Sometimes I‘ll be sitting around, minding my own business, and BAM! I am struck by overwhelming feelings of guilt, but not because I did anything. These feelings are completely out of the blue.
So I start analyzing everything, every conversation I have ever had, every interaction, every thought. It’s exhausting! Why am I thinking about that time I ate three graham crackers in kindergarten rather than the two I was supposed to? And Why do I feel so bad about it 35 years later? Let’s be honest, going through the play-by-play has never helped me. It has only ever made me feel worse. But If I am not careful, I can feel that way for the next three days. I am exhausted just thinking about it now.
If we merely feel guilty without knowing why, we can be reasonably sure this guilt is not from God. Here’s some truth: Satan works to defeat us by exploiting our self-condemnation.
When the Holy Spirit convicts us of some wrong, it is for our good. The Spirit will be specific, showing us exactly why we feel this guilt and urging our obedience. The God who knows our hearts will not leave us in the dark.
By contrast, the devil will keep the guilt feelings vague and undefined, leaving us wondering and suffering.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; or whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
— 1 John 3:19–21
God is greater than your heart. God is greater than your false condemnation. Whenever I have these thoughts, I have to intentionally lean into God. I don’t try and offer any defense for my guilt, or try and figure out why I feel guilty. Whenever I do that it, just feeds it, like throwing gas on the fire. Instead, I just remind myself that I am a sinner, saved by grace. I think about what an incredible thing it is that I am forgiven. And I think about how loved I am that God would do that for me. Then I think about all the other things I am thankful for.
It’s not easy. I have to do it on purpose. But learning to live in a place of gratitude has been much better than living with false guilt.