Part A | Part B | Part C | Part D | Conclusion
GUILT: THE INTERNAL WEAPON OF THE ENEMY
In lesson II we saw that the basic enemy of the church of Jesus Christ is Satan. He uses many weapons in his battle to defeat Christians, both internal and external to the church. One of the weapons he has used effectively in his internal attacks against the church has been guilt. The Bible calls Satan the "accuser of our brothers." (Rev. 12:10). In the book of Job Satan accused a faithful servant of God and attempted to destroy him. He still works the same way today. He not only stirs up false accusations against believers before others, but he continually accuses us in our own hearts to bring feelings of guilt and failure into our lives. One reason that this approach is so effective in crushing the witness of a saint is because it is partially true. We all have failed the Lord. None of us has triumphed in power over every circumstance as we could and should have done. So when Satan accuses us we know in our hearts that there is much truth in his accusations. But God has provided us with a way to cleanse ourselves of this sin and the guilt that accompanies it. The Scripture tells us "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (I Jn. 1:9). When we realize we have failed the Lord, and we confess it, He forgives and cleanses us. Once we have confessed it the sin is gone and our feelings of guilt are relieved.
Sometimes we resist confession, and the guilt goes unresolved for a time. King David is a good example of this. He sinned by having sexual relations with Bathsheba, another man's wife. Then he tried to hide his sin by arranging for the mans death in battle (II Sam. 11). Time passed and he left the sin unconfessed, but he began to suffer both physically and spiritually (Ps. 32:3-4). God would not let this sin be forgotten. Although David was miserable and burdened with guilt he did not bring his burden to the Lord until God sent the prophet Nathan to openly charge him (11 Sam. 12:1-13). Then David realized his hopeless condition and took the proper steps to be restored to full fellowship with the Lord. These steps are outlined for us in Psalm 51. First he acknowledged and confessed his sin. Then he asked God to have mercy, to forgive him, and to cleanse him. He admitted that only because of Gods loving kindness could he hope for forgiveness. When he could again rejoice in the Lord, he knew he was forgiven, and he praised the Lord. Now he could look forward to serving the Lord again. As New Testament Christians we have the promise of God's forgiveness that David did not have--because Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin.
Davids experience shows us Gods method of dealing with sin: conviction, acknowledgment, confession, seeking forgiveness, receiving forgiveness, praise, and then joyful service. Once sin has been dealt with in this manner, true guilt will disappear. Satan may attempt to continue stirring up false guilt, but we will deal with that problem a little later in this lesson.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. The hardest lie to detect is one that contains some truth. How is this true of Satans accusations against us?
2. In what way do feelings of guilt help a Christian? How do we deal with these feeling?
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Let us consider further evidence of how unresolved guilt can hurt a believer. Paul warned Timothy that in the last days of the church age many professing Christians would live wickedly. He further teaches that people will be so burdened by the guilt of their sin that they will he unstable and easily led astray (II Tim. 3:1-7). Unresolved guilt is a serious matter. If a Christian feels confused, unstable and powerless he should examine his heart and be sure he is not harboring unconfessed sin. If a believer knows that his heart is right, he can have confidence that any lingering feelings of guilt he may have are simply false guilt and are from Satan.
A young Christian in Africa was told by the government authorities that he must submit to old tribal rituals. This was part of a plan of the governments to attempt to destroy Christianity and stimulate patriotism by revising the ancient pagan customs. The leaders of the churches of the area agreed that Christians must refuse to participate in these heathen rituals. When the young man refused and was beaten he stood firm. But when the authorities stripped him and humiliated him in front of his mother, sisters, and the other young ladies of his village, his courage failed and he participated on the pagan ritual. Later he felt terrible. He felt that he had failed the Lord. His guilt was heavy. Satan tried to convince him that he could never again he acceptable to God. But he knew the Scriptural promises of God, so he confessed his sin. The Lord forgave him and restored his joy. He witnessed of Christ boldly in public until he was arrested. The authorities demanded that he deny Christ or be buried alive. This time his faith was strong and he refused to deny Christ. He was beaten and thrown into prison to await execution. But the Lord delivered him! The oppressive government was overthrown and he was released. It is not unusual in a period of turmoil and transition for Christians to do things for which they later will feel guilty. But our God is gracious to forgive. Unresolved guilt leads to misery. Confession restores the joy of the Lord.
