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The Incompatibility of Courage and Guilt

By November 14, 20112 Comments

Well it’s that time of the semester–crunch time–and my life is a bit scrambled at the moment! I wish I had more time to be on here, but for now I thought I’d hop on and share something that has been on my mind since yesterday.

Periodically friends and blog readers will contact me to discuss a struggle in their life, a sin or a temptation in which they feel trapped. After explaining it to me, these discussions usually end with a summary comment along the lines of, “You probably think I’m horrible” or “This make me feel so ashamed” or “I’m really embarrassed to admit this.”

Those remarks are all a symptom of guilt, which is a red flag. If guilt is a part of the equation, then I have to start there. Before I even begin to address the problem at hand, I always ALWAYS address the guilt first. Otherwise, everything else is going to be a lot harder.

Scripture refers to Satan as an “accuser” (Rev. 12:10). He constantly reminds us of our inadequacies and our mistakes. He pummels us with guilt and shame because the effect is so paralyzing. That is exactly what he wants.

Rather than respond to our sin and weakness proactively, guilt and shame keep us from acting at all. When we’re ashamed, we become fearful and secretive. We hide the dark parts of our lives from others, which Satan loves. He knows that one of our primary resources is the community of believers, so as long as he can isolate us from one another, that’s half the battle. Guilt is an excellent tool toward that end.

You see it takes a lot of strength to deal with sin properly. It requires that one be a person of integrity, humility and inner fortitude. To deal with a habitual sin, you can’t be too ashamed to ask your friends for help, and you need the willpower to make structural changes in your life. All of this requires courage. So if a brother or sister in Christ is in bondage to guilt and shame, they won’t have access to the kind of courage required for true, life-changing repentance.

With all of that in mind, guilt and shame must be dealt with first. That is not to say that feelings of remorse or conviction are misplaced–they are the work of the Holy Spirit–but the self-focused, self-deprecating despair that is the handiwork of the Enemy? That is the kind of guilt I’m talking about. This kind of guilt tells you to run and hide and don’t tell anyone. It is cowardly. It is impotent.

So the next time a friend comes to you with a confession, remind them first of the forgiveness they have in Christ. God is not surprised by their sin nor is He scandalized by it. He already died on the cross for their sin, so personal crucifixion is no longer necessary. To punish ourselves is to imply that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was not enough.

But it is enough. We are set free, and with that freedom we can go about the work of living holy lives. Because we are no longer bound by guilt, we have the courage to change.


  • Tim says:

    Great insight here, Sharon: “When we’re ashamed, we become fearful and secretive. We hide the dark parts of our lives from others, which Satan loves. [P] … This kind of guilt tells you to run and hide and don’t tell anyone.”

    This is such a timely topic for me, since just yesterday the sermon was on Genesis 3 and hiding in the garden. Not only were Adam and Eve fearful and secretive, they sought to hide themselves from God. Amazingly, instead of leaving those two disobedient people to suffer for that disobedience, God sought them out: “… the LORD God called to the man.” He actually called out to them even though they wanted to remain hidden! I think this is the primary source of courage, the encouraging love the Father has for us.

    That’s what I love about encouragement; it’s so encouraging! It is a God-given grace that allows us to reach into the lives of others and increase their courage (encourage – to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence, What a gift.

    Very encouraging post, Sharon!


  • Krissi says:

    Great word, Sharon. I agree & sometimes the guilt isn’t even related to sin, but to what we “think” we should be doing. That is some good insight for me. I will need to read your blog more often, your thought-provoking posts are doing just that for me.

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