guilt moved a former American soldier in 1974 to send a note to the United States government that read, "Enclosed is $10 for blankets I stole during World War II. My mind could not rest. Sorry I'm late. I want to be ready to meet God." His money was placed in the "Conscience Fund," which was started in 1811. This fund was started because people began sending money to the government due to a guilty conscience. By the mid 1990s it taken in a total of over $3.5 million and receives an average of $45,000 each year. This is the power of guilt.

There is another story I read somewhere a few years ago about a person who sent cash in an envelope to the government. A note inside stated that the money was part of unreported taxes. The sender, who did not identify himself or herself stated, “If my conscience doesn’t feel better after I send this, I will send the rest of the money later.”

A guilty conscience can cause people to do strange things. A farmer was on his way home after picking up his new car. As he approached his farm, he decided to test the acceleration. He passed the side road that led to his house and drove on for a mile or so. Then, after making a sharp u-turn, he sped back toward the side road. A man driving a station wagon observed the u-turn and the farmer's fast rate of speed, and he thought the automobile was an unmarked police car. Trying to avoid detection, he quickly headed down the road leading to the farm. Of course, he was followed by the returning farmer, who only wanted to go home. The second driver was alarmed and drove at high speed to escape, only to come to a dead end. He jumped out and ran, abandoning the station wagon. Later it was found to be filled with stolen coffee, cigarettes, and ammunition. His conscience had made him flee, even though no one was pursuing him. That is the power of a guilty conscience.

Why do we feel guilty? Some psychologists say that guilt is derived from our environment. We are made to feel guilty by the false standards that man has set for himself. Some have even proposed that guilt can be avoided if all our inhibitions are removed. An attempt to do just that has taken place on more than one occasion, with the result of simply adding more guilt to individuals.

Let me tell you why we feel guilty.

i. First, you cannot hide your wrongs from God.

In your heart you know that you are being watched and you will be held accountable. You may do something in secret, but you cannot do it total privacy. Many people fear today that the National Security Agency of the United States government is reading every email, listening to every call and tracking them with GPS locators everywhere they go. That may or may not be true, but there is One who is not only reading your emails but is also reading your mind.  God knows what you say, what you do, where you go, who you’re with and what you think.

ii. Second, you feel guilty because you cannot hide from yourself.

You must look in the mirror every morning. You must lie down with your memories every night. You must go forth with your conscience into each and every day. It is true that some people have seared their consciences to the point of not feeling guilt, but the vast majority of us know that we have done things against God and man, and we feel guilty about it.

The fact is, you can feel guilty without being guilty; and, you can be guilty without feeling guilty. Today we are going to understand something about both situations. I want us to look at the subject of guilt from Psalm 32:1-7. In this Psalm, David speaks about sin, guilt, and forgiveness.

Note with me four rungs on the ladder of guilt. At the bottom of this ladder sits the soil of sin, but at the top of this ladder we mount the pinnacle of purity. We are going to discover God's Prescription for Life.

I. The Prevalence of Guilt

Guilt is not just for the most wicked and vile sinners. We note here that guilt is everywhere and anywhere that humans dwell. Every sane person experiences some level of guilt in life.

A. It is found among the Best of People

The person who wrote the passage before us today was David, the man after God’s own heart. David was the King of Israel, and God’s anointed king, but he still experienced guilt. What caused David's guilt? It is simple - sin! David learned three lessons regarding sin - I'll use a rhyming series of statements that Adrian Rogers learned from an old country many years ago.

1. Sin will take you further than you meant to Stray

When David committed his sin with Bathsheba he never thought for a moment that it would take him so far away from his true fellowship with God. Sin can begin with a mere look, but it will end up with you looking around and not knowing where you are. Sin is not just something we do, it is something that moves us further away from God than we can imagine.

2. Sin will keep you longer than you meant to Stay

David had no idea that his sin would lead to a pregnancy, the manslaughter of the woman’s husband and involve him in headaches and heartaches for the rest of his life. He could not have imagined that it would bring about the death of a new born baby, something that brought him great sorrow. You see, sin takes you down a path and keeps you much longer than you thought possible.

I think today of young people who are persuaded to simply try drugs or alcohol, all in the name of having some fun. Months or years later, in a rehab center or a prison cell, they come to realize that sin took them much further than they ever meant to stray and has kept them much longer than they meant to stay!

3. Sin will cost you more than you meant to Pay

Sadly, sin and guilt costs much more than one expects to pay. The cost can be incredible. One night I got a call from a troubled father. I went to the home and heard the details. His young college son had gone out to drink with his friends and crashed the car into a tree on the way home. The young man was dead. Not only did the sin cost the young man his life, but it brought incredible pain to his entire family and his friends. I watched them weep with sobs of sorrow and I was reminded of the terrible price of sin, not only on the sinner but on those around the sinner.