You can see that it is important to learn about guilt and to be able to tell the difference between true guilt and false guilt. Satan will attempt to use both. True guilt is that which comes from disobeying God. False guilt comes from the judgments and expectations of men. Satan will attempt to accuse us by having us look at what others are doing, or by holding up custom and tradition as the standard. He often will even use Bible teaching taken out of context, or men's interpretations of such teachings. False guilt usually arises out of putting too much confidence in the opinions of men rather than in what the Word of God teaches. Believers must continually study the Word of God under the leadership of the Holy Spirit to be able to distinguish between true guilt or false guilt.
It is so important for the church to understand what God really expects of His people. As the church examines itself in the light of Gods Word they can avoid the two extremes that the Jewish people fell into: sometimes they were too lax and forgot God's standards, and sometimes they became so strict on little points that they became almost inhuman in their attempts to enforce them! Such "legalism" kills the spirit of one who wants to please God. Jesus summarized the problem of legalism when He said that they neglected the important matters while carefully observing details (Mt. 23:23}.
A good example of the way that Satan can use human standards to upset a church is found in Acts 15:1-2; 19-31. The church at Antioch was being troubled by Jewish-Christians who insisted that obedience to the law of Moses was essential to salvation. These "legalizers" put such pressure on the church that even Peter and Barnabas wavered (Gal. 2:1 1-14). But instead of submitting to human standards and falling under false guilt, the church sent to Jerusalem for a decision on the truth of the matter. They were overjoyed when the church at Jerusalem up held their belief that salvation was by faith in Christ alone. The early church did not yet have the New Testament. So the decision of the apostles in Jerusalem should have settled the matter. But "legalizers" continued to harass the gentile believers, and Paul had to frequently combat their error. They repeatedly tried to lay a burden of false guilt on Paul claiming that he was an obstacle to the salvation of his own people, the Jews. This was a terrible charge because Paul longed for the salvation of the Jews. But he refused to accept their burden of false guilt and testified, "...I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God." (Acts 20:26-27). Even Jesus was falsely accused of breaking the Jewish law. The charges of men seemed reasonable by human standards, but Jesus knew the real spirit of the law. and He rejected their accusations (Mk . 3:1-6; 7: 1-23 ) .
Christians must be able to recognize the difference between true guilt and false guilt and know how to deal with both so that they can combat this weapon of the enemy. True guilt must be dealt with according to the Biblical guidelines. Any feeling of guilt that may remain following proper Biblical confession of sin is false guilt. Satan will often try to continue giving you a burden of guilt for sin that has already been forgiven. Remember that the next time Satan accuses you. God is our justifier. He has said that no one can bring any change against Gods chosen ones (Rom. 8:33, 34). Once a sin is under the blood of Jesus, it is remembered no more, by God. But Satan makes no such promise! Satan has effectively immobilized many Christians by reminding them of past failures. Although the failure was real, the guilt was false! Once guilt is recognized as false guilt, it is dealt with easily. The cause of the guilt or accusation should be identified and compared with the what the Bible teaches on the matter. Satan should then be resisted as the liar and false accuser that we know him to be. He cannot stand against the truth of Scripture and must flee. Of course, he will return again and again, but he can be defeated each time.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. How can you tell true guilt from false guilt?
2. If you confess your sin, what happens to the true guilt? Will you experience false guilt?
3. Why does Satan like to remind us of our past failures?
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It is a simple matter to discuss this topic as an objective truth, but it may have more meaning to us if we keep in mind the way the enemy has used this weapon of false guilt against the church in many hostile situations. When believers find themselves facing violent persecution, with their buildings closed, their religious programs abolished, their leaders discredited and suffering, they often wonder "Why has God allowed this to happen?" Satan is always there with many answers. He wants the believers to feel that it is their fault. He will tell them that they didnt pray enough or their faith was weak or their sin demanded Gods punishment. These accusations can bring a terrible burden of false guilt. In reality, of course, no individual believer or even group of believers is personally responsible for a national catastrophe. Remember our God is still in control. Read Romans 13:1-10 again. This answer also applies to the question; "What could we have done differently?"
Satan will try to convince the believers that they could have changed the whole course of events through prayer--and this may be true. Many things could have been done differently that might have deeply affected the outcome. Satan loves to get Christians to play the "What we could have done" game. Then false guilt can become a heavy burden. Such morbid thinking is of no value at such a time. It will simply occupy the mind of the believer and drain his spiritual energy, but will accomplish nothing. It is best to just lay these questions before the Lord. Deal with any personal sin that the Holy Spirit may bring to mind, and then stop worrying about the past. Satan always tries to make us concentrate on the past or the future., never the present. Our God is the great "I AM" (Exod. 3:14). This means: "I will be to you what I need to be." He wants to use us in the present. We must claim forgiveness for the sins of the past, commit the future into His hands, and live for Him in the presents. The valid question that believers must face is "What would you have me to do now, Lord?"
