Unfortunately, we have an enemy who hates us, and he’ll use every resource at his disposal to intersect and derail our healing journeys. Including guilt.
Guilt is an emotional response to wrongdoing. We should feel the Lord’s conviction when we disobey His commandments or even when we break civil laws that do not contradict God’s laws. In my case, it was criminal. Guilty as charged. But there’s another kind of guilt that is not from the Lord but from man. Called “false guilt,” it comes in a variety of forms.
All of the ways in which false guilt is realized need to be healed. They need to be reconciled and presented on the altar of self. God’s not in the business of condemning us. He knows we can do a fine job of that all on our own.
Legalism is a form of religion that holds firmly to man-made rules rather than to Christ (Col. 2:16-23). It has no power for salvation or transformation but instead enslaves people to false guilt when they fail to keep the rules. I lived under the tyranny of legalism for a good portion of my life. It led to extremely dysfunctional behaviors. Thinking I had a corner on how to work my way out of the doghouse. God’s, or my parents’.
Perfectionism is a burden we place upon ourselves. If we don’t perform to our self-made standards, we feel like failures and can’t forgive ourselves. However, Christians are commanded to live for Christ, not for themselves and their own expectations. Again, I failed miserably here. If I could arrange my circumstances the same way I arranged my well-kept room, I was good to go.
People pleasing is another source of false guilt. This could develop in the home, workplace, school, church or anywhere that others place demands on us. If I could somehow earn more likes (this was long before Facebook) than the next guy, it would validate my existence on the planet. Make ‘em happy—you gotta friend for life. And if she’s an influential friend, even better. Of course, the ideal is always to treat others with love and kindness. But with false guilt, the solution is to please God, not people.
When guilt comes, evaluate its source. It’s typically man-made.
It seems the only way for me to break up with false guilt, since I had no idea it was false, was to try harder. To prove something to my father, who believed a one-hitter just wasn’t good enough, and a mother who believed I needed to pick up every toy, place it neatly in its box and put it away before I got out the next thing. Yikes. What a disaster in the making. But hey, they didn’t know any better. They were wounded too.
And that’s the memo.
By Steve Adams from his upcoming book 90 Days on the Inside