David’s sin cost him more than he meant to pay. Shame was one price, but a higher price was the trouble it brought to his entire family. He paid a four-fold price for his sin. His guilt was real, but God had a prescription even for the king’s terrible sin, and He has a prescription for you guilt and sin as well.

Here was David, a man after God's own heart, but he was experiencing guilt. He was rich, powerful, and had a life of pleasure, but it was all stained with the blot of guilt.

We see this guilt in Peter when he goes out into the night of Jerusalem and weeps for having denied that he knew Christ. Peter had spent three years in the inner circle with Jesus. He had declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Yet, Peter sinned and was plagued with guilt. Guilt appears among the best people. In fact, the better person you are the more likely you are to feel guilty and for you take your sin seriously. Don’t think that guilt is only found in prison cells, for it is surely found in church pews as well. Guilt is found among the best of people.

B. It is found in the Best of Places

David was in the palace at Jerusalem – in the headquarters of Zion. He was in the king's quarters, but it did not keep him from guilt. It doesn’t matter how high your station in life, guilt knows where you live.

Judas was a man who walked with Christ. He was the keeper of the money for the ministry. He was a trusted friend of Christ, but he betrayed that trust. He sold our Lord to the enemy for thirty pieces of silver. Then he planted a kiss of betrayal on the face of our Lord. That feigned kiss so haunted Judas that he placed a rope around his neck and hanged himself. His guilt overwhelmed him.

Guilt comes to the best and worst of people, in the best and worst of places. Mark 5:16 records that Herod thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. It was the guilty conscience of Herod that was haunting him. He was a pagan man, but he was not free of a guilty conscience.

It does not take a great sin to create great guilt. In James 2:10 we read that to break one Law of God is to break all of the Law. A chain of 10 links is broken when even one link is destroyed or splits; likewise, when we break one of the Ten Commandments, we have broken the entire Law of God. If you were hanging from a tall building by a chain, and one link shattered, you would fall to your death. That is the way it is with sin and that is why we feel guilty when we violate God’s directives and laws.

II. The Problem of Guilt

In his book Encyclopedia of Psychological Problems, Clyde Narramore lists 10 possible results for guilty feelings.

  1. False good behavior
  2. Physical problems
  3. Depression
  4. Indulgence in sin
  5. Self-condemnation
  6. Self-punishment
  7. Expectation of disapproval
  8. Fault finding in others
  9. Hostility toward others
  10. Compensating for guilt by elevation of self in society (p. 106)

To understand the problem of guilt, let us look at the three ways that guilt affected David.

A. He was Wasting Away Physically - Our Outward Condition

It was harming him physically. His body was affected by his behavior. He spoke of this in Psalm 51. He expressed it by saying that he felt as if his bones were breaking. Guilt has an adverse effect upon our bodies.

B. He was Weighted Down Spiritually - Our Upward Condition

Spiritually, he was spiraling downward. He knew he was not as close to God as he should be and he never would be, unless he dealt with the guilt in his life. You cannot be in a right fellowship with God and refuse to deal with guilt. I believe this is the reason that every great awakening or revival that has ever occurred in history has included weeping and repenting by the people who experienced the guilt of their sins and the joy of their repentance.

We look at Isaiah, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up, and we find him confessing his sin and the sins of his nation. Apparently Isaiah had not fully experienced the reality of his on wickedness until he came into the presence of the Lord. We may avoid some feelings of guilt by keeping God at arm’s length, but we cannot know the power of God in our lives unless we are willing to unmask ourselves before Him.

C.  He was Weakened Within Emotionally - Our Inward Condition

David was having emotional issues. If you read Psalm 51, which deals with the same sin and repentance we find in Psalm 32, how he cried out for God to renew a right spirit within him. He was depressed, and perhaps he didn’t even know why until he opened up to the Lord. David sinned and tried to hide it, he could not pray right, he did not feel right, and was physically unable to perform his duties properly. All of this was the result of his guilt.

You see, his guilt was weighing him down. It affected his heart, his head and his home. He needed to know the forgiveness of God in order to overcome the problem of guilt. Many Christians can be empowered by simply opening up to God and allowing his forgiveness to sweep through their lives. This brings us to…

III.  The Purging For Guilt

A. The Exposure of His Sin - Conviction

There is false guilt and justified guilt. How can you tell the difference between feeling guilty about something that is not real and being guilty for something that is actually real? Some guilt comes from Satan. The devil accuses you but he never convicts you. He tells you that you are no good; God never tells you that. God convicts you of specific things you have done. In other words, Satan is general in bringing about guilt, while God is specific. But we can be even more precise than this.