Another area in which Satan often uses his weapon of false guilt is in relation to outward forms of worship. As the pressure of persecution builds against the church in an oppressive society, some Christians feel the need to turn to less public patterns of worship. But Satan is always there to accuse them of being radicals or cowards. He will claim they are denying Christ if they do not attend a public worship service on Sunday morning. He will try to convince the believer that new ways of expressing his faith are not really worshipping or evangelizing. He will ask how the gathering of two or three under a tree can be real worship. A believer who has always worshipped in a special building known as "the house of God," with hymn books, a big cross, and ordained clergy officiating, will be open to this kind of Satanic attack.
What about teaching? Is it really "Bible Study" when someone quotes a Scripture verse and the group discusses it? And what if no one even has a Bible? Can it really be Christian fellowship to meet in a park with others whom you know are believers, but you never even mention Christ? Is it really a prayer meeting to sit quietly in the dark with two or three other believers and pray silently? Can it really be witnessing just to work hard at your job and be pleasant under pressure? Satan will flood the minds of the believers with such questions and immediately supply the negative answers, if we let him. And then the burden of false guilt can become overwhelming.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. Our God is the great "I AM." What does this mean as far as our worries about the past and the future are concerned?
2. Is a man a coward who does not show up for church on Sunday morning when he knows the soldiers will be there to arrest him? Why or why not?
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Lets consider some other approaches which Satan has frequently used to bury believers under false guilt. If a Christian lives in a country where the government is openly anti-Christian, what should the Christians attitude toward that government be?
If a believer attempts to obey the Biblical teaching to be a good citizen of such a country Satan accuses him of compromising his Christian witness. If he tries to resist the governments oppression Satan will accuse him of disobeying the Scriptures and refusing to submit to authority.
Some believers have found that their standard of living is better under the anti-Christian government than it was previously, and they appreciate what their government has done for them.
Others simply love their country very much. Satan will accuse these brothers of being traitors to the cause of Christ.
In order to be prepared for these attacks, a Christian needs to have a clear understanding of the principles given in the Word of God for a believer in his relationship to his government. Jesus life gives us clear teaching on this matter. He was a Jew living in a Jewish nation that had been conquered by the Roman Empire. The Roman rule was very oppressive and hated by the Jews. One day some Jewish leaders asked Jesus if it was right in Gods eyes for a Jew to pay taxes to Rome. They knew that if He said, "No" the Romans would arrest Him. If He said, "Yes," He would appear disloyal to the Jewish nation. Jesus took this occasion to teach a basic principle concerning man's relationship to his God and to his government. He said. "Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is Gods." (Mt. 22:21). Jesus recognized that God had placed some authority in the hands of secular rulers, but that there are other areas that are left exclusively in Gods hands.
The apostle Paul enlarged upon this teaching in Romans 13:1-7. He states clearly that no governmental power exists without Gods permission. This passage must he related to others, however, to avoid the error of thinking that a secular government has all authority . Compare I Peter 2:13-17; I Tim. 2: 1-4; and Titus 3:1-2. In these passages we can see that our responsibility to the government includes; (a) being submissive, (b) obeying the laws, (c) doing good, (d) respecting those in authority, (e) being peaceful and friendly, (f) praying for those in authority, (g) paying taxes, and (h) not speaking against them. These eight things are to be done out of reverence for God who has given this authority to the government .
We noticed in Jesus response that some areas of authority belong uniquely to God. If human governments attempt to usurp this authority and infringe on those areas reserved to God, the believer must then obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19; 5:29). This concept is taught throughout the Scriptures. In the book of Daniel, for example, we see Shadirach. Meshach and Abednego refusing the kings order to worship the golden image. Later Daniel refused to obey the kings decree that he could not pray. Peter and John refused to obey the order that they must stop preaching about Jesus. Paul disregarded a city ordinance when he left Damascus in a basket over the wall to avoid those who would have killed him for witnessing of Jesus, and later he witnessed even to his military guards in Rome, although Christianity had been outlawed. It is important to note that this disobedience came only as rulers moved from the realm of civil authority into the realm of worship and obedience to God. Their disobedience was not to laws that maintained order or the public good. Their disobedience was specifically related to their service of God. Passages like Romans 13:1-2 still apply to Christians. We must be very careful that we do not fall into the mistake that Peter warned us of in I Peter 2:15-16 and use our Christian freedom to justify evil. In this context of proper submission to secular authority we can clarify the picture by looking again to the lives of Jesus and Paul.
