Should Christians Feel Guilty?
Kevin DeYoung October 18, 2016
There are plenty of Christians who rarely feel the sting of conscience or the pangs of regret. But I also know many Christians who easily feel bad for all the things they are not doing or are doing less than perfectly. In fact, I’m convinced most serious Christians live their lives with an almost constant low-level sense of guilt.
How do we feel guilty? Let me count the ways.
- We could pray more.
- We aren’t bold enough in evangelism.
- We like sports too much.
- We watch movies and television too often.
- Our quiet times are too short or too sporadic.
- We don’t give enough.
- We bought a new couch.
- We don’t read to our kids enough.
- Our kids eat Cheetos and french fries.
- We don’t recycle enough.
- We need to lose 20 pounds.
- We could use our time better.
- We could live some place harder or in something smaller.
What do we do with all this behind the scenes guilt? We don’t feel stop-dead-in-our-tracks kind of remorse for these things. But these shortcomings can have a cumulative effect whereby even the mature Christian can feel like he’s rather disappointing to God, maybe just barely Christian.
Here’s the tricky part: we should feel guilty sometimes, because sometimes we are guilty of sin. Complacency as Christians is a real danger, especially in America.
Yet I don’t believe God redeemed us through the blood of his Son that we might feel like constant failures. Do Peter and John post-Pentecost seemed racked with self-loathing and introspective fear? Does Paul seem constantly concerned that he could be doing more? Amazingly enough, Paul actually says at one point “I am not aware of anything against myself” (1 Cor. 4:4). He’s quick to add, “I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” But it sure seems like Paul put his head on the pillow at night with a clean conscience. So why do so many Christian feel guilty all the time?
1. We don’t fully embrace the good news of the gospel. We forget that we have been made alive together with Christ. We have been raised with him. We have been saved through faith alone. And this is the gift of God, not a result of works (Eph. 2:4-8). Let us not be afraid to embrace the lavishness of God’s grace.
2. Christians tend to motivate each other by guilt rather than grace. Instead of urging our fellow believers to be who they are in Christ, we command them to do more for Christ (see Rom. 6:5-14). So we see Christlikeness as something we are royally screwing up, when we really should see it as something we already possess but need to grow into.
3. Most of our low-level guilt falls under the ambiguous category of “not doing enough.” Look at the list above. None one of the items is necessarily sinful. They all deal with possible infractions, perceptions, and ways in which we’d like to do more. These are the hardest areas to deal with because no Christian, for example, will ever confess to praying enough. So it is always easy to feel terrible about prayer (or evangelism or giving or any number of disciplines). We must be careful that we don’t insist on a certain standard of practice when the Bible merely insists on a general principle.
For example, every Christian must give generously and contribute to the needs of the saints (2 Cor. 9:6-11; Rom. 12:13). This we can insist on with absolute certainty. But what this generosity looks like–how much we give, how much we retain–is not bound by any formula, nor can it be exacted by compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). So if we want people to be more generous we would do well to follow Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians and emphasize the blessings of generosity and the gospel-rooted motivation for generosity as opposed to shaming those who don’t give as much.
4. When we are truly guilty of sin, it is imperative we repent and receive God’s mercy. Paul had a clean conscience, not because he never sinned, but, I imagine, because he quickly went to the Lord when he knew he was wrong and rested in the “no condemnation” of the gospel (Rom. 8:1). If we confess our sins, John says, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We aren’t meant to feel borderline miserable all the time. We are meant to live in the joy of our salvation. So when we sin—and we’ll all sin (1 Kings 8:46; 1 John 1:8)—we confess it, get cleansed, and move on.
This underlines one of the great dangers with constant guilt: we learn to ignore our consciences. If we are truly sinning, we need to repent and implore the Lord to help us change. But if we aren’t sinning, if we are perhaps not as far along as others, or are not as disciplined as some believers, or we are making different choices that may be acceptable but not extraordinary, then we should not be made to feel guilty. Challenged, stirred, inspired, but not guilty.
