© April 9, 2018 | Schulter Etyang
Everybody feels guilty, they say. If this is true, which it is, suffice to say, religious people deal with guilt on whole other level. A sense of guilt and I might add condemnation is a huge contributor to the lack of joy, freedom and productivity in religious people. The feeling of guilt and condemnation is high on the list of why religious people are angry, harsh, proud, and unproductive – amongst a host of other anomalies.
Behavioural studies show that yes; some people are more prone to feelings of guilt and condemnation than others. Few people shrug off guilt and move on. Very few people have no feelings of guilt. However, most of us are bombarded daily with feelings of guilt and condemnation because of the opportunities we missed, places we didn’t go, studies we didn’t pursue, people we didn’t impress, parents we disregarded, the time we wasted, relationships we abused, and a God we did not obey. We are always living under a cosh, as the British say.
I am one of those constantly battling with feelings of guilt and condemnation. I never really feel good enough. I am constantly feeling left behind or slow off the blocks of life. I think a lot about what life could be or has been for me. I over think and over process my actions and whether they are good enough. And if I have fallen short in any of these, I punish myself and consequently, Jenny bears the brunt of it all. Jenny always says this to me, “You are a hard man, Lovie”. She knows me as harsh and critical.
Why is guilt and condemnation prevalent among religious people? The answer is obvious. Religious people ascribe to a truth that there is a God – and this God rewards us when we are well behaved and punishes us when we do bad things. At least at surface level, this is what most religious people believe. This view of God – a God that rewards good behaviour and punishes bad behaviour.
Religious people ascribe to a truth that there is a God – and this God rewards us when we are well behaved and punishes us when we do bad things.
Your view of God will determine how you view life and how you treat people. For the Christian at most, this is so true. And it is this view of God that we take with us into our relationships, work, businesses, churches, families, marriages etc. We treat our fellow human beings as we think God treats us. Studies show that in terms of productivity at work, Christians are among the most unproductive. They report late to work. They treat their employees or employers with disdain. They walk around with a holier-than-thou attitude. They hand in reports late. And in business or the private sector, many of their ideas never take off or are overlooked for promotion and perks. When they are overlooked, everyone becomes an enemy that must be eliminated by prayer and fasting – especially true for charismatic Christians.
We treat our fellow human beings as we think God treats us.
Joseph Prince, the pastor of New Creation Church, Singapore has a sermon series titled Condemnation Kills. In the sermon series, he points out the results of guilt and condemnation, which are deadly in certain instances. Just to point out a few – anger and irritation, paralyzing fear, constant bouts of sickness and disease, competition and jostling for power and positions, insecurity, worry and restlessness, lack of results, a sense of entitlement, lying, pride, poverty, depression and even suicide.
Most religious people will try to overcome guilt and condemnation by trying to become more religious or spiritual. They will attend more prayer meetings, read the Bible more, fast more often, do good deeds etc. Why? In order to appease a God and ease their conscience. This then becomes a vicious loop. If Christians, in particular, have to jump through these self-imposed loops in dealing with guilt and condemnation, I wonder how people who haven’t heard the gospel deal with guilt and condemnation. How do you deal with that crushing noise of your own failures? How do you tell your conscience, “Stop it now.”
grace, guilt and condemnation
The gospel changed everything, at least for me. After years of immersing myself in the gospel of grace, I have a better handle of feelings of guilt and condemnation. I have concluded that I will live the rest of my life with these feelings of guilt and condemnation. Fact. I am only human after all, the artist Rag n Bone Man sings. Fact. Adam brought this on me. Fact. However, there is a greater truth at play. The gospel of grace. The gospel? Yea.
Jesus on his body at the cross bore the punishment for my sins. He willingly took my place of guilt and condemnation and I took his place of justification and righteousness. This is so simple that you could easily overlook – almost laughable, and yet deeply profound and life-changing.
And this is a truth that I have reminded myself over and over again. In our car and in our home, we are constantly listening to messages and songs that reinforce and accentuate the gospel. The moment we stop listening to the gospel, guilt and condemnation have slowly grown on us like fungus and sooner rather than later harsh words, bickering and the TV series Fear the Walking Dead ensue. We pass each other like zombies. I guarantee you that you cannot hum (yoga) your way out of feelings of guilt and condemnation. You cannot talk your way out of those feelings using positive words. You cannot reason with these feelings.
The only true defence against guilt and condemnation is being in Christ. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 NASB) Being in Christ as Paul puts it is the buttress against the constant tide of guilt and condemnation that eventually makes its way into our lives.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
Living in the truth that Jesus bore the punishment for opportunities I missed, places I didn’t go, studies I didn’t pursue, people I didn’t impress, parents I disregarded, time I wasted, relationships I abused, mistakes I made, sins I committed and a God I did not obey, has worked for me. I hope it does for you, too.
That’s what grace looks like.