Jesus was a good citizen of His Jewish state (whose authority was primarily religious). and He submitted to the Roman conquerors, although He was not a Roman citizen. He strongly declared that He had not come to destroy the Jewish law, but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17-20). He provided money for Peter to pay the Temple tax which had been levied by the Jewish authorities, although this was not specifically the means provided in the law for maintenance of the temple (Mt. 17:24-27). When he was brought to Pilate by the religious rulers they claimed He was stirring up a rebellion. Pilate examined Him and declared Him innocent of these charges, then condemned Him to die anyway, just to please the Jews (Jn. 18:29; 19:16).
Paul was a citizen of Rome and a member of the Jewish nation. He was a good citizen of both. He testified that his conscience was clear because he had not committed a legal offense against either Gods laws or mans laws (Acts 24:14-21).
Just as Paul remained both a Jew and a Roman citizen after his conversion to Christianity, so believers today are both followers of Christs kingdom and citizens of their own country. From these examples we can establish a principle for Christians today. Let us illustrate: when a citizen of one country travels to another country, he must obey the laws of the host country, up to a point. If the host country tries to overstep its authority, such as trying to draft him into their army, he must refuse to obey. At that point the laws of his home country supersede the laws of the host country. As citizens of the heavenly kingdom, we can only disobey the government of the country in which we live when they overstep their authority and threaten out heavenly citizenship. At all other times we should be exemplary citizens of our earthly country.
If the Christian turns against his own country because it has fallen under the control of a political force that is hostile to Christianity, Satan will try to lay a burden of guilt upon him that will undermine his spiritual life. The Christian can show his good citizenship under a repressive regime by being an unusually good worker. It can be a blessing to his spirit to know that his hard work is helping to meet the needs of others. Another way he can express his good citizenship is by unselfish deeds, such as the sharing of already meager food rations, or helping to share the load being carried by an older person. Even oppressive rulers appreciate such actions. And it may open the way for a later, private witness for Christ. Some Christians, as good citizens, may feel led to resist the oppressive authorities for the good of their country. This can he valid expression of good citizenship and should not be judged by other Christians. Other Christians may seize an opportunity to flee from such a repressive country. In such cases the Christian can expect Satan to use other Christians to attack him with guilt feelings. This is part of the price a Christian always has to pay for any unpopular stand he may take under the leadership of' the Holy Spirit. But we have learned how to deal with this, whether it is true guilt based on disobedience to God, or false guilt based on the judgments and traditions of men.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
1. What are some of the ways Satan has attacked and confused you? Has he made you feel guilty about something that is not really a sin by the standards of Scriptures?
2. What kinds of things are outside the authority of a civil government?
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One further word must be said about the program called, "self-accusation." Many oppressive regimes have made great use of this psychological tool. It is often a part of their re-education programs. Its purpose is to break down and humiliate a person until he is ready to discard his own value system and accept the system imposed by the government. Of course, Christians cannot accept a secular value system, and in case after case, it has been found that those who have deeply held religious convictions are the hardest to re-educate or "brainwash." However, if a person is subjected to "re-education," simply as a part of a nationwide campaign, these suggestions from those who have been through this experience may be helpful:
1. Use the "self-accusation" time as a time for real self examination, but within the framework of Scriptural standards. "Confess" those failings and shortcomings which are a part of everyones life and experience remembering that God has forgiven all confessed sin.
2. Do not hesitate to criticize the real errors that were present in missionary activity and outside Christian effort in your area. Do not let Satan give you false guilt on this point. The missionaries knows they are not perfect and they do not expect you suffer in an attempt to defend their work.
3. Cooperate with the outward forms of the "re-education" program, as far as you can and still maintain your honesty of heart. You can even "confess" that you didnt work as hard as you could have and help your fellow laborers as much as you might have done. Remember that Satan will attack you with feelings of guilt for this cooperation, but your inner peace can be based upon the fact that you have been honest and true to your Christian convictions. This will deliver you from Satans weapon of false guilt.
Suggested Discussion Question:
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Everyone bears some sense of guilt. In the light of what you have learned in this lesson, what false guilt have you been carrying? Share this insight with the group.