As a pastor this means I don’t expect that everyone in my congregation should feel awful about everything I ever preach on. It is okay, after all, for people to actually be obedient to God’s commands. Not perfectly, not without some mixed motives, not as fully as they could be, but still faithfully, God-pleasingly obedient. Faithful preaching does not require that sincere Christians feel miserable all the time. In fact, the best preaching ought to make sincere Christians see more of Christ and experience more of his grace.
Deeper grace will produce better gratitude, which means less guilt. And that’ s a good thing all the way around.
Stop the Revolution. Join the Plodders.
FROM Kevin DeYoung Sep 09, 2016
It’s sexy among young people—my generation—to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being unbiblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.
What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church—a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.
My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without followthrough. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono—Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church. As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?
Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too—same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people. But in all the smallness and sameness, God works—like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.
It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed—and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.
The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration. He showed people how to live, to be sure. But He also called them to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church. The Lord “didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church” (John Stott).
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). If we truly love the church, we will bear with her in her failings, endure her struggles, believe her to be the beloved bride of Christ, and hope for her final glorification. The church is the hope of the world—not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her Head.
Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.
The World, the Flesh, and the Devil by Voddie Baucham
Listen to Voddie’s message here.
Consistent Spiritual Discipline by John Piper
“Daniel’s prayer was a testimony, not just to the glory of the Lord, but to the fact that his life was built on prayer. He was making a statement, not just about God, but about his relationship to God. Had he not prayed, God would be the same, probably his relationship would have been the same, but one thing would have been different.
What the satraps thought about Daniel’s relationship to God was this: “Oh, I see. When it is dangerous he doesn’t pray anymore.” And Daniel knew that his testimony was at stake and, therefore, he got down on his knees on the second floor before the open window three times a day and he prayed. He lived by prayer. He consulted what God thought and he asked God to act.
Daniel’s prayer was disciplined and regular. When the time for a demonstration came, he didn’t have to do anything different than what he was already doing. He had disciplined himself for years, probably, at that window, three times a day. And he simply asked, “Will I maintain my discipline or will I forsake my God-given discipline?” And he said, “I will not forsake it — at the cost of my life I will not forsake it.”
I wonder if it strikes you as strange, like it does me, that very few Christians in the American evangelical church pray like this: statedly, disciplined, three times a day.
Does that strike you as strange that nobody prays that way these days?”
Read the full post here.
How I Started Praying The Bible by Don Whitney
“It was the first of March 1985. I remember where I was sitting when it happened.
I was pastor of a church in the western suburbs of Chicago. A guest preacher was speaking at a series of meetings at our church. He was teaching on the prayers of the apostle Paul in his New Testament letters, and encouraging us to pray these inspired prayers as our own.
Then, at one point he held up his Bible said, ‘Folks, when you pray, use the prayer book.’
In that moment I suddenly realized, ‘The entire Bible is a prayer book. We can pray not only the prayers of Paul in Ephesians, we can pray everything in the Book of Ephesians.'”
Read the full post here.
“Though You Slay Me” by Shane and Shane
This song by Shane & Shane entitled “Though You Slay Me” was played after the message from Hebrews 3:7-12 (Part 1).
John Calvin’s Beautiful Description of the Gospel-Centered Life
“Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness, and
all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.
But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ…”
Read full post here.
Joni Eareckson Tada – A Different Kind of Freedom
John Newton on Indwelling Sin
To Mrs. William Wilberforce – July 1764
My Dear Madam – The complaints you make are inseparable from a spiritual acquaintance with our own hearts: I would not wish you to be less affected with a sense of indwelling sin. It becomes us to be humbled into the dust; yet our grief, though it cannot be too great, may be under a wrong direction; and if it leads us to impatience or distrust, it certainly is so.
