This fact impacts Paul’s instruction to Timothy as he encourages the young pastor to “be diligent to present yourself to God. …” (2 Timothy 2:15). In similar manner, all believers must be diligent students of God’s word as we seek to live for his glory.
Thankfully, our Lord has not left us to wonder how we should think concerning guilt. Turning to the New Testament, we find clear words: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Guilt brings grief to our lives. Seeing ourselves as God shows us we are – sinners who have offended a Holy God – we understand our need of a Savior. Through repentance of our sin we receive forgiveness from the Lord. As followers of Christ we continue to benefit from guilt leading us back to repentance each time we choose sin over righteousness.
In contrast, worldly grief comes from guilt which is arbitrarily founded rather than from the truth God has revealed. This brings us to utter hopelessness or causes a hardness of our hearts which leads to death. A poignant biblical comparison of godly versus worldly grief is the difference between Peter’s guilt, repentance and restoration after he denied knowing Jesus during Jesus’ arrest and trial, and Judas’ guilt, fear and suicide following his betrayal of Jesus.
Admitting we are guilty sinners leads us to repentance to God in which we receive his forgiveness, the removal of that guilt and the blessed freedom to live for his glory enjoying his wonderful promises.
Guilt is the inner fruit of sin, an awareness of our transgression. It implicates us in not being who we should be and convicts us of having made a decision against God.
In “The Gay Science,” Friedrich Nietzsche submitted: “Better to remain guilty than to pay with a coin that bears not our image.” He suggested that contrition was a dehumanizing exercise for an autonomous being.
But contrition is the invocation of our own accusation and our own rejection of our own sin. It is our own image declaring our failure. A Christian would say this awareness is a movement of grace, the opening invitation of God to abandon what truly demeans.
The guilty need a savior, someone to forgive, expiate and reconcile. The Christian rejoices that this is done through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Christians can respond to their guilt with repentance, or stubbornly resist God’s invitation to part from it.