Have you ever been driven in the direction of duty and service to God by the power of guilt? I am sure we all have experienced this from both ends of the spectrum: having been driven by guilt and driving others by guilt, as well. There’s no denying the fact that guilt is a very effective motivator for getting others to do what we believe God would have them do.
- Parents use guilt to drive their children toward duty.
- Teachers use guilt to drive their students toward duty.
- Coaches use guilt to drive their players toward duty.
- Preachers use guilt to drive their flock toward duty.
- Spouses use guilt to drive their partners toward duty.
However, guilt that drives toward duty ultimately leads to dread. In his book, Holiness by Grace, Bryan Chapell writes, “When it comes to changing people’s behavior, nothing is more efficient than motivating by guilt. There is nothing more effective than guilt to get people to obey God’s standards, and nothing less efficacious in sanctifying them to God.”
If all we desire is a change in behavior, then guilt will do. But if we desire a change in the heart, grace is the only lasting cure. The Bible makes it clear that the liberty Christ purchased for us at Calvary frees us from guilt as a motivator for doing what God requires. The shed blood of Jesus has washed us clean from the gnawing guilt of sin and the condemning wrath of God.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Guilt has its rightful place in the life of the Christian. The power of the Holy Spirit convicting our conscience with the presence of sin is a good thing, as long as that sense of shame drives us to the cross for cleansing and re-commissioning into the service of our Savior.
Jesus demonstrated this process with Peter by asking about his love three times after Peter’s three denials and then re-commissioning him for fruitful service. Jesus didn’t condemn Peter for his sin. He convicted Peter’s conscience regarding his three shameful denials and then cleansed and re-commissioned him.
Jesus could have used guilt as a motivator in Peter’s life, but He did not. Jesus knew full well that any behavioral change brought on by guilt never leads to a heart transformation and maturity. Only the grace of the Gospel can do that. Make no mistake; the guilt that condemns and crushes us is a very bad thing . . . and it was all nailed to the cross by Jesus.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
“Guilting” others or ourselves into action is not pleasing to God and never moves us toward maturity. Holiness in the life of the Christian flows out of grace . . . not guilt. Guilt that drives toward duty always leads to dread, because a guilty conscience is never free to rest in the finished work of Christ. It is too busy trying to finish the race on its own. But when Jesus said “It is finished,” He meant what He said! We have been set free to do what God would have us do—not out of a sense of guilt but out of gratitude, and this makes all the difference in the world.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!