Sin is the sickness of the soul, in itself mortal and incurable, as to any power in heaven or earth but that of the Lord Jesus only. But He is the great, the infallible Physician. Have we the privilege to know his name? Have we been enabled to put ourselves in his hand? We have then no more to do but to attend his prescriptions, to be satisfied with his methods, and to wait his time. It is lawful to wish we were well; it is natural to groan, being burdened; but still He must and will take his own course with us; and however dissatisfied with ourselves, we ought still to be thankful that He has begun his work in us, and to believe that He will also make an end. Therefore, while we mourn, we should likewise rejoice; we should encourage ourselves to expect all that He has promised; and we should limit our expectations by his promises. We are sure, that when the Lord delivers us from the guilt and dominion of sin, He could with equal ease free us entirely from sin if he pleased. The doctrine of sinless perfection is not be rejected, as though it were a thing simply impossible in itself, for nothing is too hard for the Lord, but because it is contrary to that method which He has chosen to proceed by. He has appointed that sanctification should be effected, and sin mortified, not at once completely, but by little and little; and doubtless He has wise reasons for it. Therefore, though we are to desire a growth in grace, we should at the same time acquiesce (agree) in his appointment, and not be discouraged nor despond, because we feel that conflict which his word informs us will only terminate with our lives.
Again, some of the first prayers which the Spirit of God teaches us to put up, are for a clearer sense of the sinfulness of sin, and our vileness on account of it. Now, if the Lord is pleased to answer your prayers in this respect, though it will afford you cause enough for humiliation, yet it should be received likewise with thankfulness, as a token for good. Your heart is not worse than it was formerly, only your spiritual knowledge is increased; and this is no small part of the growth in grace which you are thirsting after, to be truly humbled, and emptied, and made little in your own eyes.
Further, the examples of the saints recorded in Scripture prove (and indeed saints in general), that the greater measure any person has of the grace of God in truth, the more conscientious and lively they have been; and the more they have been favored with assurances of the divine favor, so much the more deep and sensible their perception of indwelling sin and infirmity has always been: so it was with Job, Isaiah, Daniel, and Paul. It is likewise common to overcharge ourselves. Indeed, we cannot think ourselves worse than we really are; yet some things which abate (decrease) the comfort and alacrity (eagerness) of our Christian profession are rather impediments than properly sinful, and will not be imputed (credited) to us by him who knows our frame, and remembers that we are but dust. Thus, to have an infirm memory, to be subject to disordered, irregular, or low spirits, are faults of the constitution, in which the will has no share, though they are all burdensome and oppressive, and sometimes needlessly so by our charging ourselves with guilt on their account. The same may be observed of the unspeakable and fierce suggestions of Satan, with which some persons are pestered, but which shall be laid to him from whom they proceed, and not to them who are troubled and terrified, because they are forced to feel them. Lastly, it is by experience of these evils within ourselves, and by feeling our utter insufficiency, either to perform duty, or to withstand our enemies, that the Lord takes occasion to show us the suitableness, the sufficiency, the greatness, the unchangeableness of his power and grace. This is the inference St. Paul draws from his complaint – Romans 7:25 – and he learnt it upon a trying occasion from the Lord’s own mouth – 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.
Let us, then, dear madam, be thankful and cheerful, and, while we take shame to ourselves, let us glorify God, by giving Jesus the honor due to his name. Though we are poor, He is rich; though we are weak, He is strong; though we have nothing, He possesses all things. He suffered for us; He calls us to be conformed to him in suffering. He conquered in his own person, and He will make each of his members more than conquerors in due season. It is good to have one eye upon ourselves, but the other should ever be fixed on him who stands in the relation of Savior, Husband, Head, and Shepherd: in him we have righteousness, peace, and power. He can control all that we fear; so that, if our path should be through the fire or through the water, neither the flood shall drown us, not the flame kindle upon us, and ere long He will cut short our conflicts, and say, Come up hither. “Then shall our grateful songs abound, and every tear be wiped away.” Having such promises and assurances, let us lift up our banner in his name, and press on through every discouragement.
I am, dear madam, Your much obliged and affectionate servant,