You can tell if your guilt is conviction through one simple test. Are you being convicted of something you are still doing, or for something you have put behind you and confessed to God? Friend, God will never convict you for a sin from which you have already repented and received forgiveness – NEVER! How do I know? I know because God does NOT REMEMBER sin that He has forgiven! He covers it over, casts it into the sea of forgetfulness and separates it from you as far as the east is from the west. I'm not saying that some measure of regret is always eliminated when one is divinely forgiven, for sin can leave behind harm and damage to one's self and others. I'm saying that such regret is not God's conviction. Once you are convicted by God, and you deal with your sin through repentance, God will no longer convict you. Only Satan will bring up a sin which God has already forgiven. That is false guilt and you must not abide that in your life, to do so is to make light of the blood of Jesus.

When you are convicted of sin that you are currently involved in or sin for which you have not sought true forgiveness through repentance, you must immediately deal with it. Not to do so creates even more guilt. We have already seen the damage such guilt can create in your life.

Tertullian once said, "Quantum tibi non peperceris, tantum tibi parcet Deus." That statement is interpreted as, "The less you spare yourself, the more God will spare you." Augustine is said to have often read this passage with tears. On his sick bed he had this passage printed on the wall that he might read it often. What does this statement mean? If you do not try to spare yourself, but admit the sin you have committed, God will spare you and give you complete forgiveness. If, on the other hand, you don’t want to deal with your sin, God will not spare you from the guilt and sorrow that comes from your unwillingness to be honest with Him.

The nature of sin is to cover it up. Any fault in our lives causes us to first think of a way to avoid dealing with it.

Have you ever noticed that if when you fall down the first thing you do is look to see who is watching you. Our first instinct is not to see if we are injured but to check if someone saw our fall. Sin is like that. We usually try to cover up our sin. We  can do that by blaming it on someone else. Like one boy who was called into the principal’s office at school. He had been in a fight and the principal asked him how he got involved. The boy said, “It all started when the other boy hit me back!” That was a slick way of trying to blame the fight he started on someone else. Humans do that all the time. If we wish to be free of guilt, we need to deal with it honestly and openly before God.

B. The Expression of His Sin - Confession

David confessed it. Confession means to say the same thing about your sin that God says about it. It means that you don't gloss over your wrong doing. You call your sin exactly what God calls it.

Some years ago a man was witnessing on the street. He came upon a man who had fallen down and was apparently drunk. The witness leaned down and offered to pray for the man to overcome his dependence on alcohol. The poor drunk agreed that he needed prayer. The witness began to pray, “Dear God, help this poor drunk…”, but he was interrupted as the inebriated man said, “Sir, don’t tell God I’m a drunk; tell God I’m just sick.” That is the problem with many of us. We don’t want to admit our sin and call it what it really is.

David confessed his sin and was open about it. In fact, David wrote two Psalms to be sung in worship about his sin. I don’t anyone else in history that has done that. How many of us would even think of asking the church to regularly sing a hymn declaring our sins?

C. The Extermination of His Sin - Cleansing

Ernest Hemmingway wrote a story about a father and son. They had a strained relationship and parted. The father wanted to make things right with his son, so he took out an ad in the newspaper and wrote, "Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office in the morning, all is forgiven, I love you." The next morning 800 men named Paco showed up in front of that newspaper office looking for forgiveness. There is such a deep need for forgiveness, even in our families.

God’s Son died on a cross so that you might experience forgiveness. If forgiveness was not important, there is no way Jesus would have suffered as He did. Sin and guilt are serious issues. We cannot be healthy and happy while living with guilt. God knew that and made a provision for us to be free of guilt. He does not just save us in order that we can go to heaven in the bye and bye; He saves us so that we can experience joy unspeakable and full of glory in the here and now. He saves you to have life and that more abundantly.

IV.   The Praise Following Guilt

A.    Carries (forgiven)

Thank God, He carries our sins far away. The word "forgiven" means to carry something so far away that it can never come back again.

B.    Conceals (covered)

To cover is to conceal. It is interesting that when we confess our sin, God conceals it. When we conceal our sin, God uncovers it. Be sure your sin will find you out. Confession to God covers our sin so that it can never again be brought up against us.

C.    Cancels (imputed not)

When our sin is forgiven, we are not only free from guilt, but we are free from having our sins imputed against us. He cancels the record. He takes it off the books. In eternity, a record of our sin will simply not exist anywhere in the Universe or beyond. What a Savior we have!


A preacher of the early 1900s said that when he was 12 years old he had killed one of the family geese by throwing a stone and hitting it squarely on the head. Figuring his parents wouldn't notice that one of the 24 birds was missing, he buried the dead fowl. But that evening his sister called him aside and said, "I saw what you did. If you don't offer to do the dishes tonight, I'll tell Mother." The next morning she gave him the same warning. All that day and the next the frightened boy felt bound to do the dishes. The following morning, however, he surprised his sister by telling her it was her turn. When she quietly reminded him of what she could do, he replied, "I've already told Mother, and she has forgiven me. Now you do the dishes. I'm free again!"

You and I can be free – free of sin’s guilt – free of sin’s penalty – free of sin’s weight upon us. Let’s accept God's Prescription for Guilt: Confession, Repentance, Faith in God's Son, and total Forgiveness.

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