I saw a billboard the other day advertising a church in the community. In huge letters, it said: “Guilt-Free, Grace-Full!” Having grown up in a spiritual atmosphere where guilt was used like a hammer against those trying to make spiritual progress, I find myself paying attention when I see a sign like that. I realize that many churches use guilt to control people and to get the kind of response they need in order to stay in operation. No one wants to be put on a guilt trip, and most people will no longer tolerate that kind of treatment from church leaders.
But there is a problem with a guilt-free church: We are all guilty.
Our culture loves to deflect blame. We love to point at someone else:our parents, the government, our spouse – anyone but me! There is a significant move within the evangelical community to remove the sense of guilt from the lives of people. We don’t want anyone to feel badly about themselves. This is basically because so many people reject personal responsibility. But we ARE responsible. We have all sinned (Romans 3:23).
Here are some things to consider:
1. A feeling of “guilt” is required in order to be forgiven.
By guilt, I do not mean that we should beat ourselves up or feel as though we are hopeless. One of the definitions for guilt is “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc.” (Dictionary.com). We must come to terms with our sin. This “guilt” can be defined as godly sorrow. An old fashioned church word for this is “conviction.” II Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (NKJV) Worldly sorrow is the destructive kind of guilt – godly sorrow produces repentance, which leads to salvation. We must first be aware that we are sinners; then we can be saved.
2. If there is no guilt, there can be no grace.
Back in the 1980s one of the more popular Bible verses I heard was “There is therefore now no condemnation…” (Romans 8:1). This verse was used to cover people who desired to do whatever they wanted, but did not want any of the associated guilt. The problem was that many people forgot the rest of the verse… “for those who are in Christ.” Once Christ forgives sin, there is no guilt, but until he does, we are guilty! As much as some church leaders would like to be “all grace, all the time,” be aware that God’s grace only covers those who confess their sins to Him. According to Scripture, not everyone is going to heaven, only those whose sins are forgiven. Pastors cannot let people off the hook for their sins. Churches who do this may enjoy growth for a season, but the end results will be empty lives.
3. People deserve all of the truth.
Just because a dessert says it is “guilt free,” that does not mean there are no calories. We can tell people that they will only feel good about themselves when they come to our church. But when the Word of God is preached and the Spirit of God is involved, conviction will take place. This is painful; people avoid it. But we should never remove the opportunity to for people to repent.
4. Don’t force guilt or grace.
These are properties of God; allow Him to do His work in the lives of people. Churches and pastors should preach the truth in love. They should not condemn or judge. Neither should they exonerate or liberate. This is the work of God. The church is only a conduit through which God works.
Think it over. The next time you feel guilty about something, don’t dismiss it as a guilt trip. Don’t find a preacher who will tell you how awesome you are. Pray and ask God to reveal any wicked way within you, and if He shows you something, repent and accept His free gift of grace!
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”